Tuscany cuisine in Marseilles : concept vs taste !
One cannot say that Tuscany cuisine exists that much in Marseilles. It’s pretty paradoxical because a Tuscan immigration, years ago, was obvious in the city. But the fact is: if you look for a Tuscan restaurant in the book, (or I should say the internet yellow pages), you won’t be able to find more than one or two quoting in their menu that they do propose Tuscan cuisine. So why? What’s the matter? … Do the inhabitants of Marseilles dislike that much Tuscany? I don’t believe so… You’ve just have to notice real estate programs mentioning: « La closerie Toscane » or « Via Toscana »… No doubt, Marsigliese know a bit of Tuscan « arte di vivere » and no doubt too, that they would enjoy Tuscany cuisine if they are invited to share it.
The explanation to me is not a matter of taste but a matter of concept. In Marseilles, Italy is not perceived as a country; a real country divided in regions with peculiarities! Italy is just a big nebulosity from where lots of people are connected by their ancestors. I mean that you just have to say that you have Italian origins; you don’t need to add that you are Tuscan, Roman, Neapolitan or whatsoever… Of course, in a second time, when you ask people from what part of Italy their family used to come from, generally they are able to identify the place. But that recognition stops here. People don’t need to reinforce their sense of Italian identity by insisting on the precise point their immigration process has begun.
Could we infer that this is the reason why the category « Italian restaurant » is not strictly defined in our city? I do think so. In Marseilles, Italy is nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Italy is part of our collective conscience. Italy is always in the air… So why do we have to get more information about a place pointing out that you will find in it Tuscan cuisine? Knowing that it’s Italian is simply enough. That’s why one restaurant from Venezia can sell Tuscan wines, the other from Naples may propose Tuscan cannelloni or pesto alla Genovese »… And so on! But, in the end, you won’t find a precise « enseigne » where it’s clearly written: « Tuscan Restaurant ’; and if you find a place like this, stay watchful! Do not expect logically to find in it only Tuscan food. You will probably find all sorts of Italian dishes. It’s not like Chinese restaurant, or Indian restaurant and all sorts of exotic cuisine where you are liable to eat things from a specific part of a country. In other terms, it’s easier in Marseilles to go eating in restaurants, “Pakistani bread” or “baklavas”, than “pappa col pomodoro”, unless you went to an Italian store and buy ingredients to cook it at home. And you got to mind also the price to pay for Italian cuisine in Marseilles, because it’s usually expensive. I can’t explain this but Italian restaurants are frequently more expensive than the others. The cause might be the great affection for Italian cuisine from the people. That’s why chefs are likely to raise their prices because they know Marsigliese love that much Italian cuisine.
That’s to say do not try to find in Marseilles a specific table quoting “Tuscany food” because you won’t find in it genuine “Tuscany food”, (if it’s so, it’s a miracle!), and you will probably pay too much for the meals – even if they are excellent – they will serve you. Try the contrary! Just go to a “pizzaria” on the road to Callelongue or Les Goudes; one of those magic places by the sea where you can dine while watching sunset (like in Ibiza’s Café del Mar)…Maybe there, because of some unpredictable association, the landlord will be able to get you cooked you some Tuscan specialty.
Being Tuscan in Marseilles
Actually, I did eat authentic Tuscan food « in casa », when my grandma was still with us. The best Tuscan restaurant I have known was my home. And I truly think that in Marseilles one can extend this statement to all families with Italian origins. It was so amazing to discover once again that Tuscan cuisine – the same I used to eat at home – when I went to visit my family in Castiglion Fiorentino, where my ancestors came from. It was like climbing in a time machine and going back when I was a child hearing grandma speaking of cannelloni, gnocchi, polenta…Of course there were French distortions like the absence of genuine Tuscan olive oil, wine and even grappa. But it was more or less the same way of cooking.
As time goes by, I think that Marseilles might need Italian restaurant with specific denomination, (like Tuscan restaurant for instance). Sooner or later, Marsigliese might feel the nostalgia of precise not so foreign cuisine. And they might be upset of finding all sorts of Italian foods in Italian restaurants. Why not? But from now, you still find the same pattern as in New York in Little Italy: bartenders do not speak good Italian and restaurants think they are Italian because they just serve pasta with Italian wines. However they all wave their hands to send you a salute and shout: « ciao, ciao » when you leave the place.
Thanks to Bruno Leydet for guest posting and for his time off his art in favor of food culture.