Socca is the ubiquitous street food found all over southeastern France, most notably in Nice and more specifically around the Cours Saleya market. When cooked perfectly, it is best straight from the pan and served very hot, replete with addictively crispy edges and lightly seasoned with flake sea salt, a touch of cumin, and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil. It makes the perfect merenda, or midday snack, with a bottle of rosé (who drinks just one glass?) to keep you active while searching for treasures in the narrow streets of Vieux Nice.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of socca, or soca as it is spelled in the Niçard dialect, though the modern version is likely to have crossed borders from Italy where it is known as farinata. Wikipedia mentions a possible origin story of a group of Roman soldiers cooking chickpea flour on a shield. Chez Pipo, a Nice legend since 1923, mentions that the inhabitants of Nice used to stash large quantities of chickpea flour and olive oil to weather long sieges both by invading Italian and French forces. It is also is very popular in various forms and guises all around the Mediterranean.
In the old days, socca was the favored midday snack of hard-working laborers. Socca vendors would walk the narrow streets carrying piping hot socca on their heads calling out ‘Socca, socca, caouda que bullie’ (piping hot socca for sale) or even set up portable charcoal fires to cook them on location. These days you can still watch bicycles race freshly baked socca to stands like Theresa’s at the Cours Saleya.
But you don’t need to travel to Nice to taste this southern French specialty. It’s easy to make at home and makes for a dramatic show to cook in front of friends while enjoying an apero. I have researched dozens of similar online recipes and concluded that what most authors get wrong is the cooking method and consistency. Traditionally it is cooked in a copper pan over an open fire that subtly flavors the socca with wood smoke and keeps the edges perfectly crispy and the socca thin. I used a cast iron pizza ‘stone’ that I bought at a large department store for $25 and threw over my charcoal grill. It worked flawlessly, I closed my eyes and felt transported to the French Riviera. and could even faintly hear the cries of the socca vendors.
If you don’t want to bother making socca at home you can join us for a one of a kind culinary adventure to the South of France next June. This extraordinary jam-packed Provencal adventure starts with artisanal pastis and bowls of golden sunshine, bouillabaisse, slathered in aioli and rouille in Marseille, France’s oldest city and considered the ‘front door’ of Provence, then winds through the narrow streets of Vieux Nice sampling the best street food (think porchetta sandwiches, socca and pissaladière) and finishes atop Haut Cagnes Sur Mer, a 13th century medieval town overlooking the heart of the French Riviera with several glasses of rosé and hands-on cooking classes. Along the way, there will be pétanque lessons, a truffle hunt and plenty more!
A gluten-free chickpea pancake that everyone will love
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1 pinch cumin
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup water
- 3 tbsp olive oil
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth. Put into a glass jar and let sit for a day.
Build a charcoal fire. Put cast iron pizza 'stone' over the fire. Liberally oil. Pour chickpea batter over and tilt the pan until all the runny batter is in contact with cast iron. Cook till crispy, then flip and finish cooking. It usually takes me 2 or 3 minutes.
Lift pan out of the fire and serve at table. I usually drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and sprinkle flake sea salt.
Southern French 'Chips and Salsa': serve socca tableside with ratatouille as a dip.