Sardinian ravioli served on a graffiti-covered staircase, kochari at an Egyptian cultural center, cocoa-cream tartlets topped with smoked eel from a former basketball star, and more great bites to try now in Marseille
A modern Mediterranean bistro style of cooking has made Marseille one of the most exciting places to eat in Europe right now. Borrowing from the kitchens of all of the countries that surround the storied sea, the city’s talented young chefs are inventing bright, original, flavorful dishes.
France’s second-largest city, which grew up around one of the great natural harbors of the Mediterranean, has always been a stewpot of a place. During the 19th century, Marseille shared the title of world’s fastest-growing city with Chicago, as immigrants from Italy, Spain, and Greece came to work in its docks, mills, and factories. Then, in the 1950s and ’60s, the city saw waves of arrivals from former French colonies, especially from North Africa.
The ancient port’s history as the most cosmopolitan city in France helps explain the head-spinning variety in the food scene today, which has shown through especially since 2013. In the last decade, the city has smartened up with impressive urban-renewal projects, including Richard Rogers’s beautiful renovation of Le Vieux Port, a sleek new tram system, and architect Rudy Ricciotti’s magnificent Mucem museum. Tourism exploded and many ambitious restaurants opened to feed these new visitors, moving Marseille away from a longstanding reputation for bouillabaisse, its signature fish stew. Cheap rents and outstanding produce clinched the deal for talented young chefs from all over France, who suddenly saw Marseille through fresh eyes. Post-COVID, up-and-comers continue to hang out their first shingles, and the restaurant scene just gets better every day.
Alexander Lobrano is a Paris-based food writer and the author of My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris, Hungry for France, and Hungry for Paris.