Le Dernier Mot: Desperately Seeking… Dessert

Le Dernier Mot: Desperately Seeking… Dessert

Kristin Espinasse discovers her new city is missing one crucial thing: its own culinary speciality

As we settle into our new life here in La Ciotat, I am eager to learn even more about our adopted city and find out all it has to offer. Here is a place that saved itself from the plague, thanks in part to les Ciotadennes (that’s the women) who prevented Marseille soldiers from entering the city gates! La Ciotat is the birthplace of cinema and also where pétanque began. But between all the guts, balls, and invention, how is it that La Ciotat does not have its own culinary speciality? Every other French city seems to boast one. Here are just a few trademarked examples to put my new city to shame.


A confiserie dressed as chicly as its well-heeled residents, it even comes in a diamond-shaped box. Made of fruits confits, shredded almonds, and white icing – all this on top of a sleek wafer – visitors love bringing this one home from France to offer as a gift (much lighter to pack than a set of steel balls).


These cookies are as pale as those defeated soldiers we talked about and are a favourite of my husband’s (who might have charmed his way past the city gates, some 300 years ago). Shaped like a boat and as hard as a Ciotadenne’s heart, these biscuits à la fleur d’oranger are perfect for dunking into a café au lait.

Nougat. Photo: Fotolia


This one takes some getting used to, but once you develop a taste for the salted, cured fish roe and its distinctive goût de la mer, you’ll be willing to splurge on it. The colour of sunset, it adds an attractive pop of orange when grated over pasta, but you can enjoy ‘Martigues caviar’ just as the locals do: in thin slices over buttered bread.


With heaps of almonds, pistachios, and enough honey to make your teeth stick together, you’d have a hard time sweet-talking a guard into turning a blind eye… Perhaps this was Montélimar’s strategy? I wonder how the city fared during the famous epidemic, for which my own town is also known (and not, unfortunately, for some delicious friandise!)


Picture two large discs of sweet brioche held together by two kinds of cream and christened with sugar the size of a soldier’s tears. It’s so simple you’d think a certain town up the coast would get a hint that it’s not exactly rocket science to come up with a delicious culinary speciality! We seriously need to help out La Ciotat by coming up with something that visitors (maybe you?) would be proud to bring home in their suitcases. So let’s put on our thinking caps! Réfléchissons… Let’s see… I think I’ve got it! Given that the city is the birthplace of cinema – indeed film is still big here – how about…


So, do you think the French would go for this? (Would YOU go for this?) What if we sprinkled sugar on top?


UNE CONFISERIE = candy, sweet

FRUITS CONFITS = candied fruits

FLEUR D’ORANGER = orange blossom

GOÛT DE LA MER = tastes like the sea

UNE FRIANDISE = candy, sweet

RÉFLÉCHISSONS = let’s think about this

From France Today magazine

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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  • Michael James
    2018-03-01 13:16:10
    Michael James
    Is that really sugar on top of the Tarte Tropézienne? When I saw the photo I assumed it was shaved coconut. Which makes that cake halfway towards Australia's national cake, the lamington! Which was the invention of a french cook, Armand Galland, innovating when short of his usual cook's ingredients while preparing a dinner party for Lord & Lady Lamington, then governor of Queensland in the late 19th century. Maybe you should be similarly inspired, Kristin, to create something unique. But popcorn? Clever but non! Not unless you make it fishy ... or something to do with the sea. In their book on regional food, Joël Robuchon and Loïc Bienassis write of this part of the world (chapter 20): "Open the local bible: La Cuisiniere provencale by Jean-Baptiste Reboul, first published in 1897 and edited some 30 times since. ... Of the 24 provencal dishes listed by Reboul in is book, only three are not fish (a veggie bouillabaisse, an aioli sauce for fish soup and a fresh-water bouillabaisse). So, you know what is becoming popular outside of its normal domains (the Far East)? Seaweed. Considered a healthy source of protein and vitamins. Other than wrap sushi you can do all kinds of things with it, including using it to make a glaze. Local seaweed-glazed and flavoured popcorn! Yum (maybe!). All you need is for Gwenyth Paltrow to endorse it on Goop and it's made ...