Boil + Simmer = Bouillabaisse Soup
A trip to Marseille, France would be incomplete without a taste of the simple bouillabaisse soup. This oily, bony, and filling fish soup originated in Marseille and literally means bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (simmer). The emulsified rust-colored broth warms your throat and the delicate fishy taste lingers in your mouth after swallowing--it’s not a taste welcomed by everyone. Be careful to watch your slurp! It’s considered rude in France.
This dish started in Marseille using only the bony rockfish that fishermen couldn’t sell at their markets. Today, bouillabaisse a la Marseille tends to have at least three kinds of fish to officially carry that name, though some argue that it’s not “real” unless it has five varieties of fish. The bouillabaisse I had at L’Ecailler at 10 Rue Fortia, had red rascasse (rockfish), monkfish, European conger, mussels, and potato. The soup is typically served with a side of a salty, rust-orange rouille sauce made with egg yolk, olive oil, garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper meant for dipping and floating in the broth with hard, dry crisps of bread.
The difference between this kind of fish soup and every other kind of fish soup out there is the selection of Provencal herbs and spices in the broth, the locally caught fresh Mediterranean fish, and the preparation/serving. The broth is generally made of garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, fennel, saffron, thyme, bay leaves, and bit of dried orange peel. As for the preparation, the fish are added one at a time to the pot and brought to a boil separately. Then, when serving, the broth is dished out first and the fish are brought over to the table separately on a large platter and then dropped in. This is so you can see the full presentation of the cooked fish, because once it’s in the soup everything gets mixed together.
If you want to spend a lot of money, you can walk to any restaurant immediately surrounding the port of Marseille and shell out anywhere from 60-80 Euro ($66-88) for a single dish of this soup (and you’ll hopefully be getting a lot more fish than I had in mine!). But, if you’re like me and haven’t ever spent 80 Euro on a single dish I’m about to shove down my throat, you can walk to the restaurants just slightly behind the main port streets and eat the soup for about 127 Euro ($13–19). The restaurant we chose to eat at was filled with people and a local friend recommended it, so we knew it was the real deal.
Maybe if I spent 80 Euro on it I would have liked it more, or maybe it would have been presented in a prettier way. But, it was something I had to try regardless! I’m just not a big fan of picking fish bones of my soup or eating fish scales, both of which required a lot of time prepping every bite instead of enjoying every bite.