did I just eat an honest-to-goodness vraie bouillabaisse, or was it simply an expensive soupe de poisson
A fair number of French will tell you in unguarded moments that “Marseille is not France,” and what they mean by that is that it’s too Arab, too Italian, too Corsican, too mixed up with foreignness to be truly and adequately French. But, anybody who knows me knows that’s exactly the kind of mixed up gene pool I like to swim in and eat in. It is a glorious stew of a city, smelling of Middle Eastern spices, garlic, saffron and the sea. –Anthony Bourdain
You can make as dramatic a production as you want out of a bouillabaisse, but remember that it originated as a simple, Mediterranean fisherman’s soup, made from the day’s catch or its unsalable leftovers. –Julia Child, who lived in Marseille for a year.
. . . there’s a convincing school of thought that says bouillabaisse, unlike its brethren around the Mediterranean, was a rich man’s dish from the beginning. Supporters of this argument point out that bouillabaisse is not made with just any fish but with quite specific varieties, none of which were ever abundant enough to be cheap, and that things like saffron and butter, both essential ingredients, would have been impossible for fisherman to afford until quite recently. –Traveler’s Lunchbox
On any list of favorite Anthony Bourdain episodes would be his take on Marseille from Parts Unknown. It is no longer available on Netflix, but it can be watched at dailymotion. Around 07:15, Anthony Bourdain and his traveling companion chef Eric Ripert are soon to eat a bouillabaisse à ma façon at Le Petit Nice Passedat, the only three star Michelin restaurant in Marseille.
Today, that lunch for Bourdain, Menu Bouille Abaisse en 5 services, costs 210€ per person, and one will need to reserve that particular menu item in advance, not after sitting down at the table.
What they eat is not a vraie bouillabaisse–my characterization–but a deconstructed version. À ma façon, or in other words, the way I make it. Sometimes well established chefs, in this case in a Michelin star restaurant, will take a staple dish, well-known, and break it down and remake it in a creative, thematic fashion. To understand what is happening and to understand why, it is probably a good idea to eat a vraie bouillabaisse before making reservations at a Michelin starred restaurant and ordering something à ma façon.
One cannot eat une vraie bouillabaisse for under 50€ in France, or elsewhere. One can certainly find a bouillabaisse for less and one for more than 200€. A typical vraie bouillabaisse will cost between 50€ and 60€ for one person in Marseille, or nearby. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!