Around the World in 80 Bites

Côte D’Azur (the Azure Coast), otherwise known as the French Riviera, is the famous coast of southeastern France whose sea-side specialties perfectly blend the Mediterranean cuisines of Italy, Spain and France. Known for the glamour beach towns of Saint-Tropez and Cannes, the region birthed some of the most eponymous dishes of French cuisine. Ratatouille, Nic oise Salad and Bouillabaisse soup all have their ancestral roots amongst its cobblestone streets and sandy shores. Herbes de Provence, tapenade, and of course, seafood, are the highlights of this Mediterranean home of haute cuisine. And while we may know the region for its jet-setting status, its most famous contributions are of humble origin. Bouillabaisse originated as a soup prepared by the poor fisherman of Marseilles, made from the fish that wasn’t sold during the day. Ratatouille, similarly, was a vegetable stew made for local soldiers. Even the delicate signature cake of St. Tropez, named by Hollywood icon Brigitte Bardot Tarte Tropézienne, was invented by Alexandre Micka, a Polish baker who settled in the village in 1955. Food, after all, is the great equalizer. While the region may be known for its glamourous beaches, yacht-filled harbors, and high-end food and fashion, we remember its humble beginnings through bites of delicious rustic cuisine created by well-worn, sunbaked hands, shared around smiling tables.

The Amalfi Coast may be a UNESCO world heritage site, and one of the most famously beautiful coastlines in the world, but few know the history of this glorious Italian region. Stretching between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno and shadowed by Mount Vesuvius, this coastline is a series of stunning seaside towns nestled between high cliffs. The region is named for the beautiful city of Amalfi, which was founded in the 6th century, soon after became the site of vacation villas for Roman emperors, and later remained an independent republic until 1075, much longer than many of its neighbors. This was due in part to its ability to ward off the regions many pirates, but also its control of the seafaring trade of a much-desired particular resource for fighting scurvy on long sea voyages: lemons. The local climate made a perfect home for this originally Middle Eastern fruit, which local farmers crossed with bitter oranges to create unique regional varieties, the Sfusato d’Amalfi and the Limone di Sorrento. Many family orchards along the coast have lemon trees that are several hundreds of years old and depictions of Amalfi lemons grace the walls of ancient Pompeii. A source of local pride and history, today most Amalfi lemons are still harvested by hand and laboriously carried up and down the steep hillsides of this region. Part of the key to their success is that the lemons are unusually large and sweet – so sweet in fact you can bite straight into it, peel and all. Whether combined with the abundant local seafood in a pasta dish such as Scialatielli al Frutti di Mare, pressed into the famous local lemon liquor limoncello, or drizzled onto the sweet Torta al Limone cakes, it is the humble lemon which most embodies this glorious stretch of the Italian coast.