Photos Courtesy of Rosa Jackson
We recently found ourselves in Nice for a night and were fortunate to be able to book a morning tour of the Nice food markets with Canadian food guru Rosa Jackson. I had heard about Rosa’s food tours of Paris and Nice from numerous clients and was intrigued, and ready, to discover.
We met Rosa at the Cafe La Civette du Cours on the edge of the central market – Cours Saleya. A cafe noisette and a brief history of Nice and the old marketplace which started in 1861, and we were on our way.
We wandered the market admiring the mounds of olives, basil, and sundried tomatoes, the amazing variety of herbs and spices, the heaps of fresh produce, and the fresh seafood (although we learned that there is only one local fisherman left in Nice). We met with some organic farmers, and purchased some deep red cherries to munch on. Rosa bought us a wonderful tourte de blettes sucré to taste, which was delicate and delicious – layers of dough, cheese, raisons, rum and blette (swiss chard). I bought a thick tomato fougasse (the French idea of foccacia) to sample later.
Leading away from the market, we dug our way into the tiny back streets of the Vieille Ville, where Rosa pointed out several restaurants and shops she recommends; the famous maker of socca here, an organic soap store there, finally ending up in a tiny little lunch spot and olive oil merchant. We sampled a few olive oils and really could taste the almonds, the fresh cut grass, or mixture of provencal aromas. We sopped up the oil with thick bread and were quickly off and out of the harried shop owners’ way.
We then proceeded into a more residential area quite close to our B&B to check out the Liberation market where more of the locals tend to go. First stop: Arlequin Gelati Italiani run by charming Roberto Francia, who proudly gave us numerous samples of his homemade heaven – hazelnut, chestnut, honey, chocolate, fior de latte, and many others….so rich and wonderful and made on site. Roberto promised us if we returned later there would be fresh watermelon sorbet waiting.
Still on the trail of the best of Nice, we stopped at Rosa’s favorite socca spot and waited for it to pop, steaming, out of the oven.
Socca is a mix of chick pea flour and water. Being certain I did not like this and, hesitant to try, I was surprised to find the hot, chewy mixture a delight. I also could not resist trying a petit farci, stuffed veggies and a Rosa speciality (for more on petits farcis, see this piece by Rosa) as well. The socca was a wonderful way to end the tour, leaving us with full stomachs and a desire to return. We were impressed with Rosa’s in-depth knowledge of Nice and all that encompassed the food scene in Nice and the surrounding towns. Rosa kindly replied to my questions. For those who wish to successfully live the expat life in France, it can be done!
moma-nice.com – Our B&B right near the Liberation Market and the quick tram to the Vieille Ville
HiP: Where did you grow up? What & where did you study?
Rosa Jackson: I grew up in Edmonton, Canada but I also spent two years in Paris, the first when I was 5/6 and the second at 12/13. Our apartment was a fleapit and much too small for the five of us but I still fell in love with the city. My love of cooking grew out of the food I had tasted in Paris and wanted to recreate at home in Canada. I stayed in Edmonton for university after my parents had moved to England, and studied theater and English literature. My first job after university was as a food and fashion writer at the daily newspaper The Edmonton Journal.
HiP: Did you expect to stay in France? Was it something you planned on, or chance?
Rosa Jackson: I knew that someday I would move back to France, it was just a question of when! While I was working at the Edmonton Journal I decided to take a six-month leave to live in Paris. I had to come back at the end since I had completely run out of money, but I saved up for another eight months and went back to Paris for good.
HiP: How long in Paris and why Nice? How long have you been in Nice?
Rosa Jackson: I spent ten years in Paris before moving to Nice. My husband and I had been spending a lot of holidays in the south of France and one day we impulsively bought an apartment in the Old Town in Nice. That decision eventually led us to move our lives down here four years ago. I had always wanted to teach cooking, but in Paris I was never able to have the kitchen I wanted. In Nice, property was still more affordable and there was a unique style of cooking to teach. I decided to become “the” English-speaking expert on Niçoise cooking.
HiP: What are the advanatges of Nice over Paris & vice versa?
Rosa Jackson: It would be lying to say that my decision to live in Nice was not influenced by the weather! After a few years the drizzly gray of Paris can become quite wearing – and, let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun to do a market tour in the sun than in the rain. Now that I’ve been here a while, I take the weather a bit for granted but what I appreciate is being so close to nature – both the mountains and the sea – and to Italy, another country that I adore. I still feel very attached to Paris, though, and find that I need my regular dose of the city in the same way that a car needs gas – it gives me fresh energy and ideas each time I visit. And now the weather doesn’t seem so important!
HiP: Could you see yourself moving back to North America?
Rosa Jackson: I could imagine myself living in Montreal, but I’m not quite sure how I would go about it now that my life is so firmly rooted here.
HiP: How did you get into your current work? Paris and then Nice? What were you doing before?
