Chichis and panisses

What will it be - 'Chichis Frégis' or 'Panisses'?!

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L’Estaque is a quarter of Marseille; a little village in its own right set right at the very end of the city, far from the madding crowds. If Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, **Paul Cézann**e and Auguste Renoir hadn't existed, we would have had to wait until the 20th century for L’Estaque to enter the Hall of Fame – not of the arts, but of food... Soberly lined up midway between the port and café terraces, three little stalls sell 'chichis' and 'panisses' here. Made with chickpea flour, 'panisse' somewhat resembles a large sausage, which is then cut into slices. Deep-fried, these crispy rings are then sprinkled with 'fleur de sel' or sugar.

The 'chichi frégi', on the other hand, is a sweet speciality; made with wheat flour and orange blossom water, this doughnut comes in the shape of an elongated spiral, drizzled with white sugar. Launched in the late Seventies, the feud between jam and Nutella was finally won by the Italian speciality and it's now all the rage to dip your oily doughnut into an oily chocolate paste...

The generations change but the charm remains the same: wrapped in white paper, 'chichis' and 'panisses' tell the story of decades of greedy foodies. That's how we like them: hot and crispy. You'll always find a variation to go with them, such as fruit jam or Chantilly cream, but their taste always procures the same pleasure – one portion immediately leads to another and maybe even a third...

L’Estaque is a peaceful place where the sun shines down on everyone. As a result, there is no particular competition between the three stalls. 'Lou Gustado de l’Estaco', 'Chez Magali' and 'Chez Freddy' have invented a modus vivendi, each adjusting their arguments to justify what differs them from their neighbours. Stéphane's spiral 'chichis' are simply unique, Michel respects the recipe imported by the Italians to the nearest gram and uses 100%-natural ingredients, while Freddy boast a unique know-how that earned him a TV slot with famous French food critic Jean-Pierre Coffe – quite a reference when you know how attached Coffe is to traditions!

Who makes the best 'panisses'? Who sells the finest 'chichis'? You really would be hard put to say, because they are all so similar – yet so different.

On Sunday afternoons, when people finally leave the lunch table at around 3 p.m., the first strollers appear on the port. Children on their tricycles speed ahead of their somewhat-weary parents. And that's when the stalls start to heat up their fat... In a few minutes, queues will start to form and it will be time to take the lid off the Nutella.

It's very common for tourists visiting L’Estaque to declare that “Chichis are really just like doughnuts”, while the locals, invariably and with their inimitably persuasive tone, reply: “Yes our chichis are the same - but they're different”. The final word has been spoken: just eat your 'chichis' and let's move on to something else!
The people of Nice have tried to discredit our sacred 'panisse' too: “It's made with chickpea flour like 'socca' – it's the same thing”. “Not at all!", exclaims a fishermen from Endoume, who buys his fresh 'panisse' at L’Estaque and cooks it up at home for the aperitif. "Our panisse is fried, whereas in Nice the socca is baked”. A major subtlety for some, an infinite detail for others...

Contrary to the pizza makers who invented the pizza truck in Marseille in the Sixties, the stalls at L'Estaque don't do home deliveries. Nobody has imagined – or wanted – scooters delivering the precious, burning-hot, crispy treats to your door. Even so, L’Estaque isn't exactly next door: it's 10, 17 or even 25 km away depending on the arrondissement you live in. Then again, you have to earn a 'chichi' and it will never taste quite as good anywhere else!

"Nowhere else in the world will the 'chichi frégi' ever be as tasty as in L’Estaque" Anonymous

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