‘Socca’ — is not a misspelling of “the beautiful game” but a traditional Niçois dish resembling a large, crispy pancake. Made from the most basic of ingredients: olive oil, chickpea flour, water, salt and pepper – it’s simple to make, and delicious. The best way to eat it? Steaming hot straight from the oven, with plenty of pepper and without cutlery.
Socca is cooked on a flat copper tray in a wood-fired oven until the top is golden. The copper is key to achieving the ideal consistency of a crispy top and a soft base.
Chickpeas arrived in Europe via Southern Italy and Spain courtesy of the Saracens in the Middle Ages. It was only natural that this exotic ingredient be combined with the locally produced olive oil.
Vendors with their mobile ovens were once commonplace on street corners, selling socca as a nutritious snack; popular with the working class with its modest price. While most of the street vendors are now gone, there remain numerous cafes and restaurants in the old town of Nice that still sell socca where it’s mainly eaten as a quick lunch, or as a snack with a glass of chilled rosé.
A popular spot for socca is at the Cours Saleya market where the tourists line up at the famous Chez Thérèsa. The ‘vendeuse’ is easy to spot at the eastern end of the market with her bright red lipstick; serving socca with one hand and holding a cigarette with the other. A word of advice: don’t go calling her Thérèsa. Despite her being referred to as such by numerous blogs and articles (including The New York Times) that is not actually her name — best to stick with ‘Madame’.
Socca can also be found at ‘Lou Pilha Leva’ (Place Centrale). This unfussy outdoor restaurant is besieged daily by long queues of hungry patrons eager to devour some socca as well as other Niçois specialties. The French owner has his sights on exporting the concept to the rest of the world starting with the United States. So, who knows, perhaps a piece of Nice, in the form of a slice of socca, may soon be competing with pizza on the streets of New York.