Socca: soul food from the South of France
If you visit Nice in the South of France then you cannot fail to come across the city’s famed street food – socca.
A pancake made from chickpea flour and olive oil, socca can be eaten any time but it is mainly shared with an apéro of chilled rosé (which we drink here summer and winter, crazy people that we are). And, of course, as with all good street food it is de rigueur to eat it with your fingers.
Nice has many socca stalls and small restaurants specializing in the pancake. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to turn out oily, unexciting versions of this local snack. A true socca should be cooked in a wood-fired oven to give it that authentic Niçoise taste. Baked in a large round copper pan, it is then cut into strips when golden brown. The only necessary addition is generous amounts of salt and black pepper (lots of pepper).
Food of the (French) people
Socca is unpretentious cooking so, unsurprisingly, two of the best places to try socca are in the daily market in Vieux Nice (old Nice) on the Cours Saleya and in the Port. Both traditionally working-class neighbourhoods, this is still where you will find the best food of the people.
In the market in Vieux Nice, Theresa of Chez Theresa is the queen of socca. People queue for the pancakes that are baked in a hole in the wall restaurant a few streets away. The socca is then delivered to her stall in the market by bike-cart. With pitch-black dyed hair and a curl of the lip (she is famed for her surliness), Theresa re-heats it on a pan over a coal brazier and dispenses it to the hungry crowd (usually tourists these days it has to be said).
Authentic versus French modern
For a more authentic experience (and better) socca, Chez Pippo in the Port is the place to go. Although sadly, it too has succumbed in recent years to marketing with an extended non-socca menu and staff who wear identical tee-shirts (someone’s unnecessary idea of ‘branding’ the restaurant).
Still, Chez Pippo manages to keep a balance of locals and tourists fed and happy. There is always a wait at Chez Pippo, but it is fun to watch the socca being shoveled into the wood-fire oven that takes centre stage in the restaurant.
For a modern twist on socca, the restaurant and wine bar L’Atelier leads the pack. Set away from the tourist area, it takes socca as its inspiration – and base. Inspired toppings such as socca pissaladière (sweet stewed onion topping which is adapted from that other street food of the South, tarte pissaladière) and smoked mozaraella raise the humble chickpea pancake to new heights. Not for the purists, but it is a great lunch place nonetheless.
Although the Côte d’Azur is known as a jet-set destination, ironically some of its best food can be found on the streets of Nice. Even better, no reservation is required.
1. Socca – a chickpea pancake best eaten simply.
2. Chickepea flour and olive oil – the essential two ingredients for socca.
3. Chez Pippo – the best socca in Nice’s port.