Nice's Mediterranean climate sees locals eating a diet with ingredients similar to Italy although Nice retains its own cuisine. It is of course home to the Nicoise salad but also items such as "socca" or chickpea crepes where people queue for 20 minutes to get a serve of this unique, crispy pancake. Then there is Tourte de Blette, a Swiss chard tart or slice that can be sold sweet or savoury. We try the sweet version along with other Nicoise specialties while cruising the Mediterranean.
In a rather unfortunate turn of events, Mr NQN has now started to look upon trips to France with some trepidation. This is wholly related to the amount of food that we tend to eat there. And that my Dear Reader, is wholly my fault.
It's 7.30am when we set sail from Monaco to Nice and we reach Nice one and a half hours later. Of course I'm dead asleep while this all happens and when Mr NQN pulls back the curtain the familiar cityscape of Nice looks back at me. I was last in Nice in 2012 and the memories come flooding back. The city is bathed in sunshine but the winds are chilly this morning, certainly colder than the rest of the trip has been so we pull on some layers and flat shoes and make the short walk from the pier in search of what else but food. One of the best things about being on a smaller ship is getting to dock where larger ships can't.
We walk along the Rue de Foresta and pop our heads in the various antique shops. There is much that is covetable but I refrain. There is a basket of small porcelain figurines for the Galettes Des Rois - the friendly store owner sees me fascinated by them and pops one in my bag with a smile.
Turning left on the Rue Cassini we buy our first mouthful of the day. There is no shortage of boulangeries, patissiers or confissuers but Herve Martinez's creations look to be popular with locals. We scan the counter -there's pissaladiere and a range of pastries and breads. We buy a friand fromage, a St Christina and the item I had been eager to try, the Tourte de Blette. They heat them up for us and we take a seat at the table outside.
We tear open the warm package containing the friand fromage. It is a layered puff pastry filled with a gooey, creamy cheese layer with a touch of nutmeg. It's the kind of pastry that provides comfort, especially on this chilly morning. The St Christina is a sugar and nut coated stick of puff pastry that is made for dipping in coffee or the chocolate milk that we've bought.
Then we try the Tourte de Blette. It's a fascinating item. In Monaco and indeed in Nice where it originated, it can be sold as a savoury item as one of the main ingredients is Swiss chard. But here in Nice it is most commonly a sweet item - that is a crumbly almost biscuity crust filled with swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts. The whole thing is baked and then dusted generously with icing sugar. There is no trace of the Swiss chard - if anything the flavours remind us of a fruit mince tart without as many spices.
Brushing off the crumbs and returning our tray inside, we keep walking. There are plenty of antique and second hand stores on our walk. Two man pass by on rollerblades one walking an enormous Siberian husky.
We stop at Aperitiv,a gourmet food store that stocks some specialty Nicoise items. We buy some Socca chips - socca being the very Nicoise item of chickpea pancakes. These are chickpea chips eaten in the same manner as potato chips. We also buy an olive oil - olives are big in Nice due to the Mediterranean climate and the olive emblem adorns many stores, particularly in the Old Town or Vieux Nice.
Following our noses we meander down a small alleyway where there are plenty of flavoured salts in endless colours and flavours and faux flowers and nougats sold. We join the enormous queue at a shopfront on the corner of Rue Miralheti at Chez Rene Socca.
The queue is always long and everyone orders the one item: socca. They do a fast and furious trade of it and as soon as one enormous pan of the chickpea crepes are brought out, then it is apportioned for waiting customers using a plastic scraper. Service is efficient and before long we have our socca plus a pissaladiere for good measure.
We eat the Socca at the nearby table with our fingers and this requires the purchase of a drink (€3 for a beer). The socca is crispy and reminds me of Indian dosa more than anything else. It's not bad although it could do with a bit more seasoning or sauce. Still, it's clearly the most popular item.
The pissaladiere isn't bad, we choose the one with the anchovy although the bread is thick, not unlike a thick pan pizza and I prefer pissaladiere with a thinner crust.
Walking around we pass the small fish market in the middle of the Old Town and it is almost ready to close. This is a cue for the enormous seagulls to wait - these beasts are as big or bigger than the tiny dogs on leashes.
