From freshly shucked oysters to steaming crêpes, the food in Cannes combines the lightness of Mediterranean cuisine with traditional French cooking. For a culinary tour of Cannes, these are the quintessential dishes to sample.
“Cannes doesn’t have its own cuisine, unlike nearby Nice or the Provence” says chef Eliane Muskus, who runs the acclaimed chef’s table restaurant La Serviette Blanche in Cannes. She also hosts popular cooking classes and is the only chef who offers culinary food tours in the city. “We have copied a lot of the dishes from the Provence region and made them our own. We also have a strong Italian influence, as nearby Nice was still under Italian rule until 150 years ago. Generally, the food is a little lighter than elsewhere in France, because the weather is better and we use more olive oil than butter when cooking.” For sardines, socca, salad niçoise and more, these are the top places to sample the best dishes Cannes has on offer.
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Between June and November, sardines are the catch of the day along the Mediterranean coast and are often served simply grilled with salad. “They’re fantastic in season,” says Muskus. “We also eat a lot of fresh oysters in Cannes, but they actually come overnight from the north of France. Sardines are more local.” To eat them at their best, head straight to Astoux & Brun in the old town of Le Suquet, which has been serving the freshest seafood in Cannes for more than 60 years. Choose between the more homely, relaxed brasserie or their stylish, formal restaurant. “Everybody who lives in Cannes knows that’s the best place to get seafood,” Muskus confirms. “It’s not cheap, but it’s very good and very fresh.”
“This is a speciality of Nice. They call it the poor man’s pizza because you can make it if you can’t afford the ingredients to make a good tomato sauce,” says Muskus of the thick pizza-like dough covered in caramelised onions. “You make a diamond shape with anchovies, put olives in the centre and bake it.” Head to the area around Le Marché Forville to sample a freshly made slice. “In Cannes, everything is concentrated around that one area where residents shop and eat,” she says. “There’s a stall in the market that sells it, or you can go to the bakery La Tarte Tropézienne nearby, where you can sit on the terrace to eat.”
“The original bouillabaisse was made by the fishermen in Marseilles who would cook it using whatever fish they had left over when they came back to the harbour,” Muskus explains. A hearty fish stew, bouillabaisse is often made with red mullet, rockfish and crayfish alongside garlic, fennel, onions and saffron. “Proper bouillabaisse takes about 48 hours to cook. It’s a very expensive recipe with about 20 steps and should be served with a delicious peppery mayonnaise spread on little toasted pieces of baguette. I like to have it at Bistro La Canailles, which is a gorgeous restaurant with excellent service and a very nice ambience. They also have the best escargots [snails] in town in my opinion!”
Best enjoyed between August and October, red mullet is abundant in the Mediterranean Sea and fairly inexpensive, making it a popular dish along the Riviera. “Anywhere that sells seafood will have a version on the menu, particularly bistros on the seafront,” Muskus says. “It’s usually served with rice, couscous or linguine, and then topped with fresh tapenade.” Try it at L’Assiette Provençale in the old port to eat on the terrace with fantastic views over the harbour.
Often served as a starter in Provence, tomates farcies is a traditional dish of tomatoes filled with rice and herbs, covered in breadcrumbs and baked in the oven. “In Provence, the cuisine often centres around vegetables, unlike in the centre of France where foods are much heavier,” explains Muskus. “Farcies can also be made with onions, baby artichokes and specially grown round courgettes and aubergines.” At stalls in Forville Market, you can choose your vegetable first and they will make a farcies for you, or head to a traditional French restaurant such as La Brouette de Grand Mère, complete with a cosy fireplace, lace curtains and a quaint terrace.
Originally from along the coast in Nice, the revered salade niçoise is found in many restaurants along the Côte d’Azur, although recipes can differ. “In the culinary world, if it does not contain the original ingredients, you’re not allowed to call it a salade niçoise, though,” insists Muskus. “It must have green beans, hard boiled egg, olives, capers, potatoes and canned – not fresh – tuna.” All French restaurants in Cannes will feature it on the menu, but Muskus likes Le Cirque, a chic bistro on the pedestrianised Rue Hoche. “Be sure to eat on their sunny terrace.”
Dating back to the 18th century, ratatouille was a dish made by the farmers of Provence from locally grown vegetables including courgettes, aubergines and red peppers. “It’s a very healthy dish that’s easy to make, and the ingredients are widely available,” says Muskus. “It can be served on its own as a main dish or as an accompaniment, but you’ll find it in local restaurants rather than fine-dining places.” Try Aux Bon Enfants, close to the Forville Market, established in 1935 by the grandmother of the current owner. “It’s very cosy and popular, and they often have live music with someone playing the guitar or violin when it’s busy.”
“You have to taste this in Cannes!” Muskus insists. “Tarte au citron is very popular, as, firstly, the French have a sweet tooth – in moderation – and secondly, outstanding lemons come from Menton, a little further along the coast.” Featuring a smooth, intensely flavoured lemon custard on a thin, sweet pastry, the tarte au citron is a dessert menu staple across Cannes. “For a very good one, go to the Lenôtre bakery on Rue d’Antibes. It’s expensive but definitely worth it, and you can sit outside on their little terrace to eat. They also sell very good bread and an excellent champagne cake which you need to order in advance.”
Crêpes are a thin pancake made from flour, egg and milk that are said to have originated in Brittany when a woman spilled some thin porridge on a hot flat stove and realised how good her mistake tasted. “It’s now a classic French street food,” says Muskus. “It’s very easy to stop and grab one, folded in a triangle in wax paper, and they’re cheap and easy to make. We tend to eat them with chocolate sauce in Cannes. Nutella is often used but that’s actually Italian.” Many stalls along the seafront boulevard La Croisette sell them but if you want extra toppings, head to La Crêperie, a cosy Cannes institution near the harbour. “I would never eat them in a restaurant, though,” Muskus says. “I’d always eat them on the street.”
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