Normally I wouldn’t write about restaurants from my travels (with the exception of the fried chicken and waffles place in NYC), because it’s hard to put it into context of other restaurants/types of cuisine and seems like a bit of an isolated post. However, in the off chance that you might be traveling to Nice at any point in the near future, the takeaway from this post is: eat socca because it is amazing.
I went to Nice with the intention of gorging on lovely French food and I did just that but I also discovered all of these specialty dishes specifc to to the city of Nice that I had never heard of — socca was one of them. We’ve all heard of dishes like niçoise salad but apparently cuisine niçoise is its own genre of cuisine in itself. If you already knew that, well, good for you. Dishes like pissaladière, various tapenades made mostly from olives, anchovies and olive oil, beignets of zucchini flowers, eggplant, etc. just to name a few all make up niçoise cuisine. You’ll find a lot of basic dishes that are the same in Sicily and Naples as they are in Nice because Italy actually ruled over the city until 1861. (Look at the beast busting out all this historical knowledge!) So, understanding olive oil, and using it correctly, is clearly very important to cooking niçoise cuisine.
Back to the socca. It is made by stirring chickpea flour into a mixture of water and olive oil to form a loose batter, and baking it in an open oven. The crispy-edged and pancake-thin slices have that sweet and nutty flavor of chickpeas, but they’re also a little smoky from their time under the broiler. After being formed into a flat cake and baked in the open oven, the socca is seasoned with black pepper and salt and eaten hot with fingers. Beastly.
In Italy, the dish is known as ‘farinata’ which means ‘made of flour,’ and may be seasoned with fresh rosemary, pepper and sea salt.
I had read on Timeout that Chez Pipo, or ‘Chez Peeps’ as it has become affectionately known (by myself), was the place to go for this delicious meal (treat? heavenly gift?)
On the quiet little street of Rue Bavastro is Chez Pipo, a tiny, cozy establishment with an even tinier menu: you can order pizza, pissaladière, socca, tapenade, and that’s pretty much it. Oh, and of course alcohol. Very simple.
In true Rav B fashion, with such a limited menu, my friend Elsy and I decided to order the whole menu. The pizza (which differs from pissaladière, the pizza with tons of onions on top), was the kind of pizza you could tell was made from entirely fresh ingredients — the dough was thick, yet fluffy and light, the tomatoes fresh and smelled straight off the vine. It would have been better if there was cheese on it but whatever.
The socca at Chez Pipo is thin and crispy, and the chickpeas are basically melt in your mouth goodness. While you are meant to eat socca plain, there’s no harm in putting some of the olive tapenade on a slice to mix it up.
Chez Pipo has been open since 1923 so it’s pretty obvious they know what they’re doing. Definitely go to this place if you are ever in Nice.
Onto the second place, Chez René Socca, located in Vieux Nice — also delicious. You will have to queue for a really long time but in the end you will be rewarded with a generous portion of piping hot, fluffy socca, so it’s sort of okay.
The main difference between Chez René and Chez Pipo is the thickness of the socca. Whereas the socca at Chez Pipo is very thin, crispy, and crêpe-like, the consistency of the socca at Chez René is thick and fluffy, like that of an American pancake. According to my research, the thickness has to do with the amount of water used in the recipe — you can use more water to make a thinner crêpe-like socca or less water to make it thicker. I’ll keep this in mind when I install my open socca-making oven in my flat.
There is also a place in Cours Saleya as part of the Sunday flower / food market that makes socca. This market seems like it’s as touristy as it gets but at the same time there are plenty of locals buying their fresh veg for the week so in my opinion, socca is socca and if you’re in Nice, I’ll assume it’s authentic as it’s not really made anywhere else.
So, in conclusion, if there was ever a reason to ask your landlord/lady if you can have a garbage can with open flames in your property to act as an open flame cooking apparatus, making socca would be it.
Now would also be a good time to note that socca is naturally gluten-free and vegan so it’s really a win win dish for everybody.