Socca is a delicacy from the south-east of France, particularly around Nice. It can also be found in Italy where it is called farinata (“from flour”). It is made with flour, olive oil and water, which are stirred together to form a batter. The mixture is put into a tray a few millimetres thick and baked in an oven or – as is the case on the Côte D’Azur – it is poured into a copper pan and heated, much in the same way as a crepe. It can be difficult to cook at home as it requires heat from a fire, ideally a very hot griddle, although Yotam Ottolenghi has an interesting recipe. Socca is made more crispy if it is “raked” during cooking.
It is said that the batter was first created to pour on the heads of the invading Turkish army in the 1540s after the Niçois army ran out of ammunition. The old wives tale says that they licked their fingers and thought it tasted rather good! Since the turn of the 20th century it has been sold all over Nice as a local, cheap, fast food, either cooked on the spot or transported to where it’s sold.
Nowadays, it is transported fresh and hot, by bike, to stands around the town where it is devoured by hungry tourists and locals alike. Since the 1920s there have been sellers in the cours Saleya, notably Theresa, who has been selling socca in the same place since 1928 (not literally – there have been several different versions of “Theresa”).
It’s an easy dish to cook in any country and there are similar recipes around the world. Along the Italian coastline (in Genoa and around Pisa and Livorno) it is called cecina (“made of chickpeas“) or torta di ceci (“chickpea pie”). It is equivalent to dal in India (although coriander is normally added with other vegetables) and there are similar versions of the same thing in Northern Africa (Algeria) called karantita. Every region adds its own herbs and spices to suit the local population. In Gibralta it is the national dish and is mostly fried.
Whatever the recipe, socca is incredibly popular and an essential activity for any visitor new to the region.