Glorious Vegetables and Fruits.
The regionâ€™s fruit and vegetable markets in every town and village present colorful images that whet the visitorâ€™s appetite: plump and juicy tomatoes, glistening red, yellow and green peppers, dark purple aubergines (eggplant), golden melonsâ€“â€“the town of Cavaillon in Vaucluse is the worldâ€™s melon capital. The glory of the region is ratatouille, a vegetable stew made with tomatoes, onions, eggplants, zucchinis as well as red, yellow and green peppers. Seasoned with local herbs, served hot or cold, it is practically a meal in itself. Local vegetables are also used to make pistouâ€“â€“a thick soup made with beans, onions and leeks and flavored with garlic and fresh herbsâ€“â€“and are the ingredients of salade niÃ§oise. The silvery olive groves that dot the region provide the meaty green and small black varieties used to produce olive oil, whose aroma is a wonderful addition to the simplest fare. In a regional specialty called Bagna Cauda, local vegetables are dipped into hot olive oil for a fondue-type dish.
The generous Mediterranean delivers a bounty of fishâ€“â€“loup de mer (sea bass), daurade (sea bream), and rouget (red mullet)â€“â€“that are served simply, grilled and seasoned with rosemary, basil and thyme or baked Ã la provenÃ§ale with onions, tomatoes and wine. Local fish also become ingredients for bouillabaisse, a fish stew, whose best version is found in the restaurants overlooking Marseilleâ€™s old harbor. The various types of fish are served in their own broth highly flavored with wine, cayenne pepper and saffron and accompanied by croutons and rouille, a hot tomato and garlic mayonnaise. Camargue is a fishermanâ€™s delight with a bounty of fresh water carpe (carp) and brochet (pike).
Meat specialties include lamb dishes, especially succulent in the spring, and daube de boeuf, a traditional beef stew with its aromatic wine and mushroom sauce that is usually served with fresh pasta.
Do not skip the regional goat- and sheep-milk cheeses that are produced in the lower Alps. Local fruit sherbets, tarte tropÃ©zienne (a pie with custard filling and brown sugar glaze), navette de Marseille (a yeast-free cake flavored with orange blossom liqueur) or calisson dâ€™Aix (a confection of almond and dried fruit paste with a sugar icing) are some of the options to round out a glorious meal.
Don't Forget Pastis and Local Wines
With 80 million bottles produced annually, Provence is the worldâ€™s largest vineyard of rosÃ© wine. RosÃ©, as its name implies, is a pink wine, the result of a complicated process where the skins from red grapes are removed from the juice as soon as it reaches the desired shade of light red. In the arid countryside west of Avignon is the village of Tavel, home of Franceâ€™s best rosÃ©. Local red wines include such prestigious names as ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas in the Avignon area, as well as the lighter CÃ´tes du LubÃ©ron north of Aix. Near Toulon, the vineyards of Bandol and Cassis produce white wines that are perfect with bouillabaisse. The lack of vintage on the labels of local wines should not surprise the visitor as most are meant to be served very young (often within the year) and do not age well.
The number one local drink is of course pastis, an anise-based yellow liquid that turns opalescent when you add water. Another favorite aperitif is Beaumes-de-Venise, a sweet and golden wine, which, contrary to its name, hails from the Vaucluse town of the same name.0