Setting out on the wood-oven trail: the south of France

Posted Thursday, December 10th, 2009

The south of France… first stop on the wood-oven trail! I’m in Nice, looking for socca. The great charm of socca is the way it unites opposing qualities: it manages to be both light and filling at the same time, plus it has a wonderfully tender texture but a crisp crust. It’s an all-around perfect food in my book.

Nice is surprisingly warm for December, with blue skies and temperatures in the fifties. No wonder people like to vacation here. But though it’s warm and sunny to my Seattle-based frame of mind, it’s apparently chilly from the Nicoise point of view and a lot of the places I’m seeking are closed. It turns out that socca is not necessarily all that easy to find.

First stop: Theresa, in the open-air flower market. The market is beautiful; here are flavored salts at a booth full of spices. But, tragically, I learn that Theresa has closed up shop for the season.


Second stop: Pipo Socca. Pipo, too, is closed!

Third stop: the open-air market in Vence. I took a lovely bus trip up into the hill town of Vence on Wednesday and learned that yes, the socca guy comes to Vence… on Fridays.

Fourth stop: I inquire at the Nice tourist office. They say they’re not allowed to give recommendations or names, but then they bend the rules and discreetly mark a little street on my map. I wander through a warren of tiny medieaval streets and yes, there’s it is! socca! It’s even one of the places I came here to find: chez Renee. They’re cooking in huge flat pans in a wood oven and people are lined up around the corner. Here’s a pan that’s just come out of the oven; it will feed about six people.


Next stop on the wood-oven trail: Moscow! This may be the most difficult stop, as wood ovens are quite hard to find in Moscow other than in glitzy high-end restaurants. Add to that the deep cold of a Russian winter, and Moscow may be quite a challenge. Nevertheless, after a transit stopover tomorrow in London, onward on the wood-oven trail!