In broken French, I made a lunch reservation at Le Miramar to try Bouillabaisse, the culinary highlight of Marseille. This world famous dish can be found all over, however, as I was told by my French teacher, “Bouillabaisse is to be eaten in Marseille—none of this fish stew merde they make in the states!” So being the good American student in France that I was, I included eating Bouillabaisee in Marseille to my study abroad bucket list.
With empty bellies and our savings (Bouillabaisse isn’t cheap), a few friends and I took the bus from Aix to Marseille to Le Miramar restaurant. We waited patiently, as you do in France, took a table, and ignored the menu. The server immediately knew we were there for the Bouillabaisse, but when he held a platter of fish in front of me and asked me to choose, I paused wondering why I was face to face with a fish head. I underestimated such an exceptional dish.
“Ecoutez moi, les filles, …” We listened as our server told us about the Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, the Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter. He explained that traditionally the server presents a selection of fish from which we choose. We naively selected a few items and he then prepared the fish, which included cutting the fish open right in front of us—the number one rule according the Charter. The second dish was a bowl of saffron-infused soup made of garlic, tomato, onions, orange peel, fennel, and herbs served with round pieces of bread and rouille. The soup was then poured over a variety of scorpionfish, rockfish, shellfish, and others that I admit I didn’t recognize. The steam carried the remarkable scent to my nose; I will never forget the smell. The fish was delicious, but the taste of saffron and fennel stood out most, complimenting every ingredient and every bite.
We sat for hours and indulged in our expensive lunch. We rationalized the cost by realizing that this was a dish only to be eaten in Marseille—the key ingredient.
Photo source: epimetheus (cc)