Rosa Jackson: When I came to Paris I had just enough money to live for a month. I worked in a tea room and a coffee shop, interpreted cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu, and just scraped by for the first year or so. Then I got a job at Agence France-Presse as a journalist and was able to establish myself better. After a few years, I landed a job as the editor of the Time Out Eating and Drinking in Paris guide. The knowledge I accumulated there led me to create my own business, Edible Paris. When Time Out closed its offices in Paris, I decided it was a good time to create Les Petits Farcis in Nice. My husband, who I met at AFP, took a leave from his job to move to Nice and eventually gave it up completely, which was a brave thing to do.
HiP: How do you plan to evolve your business?
Rosa Jackson: At some point I would like to move Les Petits Farcis into a street-level space and turn it into a café/shop/cooking workshop that is not just for tourists but also for people who live in Nice. The idea scares me a bit because of the time commitment, so I’m waiting for the right moment. I’m also planning to launch Edible Riviera, a food and travel planning service covering the French and Italian coasts.
HiP: What would you say is your least and most favorite thing about your work?
Rosa Jackson: My favorite thing about my work is the nice balance I have between being alone (when I’m writing) and meeting people from all over the world (in my cooking classes and tours). I also like being home for my son, even if I’m in front of the computer a lot of the time!
My least favorite thing is the enormous cost of running a business in France.
HiP: Do you have an anecdote (or two), you would like to share?
Rosa Jackson: I had a wonderful Japanese woman in my class the other day who couldn’t speak much English or French but entertained us by making flowers out of paper and pinning them in my hair. I would love to have more Japanese students – they are always a great pleasure.
HiP: Can you tell me a bit about the upcoming Bed & Breakfast?
Rosa Jackson: My husband and I are currently renovating a studio just upstairs from us in the same building which we’ll offer as bed and breakfast accommodation. It looks onto the place du Jésus, which I think is one of the most charming squares in the Old Town. There are many apartments for rent in Nice but few bed and breakfasts, so I’m hoping we’ll meet a need.
HiP: Do you have a few hints for first time travelers to enjoy Paris, Nice and France in general?
Rosa Jackson: Hint: When you’re visiting France, don’t expect all the comforts and convenience you would have at home. Part of the charm of France is its quirkiness – doors with complicated locks, oven knobs with indecipherable symbols, no clothes driers. Go with the flow, don’t try to do too much and you will have a great time. Also, remember that it’s considered rude for waiters to bring your bill until you’ve asked for it.
HiP: And for seasoned travellers, any insider’s tips?
Rosa Jackson: For seasoned travelers: France still has many undiscovered regions – the Cévennes, the Drôme, the Lot, Franche-Comté. Once you’ve “done” Paris and Provence, try venturing off the beaten path.
HiP: What is one of your current favorite restos in Paris? Nice? (For casual, typical French dining and ethnic dining). I know there are so many . . . .
Rosa Jackson: In Paris, my favorite place for a quick lunch near the Louvre is the Japanese restaurant Zen in rue de l’Echelle. In winter, try the rib-sticking katsu curry – deep-fried pork with curry sauce and rice. For a bistro lunch without the two-hour time investment, try the €15, daily-changing formule at La Ferrandaise in rue de Vaugirard – a starter, main course and dessert all served at the same time.
In Nice, the newly opened Flaveur has a very good lunch menu for €15 or €23, including drinks. Run by an energetic young team, this restaurant is refreshingly modern. I also love the wine bar La Cave de l’Origine, owned by the personable Carlo and Isabelle. Near my apartment, India Lounge has good food and a Bollywood atmosphere.
HiP: What is your favorite spot to get a away for a few days?
Rosa Jackson: Whenever we get the chance, my husband, son and I love to spend a few days in Italy, usually in nearby Liguria. We choose our accommodation on the website www.metediliguria.com, an association of bed and breakfasts and holiday apartments run by women.
HiP: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Rosa Jackson: In five years I expect to still be in Nice, but with my own apartment on the Ile St-Louis in Paris (one can always dream!). In ten years I hope to have a garden where I can grow my own vegetables and fruit, maybe in the Nice back country.
Socca Recipe from Rosa
Enough for 2 cake tins or 1 large socca or pizza pan
125 g chickpea flour (about 1 cup)
250 ml cold water (about 1 cup)
45 ml olive oil (3 tbsp)
1/2 tsp salt
1 sprig rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
In a mixing bowl, combine the water and chickpea flour. Add 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil, the salt and chopped rosemary leaves. Mix well until smooth. The batter should have the consistency of light cream – add water if necessary. Set aside at room temperature for at least 2 hours or, better yet, let the batter rest overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
Heat the oven on maximum heat for at least 20 mins, with the cake tins or socca pan inside. Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into each of the 2 tins, or 2 tbsp oil into the large pan, and place in the oven to heat for 5 mins. Pour the socca batter into the tin(s). Place in the upper part of the oven.
After 5 mins, turn on the oven’s broiler (grill). Cook for 3-4 mins, until the socca starts to brown and even burn a little in spots.
To serve, cut into rough pieces and sprinkle with plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, Provence and Tuscany: haveninparis.com