France’s once gritty port city and second largest metropolis, Marseille, has become one of the most up-and-coming destinations in Europe, even gaining European Capital of Culture status last year. A melting pot of Mediterranean culture, blending North African and Gallic traditions, this thriving city is now an under-the-radar gem filled with global restaurants, stylish hotels, and captivating marketplaces. Perhaps one of the best ways to sample the delightful, regional flavors of the Maghrib, an area encompassing Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, is a visit to the lively markets that buzz with residents of all backgrounds shopping for fresh ingredients, housewares, and more.
Go Beyond Bouillabaisse
Like Marseille’s signature dish, bouillabaisse, a hearty, two-course fish stew inspired by the catch of the day, both French and North African cuisines are especially market-driven; what’s for dinner is a question answered by what’s available that day. Near the outdoor cafes that line the Vieux Port district, the Fish Market on Quai des Belges, a line of local fishermen, some in well-worn Breton shirts and wool caps, others in sporty anoraks, take their positions under weathered beach umbrellas. Here they sell seafood fresh off their boats from plastic crates before most Marseillais have had their first café au lait of the day. Away from the main port promenade and its touristy bouillabaisse restaurants, rustic-chic Moroccan eateries with mosaic-tiled tables serve savory North African fare out of thick, earthenware pans and plates painted with rough geometric patterns. Ample grilled fish platters arrive drizzled with fragrant olive oil and fresh lemon wedges, while tagines come in the eponymous, traditional conical cookware.
Savor a Melting Pot
Heading out of Vieux Port, toward the area that once served as the ancient Greek agora, or marketplace, Le Panier, a name which still translates to “the basket,” is now a winding maze of artisan shops and ateliers. An international enclave steeped first in Italian and Corsican heritage, and more recently in North African communities, its architecture reflects these cultural layers in details like a stone statue of a turbaned gentleman above an ornate doorway. In this historic neighborhood, 17th-century buildings and former Corsican grocery shops have now been transformed into small, boutique hotels infused with artful touches. In the early summer, the streets burst with the festivities and music of the lively, multicultural, two-day Fête du Panier, which goes well into the night, turning the streets into a communal outdoor barbecue with residents grilling everything from sardines to merguez sausages right in their doorways and sharing homemade specialties, like Algerian pastries and even "p’tit" rum punch.
Find Unexpected Inspiration
Off what is considered the Champs-Élysées of Marseille, a new generation of stylish locals, chefs, and visiting foodies head to the narrow side streets at the top of the Canebière for the Marché de Noailles, or Marché des Capuchins. Part bazaar, part farmers market, this lively commercial happening is an absolute must-do for a taste of the cultural tapestry, where sweet-and-savory, North African pastillas neighbor freshly baked baguettes. Prepare to get jostled through crowded stalls of colorful fruit displays, vegetables, baked goods, and more. Turn a corner and you’ll find vendors selling brightly colored African fabrics and Maghrib cookware, like couscousieres, alongside stalls of aromatic piles of loose spices, dried fruits, and olives. This energetic, whirring collage of sights, sounds, and flavors provides endless inspiration, from hip kaftans to ornate dishes. While you might take pause with a refreshing Moroccan mint tea, you can also keep the adrenaline going with a sweetened Turkish coffee. Either way, you’ll want to remember the sights, sounds, and flavors of this vibrant multicultural city with more than just digital pics, which is all the more reason to leave room in your luggage for some tangible reminders, like a satchel of spices, painted ceramic plates, and woven textiles.
Chef Eric Ripert and designer Matthew Patrick Smyth have long been inspired by Marseille. See how their favorite details and memories create an unforgettable dining experience.