You never forget your first bowl of true bouillabaisse. It’s a meal experience that will stay with you forever! It was a chilly Spring day in March when we ventured to Miramar Restaurant in the historic Vieux Port of Marseille, France. We had left our then infant daughter with a babysitter, and were going to enjoy an adult-only day out. My parents, who have tasted their share of fine dining throughout Southern France were eager to take us to try the “vrai bouillabaisse.” Excited for the experience, and time away from parenting, we jumped at the chance!
We headed to the Vieux-Port (old port), to find the restaurant. This area of Marseille is seeped with history, and a wonderful place to walk around to gaze at the sites. The historic Mairie de Marseille is situated right along the quai, and from the port you have a wonderful view of the Basilica Notre-Dame of the Garde up on the hill. Once in the restaurant, we sat down and waited to be served. Although there is a menu, before the waiter could even ask, my parents informed him we were here for the bouillabaisse.
Although this fish soup was getting lots of praise, I was definitely a bit skeptical. I’ve had my share of tasty fish soups. Fresh Cioppino in San Francisco and seafood gumbo in New Orleans have been some of my favorites. I was curious how bouillabaisse would stack up. I quickly found out.
The difference is in the experience. Eating bouillabaisse is a process. It is not just a bowl of soup put before you, but it is a multi-course meal. The initial presentation was just a simple bowl of bouillabaisse with slices of toasted baguettes topped with a rouille floating in the broth. The broth was seeped with fresh herbs, saffron and pureed vegetables, and instantly warmed us up. The slices of bread soaked in the broth were a delicious addition.
After enjoying the soup for a bit, the waiters returned with course two. The fish arrived on a large platter. The waiters spooned more broth into our bowls and began to add the fish. With fish plentiful in Marseille, the typical choices are dory, weever, conger, Rascasse, and more. It was amazing how quickly we filled up, but of course left just a little room for a French pastry treat for dessert.
The two course approach with soup was definitely a new experience for me. It allowed me to savor the flavors of the broth on their own, as well as enjoy it with the different flavors of fish. The toast with rouille only added to the gastronimical feast. I have yet to make the recipe on my own, for fear that it will never live up to that initial time, but perhaps I’ll give it a whirl. It will not be the “vrai” (true) bouillabaisse that I enjoyed in Marseille, but it could be delicious on it’s own.