When a tourist comes to Marseille (and when I say tourist, I mean a 'stranger from the North', i.e. someone from Avignon or further up), one of the first things they want to eat is the local speciality: Bouillabaisse!
But what our tourist doesn't know, is that the REAL speciality of Marseille isn't Bouillabaisse. No, no, no, our speciality is PIZZA, which we call 'LA PITSS'!
And although, for those in the know, the name obviously brings to mind the famous sketch by comic duo Chevalier & Laspalès and their 'potato pizza', it's no joke – pizza really is the city's culinary emblem!
But how come? There are lots of explanations, but the one that comes up most is closely linked to the very invention of the pizza and creation of the world's finest and most useful vehicle: the pizza truck.
Let's not exaggerate, pizza wasn't invented in Marseille… although an urban legend tells that the inventor of pizza invented it in Marseille before going off back to Italy… Pizza actually originated from Naples and, towards the end of the 19th century, numerous Italians (around 20 million in fact), emigrated throughout the world. The Neapolitans initially landed in Marseille, before travelling to New York.
It is said that in the Fifties, pizza was only eaten in Marseille and southern Italy. It was unknown throughout the rest of Europe, but already appreciated in New York!
Then came 1962 and if there's one date we really should remember, that should be it (ok and a few others too...). 1962: the sacred year that marked the invention of the pizza truck!
And where do you think the pizza truck was invented? In the world's most beautiful city of course: MARSEILLE!
It was Jean Meritan, commonly nicknamed 'Jeannot the Pizza Man' who came up with the (very) clever idea of inventing the pizza truck, to make the good old 'pitss' even more popular! The truck was rudimentary and housed a wood-fired oven, which gave the pizza its delicious taste. And don't talk about cooking pizza in an electric oven if you please! Proper pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven and that's that – end of story.
As the years went by, pizza played an increasingly important role in the culinary life of Marseille. Today, the city is home to around 260 pizzerias and 60 pizza trucks!
But what is the real pizza recipe then? Today you can find a bit of everything, including the 'potato pizza' (yes, really), but the basic pizza recipe is much simpler: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese (preferably buffalo), fresh basil and a dash of Parmesan or Pecorino.
As for the dough, it is similar to bread dough, but each pizza maker has his own recipe and wouldn't share it for the world!
The cooking technique is important too: a wood-fired oven of course, heated to 400°C! The pizza must cook in 1 minute at the most!
Hmmm, now I fancy eating a nice 'pitss'… That's lucky because there are some very, very (very) good addresses in Marseille if you want to eat the best pizza of your life! For us, the finest is served at 'Chez Zé' - a family-style eatery dating back several generations, located on the way to 'Calanque de Morgiou' fjord, on the other side of Marseille, not far from Baumettes prison. We do however recommend sticking with 'Chez Zé' rather than visiting the prison…
We often go there on a weekend. We have a drink at the counter with the owner Christian, then settle down on the terrace with a nice bottle of chilled rosé ('bien glace' as they say here).
My favourite is the large 'Royale', half Pepperoni, with a salad sprinkled with garlic: the world's best meal. But if you want to sample Chez Zé's speciality, order the squid ink pizza!
Yes, here we're used to ordering 'half-and-half' pizzas (or 'moitié-moitié' as we say)! It's only logical: why settle for one pizza when you can have two? For me, the best 'moitié-moitié' is without a doubt half cheese and half anchovy – the basics of the Marseille pizza!
In addition to 'Chez Zé', we recommend a visit to 'Vésuvio' in the Endoume quarter, or 'Chez Etienne' in the Panier quarter – a genuine institution! There is also 'Chez Sauveur' in Rue d’Aubagne and, if you want to eat a slice on the go while you're touring the market, 'Pizza Charly' in the Noailles quarter. Of course, there are lots of other addresses and ditto for pizza trucks, but we'll let you forge your own opinion, because pizza is a very personal thing! Some like it thin, others thicker, some with garlic, or tomato sauce, or even cream...
We could eat pizza every day without ever getting tired of it!
Of course, a good 'pitss' isn't only found in Marseille, but there are so many addresses in the city you'd need a whole lifetime to test them all. Talking of which, if you're touring Sausset-les-Pins, head over to visit Ludovic Bicchierai from 'Gusto Pizza', who won the prize for the World's Best Pizza in Parma (Italy)!
His recipe: tomato, mozzarella, sea bream tartare, courgette flower and fresh crayfish… Num!
Pizza is a simple and inexpensive dish to be shared with friends while you're watching an Olympique de Marseille football match or drinking a glass (several glasses) of pastis at home or by the sea. Pizza is the very essence of Marseille, a casual and friendly dish. Yes, the 'pitss' is the epitome of real Marseille!
And why not wind up with another quote from Chevalier & Laspalès' famous sketch: "Oh Francis, what are you up to this evening? Fancy a pitss?"
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