Mouth-watering Marseille: a taste of France’s culinary revolution | Marseille holidays
OOnly a vibrant and rebellious city like Marseille could do it: stand up to the bourgeois Lyon, Bordeaux and even Paris, the established gastronomic destinations, and imagine a new and different French menu, which adapts to our times and leads the way.
This southern port city is much cheaper and sunnier than Paris, but until recently there was no foodie scene – all the good food was eaten at home or in a pizzeria. But over the past five to ten years, many young cooks with diverse culinary backgrounds have moved to Marseille to open restaurants and create something new.
Faced with “invasion” and gentrification, local traditional leaders have reacted by reaffirming their approach, with renewed quality and creativity. Combine the energy of new chefs with the passion and knowledge of more traditional ones, and suddenly there’s much better food all over town. In Marseille, we are mostly migrants, and here, more than anywhere else in France, food is memory, power and freedom of expression, an easy way to create links between us all.
Now Michelin is finally raining stars across the city, on Alexandre Mazzia (born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Coline Faulquier (from Burgundy) at the Signature Restaurant. And rightly so. But most of the city’s gems stay off guidebook radars and are inexpensive. Affordable, creative and inclusive, with influences from all corners of the world and many successful female chefs – this is Marseille’s incredible culinary scene and France’s culinary future.
I’ve spent the past two years dining across my hometown to meet the pioneers of this delicious revolution, and wrote a book about it: Marseille Cuisine Le Monde. Here I invite some of them to your table.
Lilian Gadola at Limmat
Lilian grew up in a lakeside village near Zürich, arrived in Marseille in 2017 and chose to open her fish and vegetarian restaurant Limmat where no Marseillais would have dared: on the steep steps that go from Cours Julien to Noailles.
“I love Marseille for its diversity, its joyful atmosphere, its relaxed people, its cultural and historical richness, and I love the sea, the sun, the sky, the light”, she says. “The food scene here is booming! The kitchen is young, increasingly political, committed to sustainability, and I really appreciate that we are a lot of female chefs.
One of his favorite addresses is the Brûlerie Möka, for “quality coffee of land with a conscience, a cozy atmosphere and a passionate team”. It was in Marseille that coffee first arrived in France, and here barista Iris Michalon has created an ethical and sustainable cafe next to her roastery in the Boulevard Chave district.
Lilian also likes La Fabriquerie in Saint-Victor, next to Catalans beach. “Two chefs and a sommelier prepare the best takeaway picnic.
Chief Hugues Mbenda and Mathilde Godard in Libala
Hugues moved from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the suburbs of Paris at the age of nine, then attended a French cooking school and trained in Michelin-starred restaurants. His first restaurant in Marseille was in the Noailles district, aka the “belly of Marseille”, which he moved to the glamorous Maison Montgrand hotel, although he was about to leave it. Hugues’ unique style is a French blend with his Congolese roots and inspired by his continuous research into West African dishes and ingredients.
Recently, Hugues and his wife Mathilde opened Libala, an African street-food canteen where foodies stop for dishes such as sweet potato waffles with cumin, or shredded beef on cilantro brioche. “Marseille is like a village and we love it,” says Hugues. “It’s perfect for a young couple with a baby and lots of plans. The surrounding energy makes you think anything is possible.
They like to shop at Tam-Ky, a cult Afro-Asian grocery store in the city center run by 10 Vietnamese brothers and sisters with strong Marseille accents. The family arrived in France in 1979 and the children grew up in the earthy neighborhoods of northern Marseille. “It’s our favorite grocery store, says Hugues, where we buy all the ingredients from my childhood. Try it cowpea Beans. We cook our falafels with them at Libala.
They also recommend Oh Faon!, “a new adventure in the land of cakes”. There, Jérôme Raffaelli and Kevin Yau wanted to create vegan pastries that everyone would want, and they succeeded. “Try their sticky mango cake, made with coconut mousse, mochi, mango puree and coconut crumble.”
Chief Mary Dijon at Katherine
“I like this bustling and colorful harbor because it’s a real Mediterranean city,” explains Marie Dijon, one of Marseille’s young talents. After working in several trendy kitchens in the city, she opened her own spot, Caterine, in the midst of a pandemic with two friends. It’s near the new gourmet street, Boulevard Chave, where she grew up. To ensure fantastic food is affordable, they only spend money on ingredients and kitchen staff – there are no wait staff. You order food at the counter, collect it when it’s ready, eat it, and then clear your table. But the mix of flavors in your mouth is crazy.
Marie’s values are shared by other women chefs in the city, such as Laëtitia Visse at the meat restaurant La Femme du Boucher, Noémie Lebocey at Eaux de Mars, Sarah Chougnet-Strudel at Regain and Charlotte Baldaquin at Les Grandes Tables of the Cree. . They all adhere to sustainable practices, zero waste and sourcing from local urban farms – all of which have a social impact in Marseille. And they have no trouble shaking up their grandmothers’ recipes. “The Marseille culinary scene was really in the background until new chefs with an identity as strong as the city chose to set up shop here,” says Marie.
His tip: “Sundays at Les Goudes [a seaside neighbourhood near the Calanques] is a must. Get there early by bus, bike or boat, but don’t drive. Walk to Cap Croisette, “the end of the world”, swim, contemplate the beautiful landscapes and Maïre Island, then eat fresh fish at L’Auberge du Corsaire Chez Paul, where tables are spread over the little old Harbor. Book your table in advance and be patient. For more fish options, try Le Grand Bar des Goudes, Restaurant Tabi on the town’s coastal road, or Chez Madie – Les Galinettes in the Old Port.
Restaurateur Mustapha Kachetel at The Femina
Marseille hosts a couscous festival, Kouss-Kouss, at the end of August each year, when dozens of restaurants create a special couscous for the occasion, whether their usual cuisine is North African or not. The best couscous in Marseille, however, is at Le Femina at Kachetel. Founded by a family of Algerian Berbers from the Kabylia region, it celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. It’s right in the middle of Noailles, and Mustapha knows everything and everyone. His couscous stands out because it is made from barley, not wheat.
Mustapha recommends Pastels World: “In Noailles we all talk a lot, including with newcomers like L’Idéal and La Mercerie. When someone opens a restaurant, he comes to eat here or I eat at his place. These new restaurateurs have developed the potential of Noailles and are attracting a wider clientele to our streets. Among them, a very nice and hardworking young couple, Sonia and Raphaël, who cook Senegalese pastels – half-moon pastries filled with fish or spicy meat.
Chief Najla Chami and Serje Banna in Moune
Lebanese chef Najla trained as a director; her husband Serje Banna is a talkative former Armenian-Lebanese DJ who now does fronting. They moved from Beirut seven years ago. “Marseille is like a mirror image of Beirut on the other side of the Mediterranean,” says Najla. “He’s got a piece of everyone’s house, and the word ‘calm‘ [chill], used all day by the Marseillais, sums it up. It’s a city that haunts you, that sticks to your skin and your heart. Either you love it or you hate it.
Najla’s cuisine at Le Mouné is a modern take on flamboyant Lebanese culinary culture, Ottolenghi-style. Located between rue Sainte and rue Vauban, it is perfect for an evening, with an after-dinner drink at the nearby Bar Gaspard.
The couple recommend La Poissonnerie du Golfe, the oldest fishmonger in town, where they source fish for their restaurant. “It’s very small, smaller than your living room, and belongs to two fishmongers, Laurence Ciccarelli and her niece Justine. The fish and seafood are super fresh, seasonal and tasty. Try their oysters and sea urchins, or things you’ve never had before.