L'art Gourmand sells a dizzying array of chocolate, cookies and pâté de fruits. We are curious about the Saveur Nicoise, an ice cream said to have olive, almond and lemon. We try a scoop and it is mostly almond flavoured with a hint of lemon but alas not much of the olive.
We walk through the Couers Salaya, the produce market that is on every day but Monday when it becomes the antiques market. Glistening glace pears and figs beg a purchase but we have been sampling many goods already. The produce is Mediterranean with some Provencal items as well.
We pass L'Escalinada, where I had my very memorable stockfish meal. By now Mr NQN is getting very cranky and our feet are tired so we stop for something else to eat. I order at the window of Lou Pilha Leva. Everything is on display for you to point to and they will heat it up for you and then you take it to your table.
I order some beignets sardines that are really good although I'd prefer them freshly fried. The Nicoise salad has tuna, egg, olives, lettuce, onion and green capsicum while the farcis are stuffed vegetables, namely tomato, onion and capsicum filled with a soft pork mince.
Mr NQN is getting tired of constantly eating and just wants to rest his feet and stop chewing for a minute. But like a trooper he agrees to accompany me to Pastry Plaisirs across the Promenade du Paillon on Rue Delille, about eight minutes' walk away. I had heard that they do a French style afternoon tea - alas when we reach there they tell us that while they do it, the afternoon tea must be ordered the day ahead. My face falls. But there are pastries and scones for us to try nevertheless. Service is very friendly and sweet and even the chef comes out to chat with us several times.
Cream tea €8
The cream tea has a choice of hot tea and three scones with raspberry jam and cream. The sultana scones are served warm from the oven and are excellent. The kind that you make extra room for.
Forumule Plaisirs €8.50
There is a choice of two dessert for the formula plaisirs. A chocolate cake or a exotic fruit panna cotta. We go for the chocolate cake and a hot chocolate. This is made using Michel Cluizel chocolate and it is served in a tall mug. The hot chocolate is thick and rich and flavoured with cinnamon and organic orange blossom. The cake is a layered chocolate cake with a mousse top and a thicker base ending in a crunchy chocolate feuilletine layer and gold almonds.
We walk back to the ship and Mr NQN wants to burn off the calories so he takes a walk up the hill for some panoramic views. I'm feeling tired from the walking and even after a cup of tea we decide to take advantage of one of my favourite features of the ship: room service! During restaurant hours, guests can order from the restaurant menu and have the food delivered to their room completely free of charge. As we were leaving too early to have dinner in Nice, this was the best option for us given that all we could do was flop on the bed.
Our cabin steward brings the room service menu to our room and I ring up to order adding an extra bowl of fries to the order. Because all room service orders should come with fries don't you think? ;) Delighted, I take off my makeup and change into pyjamas. We have all intentions to eat our dinner on the veranda while the ship sails off but our food arrives incredibly quickly.
I take a forkful of the salmon tartare with red bliss potato salad and saffron mayonnaise. This is delicious and fresh with a good balance of seasoning.
Red Lentil Soup
The red lentil soup is a small bowl of hot red lentil, carrot, celery and turnip soup with Tasso ham. I wish it were larger as it's warming and nourishing and just the thing to soothe my sore throat. One thing that they don't bring is bread and butter and I think that would have been a nice touch with the soup.
The pasta is an orrechiette with lobster and cognac ragout, roma tomatoes and asparagus spears. It's not bad although it needs more seasoning to it.
I know, who orders a healthy choice meal? I did only to balance the chips that were coming with it. It's a baked snapper fillet with parsnip mash, bay corn, broccoli and a candied Meyere lemon beurre blanc. The fish is quite tasty although it is a little more cooked through than I would like.
The apple pie is for Mr NQN who is an apple pie fiend. This is more a sultana pie with a bit of apple which really confuses me (clearly I'm easily confused). I also prefer apple pie with ice cream and this comes with a scoop of whipped cream. He loves the pie but as for me, I prefer apple pie over apple and sultana pie. Still, there's nothing quite as joyful as eating all of this in your pyjamas while watching television in your stateroom. Antisocial? Not us!
So tell me Dear Reader, do you ever get sick of eating? And if given the choice, would you prefer to have room service or dine out in one of the ships' restaurants?
NQN travelled as a guest of Azamara Cruises. All meals outside of the ship were independently paid for.