So, I left the France posts sitting on my desktop for far too long. They’ve been there for months, staring at me, daring me to post them without a final proof-read, and so, most of them have earned themselves a place in the food archives, never to see the light of day. It’s ok, though, because that means I have the time and energy to focus on telling you about the two most incredible, dare I say profound, dining experiences of our French adventure. The first came when we traveled south for a couple days from Paris to Marseille.
We were worried about Marseille. We chose it based on the recommendation of my Parisian former manager. Not long after booking it, though, warning signs started to pop up. People made a face when we told them we were spending time there. We heard the words “ghetto” and “sketchy” on a number of occasions. I admit, I was more than a little concerned. We arrived at the train station and the cab ride to our hotel only reinforced my fears. It was downright scary. Then we drove up to the hotel.
The Intercontinental Hotel Dieu, shiny and new, was absolutely beautiful. The whole Vieux Port area was busy, clean, and pleasant. The hotel staff was kind and helpful. We felt a bit lost, and aware that a wrong turn in Marseille might result in more trouble than adventure, so we enlisted the help of the concierge. Our second night, she arranged for a dinner reservation at the restaurant that’s served the Marseille specialty, Bouillabaisse, the longest. Chez Fonfon was a bit off the beaten path, tucked away in a little Marina. I was intrigued when the cab driver turned down tiny, tight alley after alley. I was finally loosening up a bit about my French. I had to. There were a fair number of people who spoke English, but nothing compared to the safety net of Paris. I had to take a few more risks. I managed to confirm our reservation and the host showed us up to an amazing table with a view of the boats and beautiful bridge.
The amuse bouche plate arrived almost as quickly as we sat down. There were three dips to try. Our server asked, with a sly grin, whether we even knew what we were eating. I only correctly identified the hummus. B just smiled and waited for me to translate.
My dinner decision wasn’t difficult. I came for bouillabaisse and that’s what I intended to have. B had a little more trouble as he swore there was nothing good that could come from fish soup. We agreed on the lobster appetizer and B chose La Bourride (fish stew thickened with aioli) for his dinner. Little did he know he was getting creamy fish soup after all. The lobster appetizer was very good, but not the highlight of the meal. We had no idea what was coming next.
The only part of the meal that threw me a bit was when they brought the platter of raw fish (heads still attached) to the table to show us what we’d be eating in our bouillabaisse. I have a weird food-ism. I don’t like to see my food with its head on. I know it’s a bit hypocritical since I choose to eat meat and fish, but it still freaks me out a bit.
The sauces arrive at the table first. They looked amazing, rich, fluffy, and delicious. It was hard to sit there, staring at them without plunging a finger straight in to taste.
Next, came the soup. B’s was creamy and decadent. Mine was rich and full of flavor. I admit that maybe his was a bit prettier than mine, but every single bite was memorable. We took a few bites of the soup before the enormous platters of fish arrived.
It had been a long time since I’d tasted something that was truly surprising. I had no idea that broth could have the depth of flavor and the dimension that this one did. Looking out the window over the water, the meal couldn’t have been more picturesque or more delicious. A week into our trip, we’d finally settled into the French dining pace, and 3 hours in, we weren’t ready for it to end. Chez Fonfon absolutely ranks among the most surprising and wonderful meals we’ve ever had.
In one evening, all the average touristy food we’d eaten up until that point was totally irrelevant. While I don’t think we would choose Marseille as a final destination for another trip, I would absolutely try to find a way to have another bowl of that bouillabaisse if we were anywhere near the neighborhood.