Sète Food Lovers Guide to Eating Your Way Through Town
There are few things I enjoy more than eating seafood. A gourmet tour designed by Absolutely Southern France in the seaside city of Sète introduced me to a whole lot more favorites for food lovers.
I was brought up going to a fish camp on the Catawba River, just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, where you could have all the fried fish, tiny Calabash shrimp, and hush puppies you could eat. It was later in life that I learned fish doesn’t always have to be dipped in batter and fried in oil to be delicious.
Continue reading here to learn about Deborah’s discovery that Sète is a paradise for food and seafood lovers.
Sète Food Lovers Guide
Sète’s location on the shores of the Mediterranean provides a natural environment for fishing enthusiasts. You don’t need to look farther than the Grand Canal to see watercraft of all sizes dotting the quay. Professional fishers sell their daily catch at La Criée aux Poissons. It is quite an experience (it is open to the public) to watch the traders bid on fresh fish, shellfish, and molluscs destined for their customers at local restaurants and retail stores.
Just to the south of the city is the Étang de Thau (also called the Bassin de Thau), a series of brackish lagoons that collectively run 21 km in length and reach 8 km at the widest point. L’Étang de Thau joins Sète to the Canal du Midi, making it possible to navigate the waterway all the way from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. The Bassin de Thau is a vast lagoon with the perfect water conditions for shellfish farming and in particular oysters and mussels.
Sète locals consider these 12 dishes an essential part of the city’s culinary heritage (previously published on Ginger and Nutmeg). Regional ingredients and a bit of spice feature in the recipes and give them a specific “à la Sètoise” style.
- Soupe de poissons à la Sétoise, a rockfish soup made with tomato and saffron that is so popular you can buy it at Harrods in London.
- As mentioned above, oysters are big business in Sète, with over 750 producers farming 13,000 tons of Huîtres de Bouzigues per year in the Étang de Thau.
- Macaronade is a pasta and beef dish that is typically served Italian family style on Sundays, although you can buy it in the open air market on Wednesdays.
- Encornet farcis à la Sètoise is squid stuffed with pork and veal and slow-cooked in a wine, garlic, and herb sauce.
- Tielle is similar to a small calzone pizza or an empanada. This savoury pastry dish is filled with octopus and spicy tomato sauce. These hand pies were necessary for the fishermen who spent long hours at sea with limited breaks. Today, the tielle stuffing might include squid, cuttlefish, and calamari, but regardless family recipes are carefully guarded.
- Bourride de Lotte or Monkfish stew is made with white wine and vegetables and served with garlic mayonnaise (aioli).
- Rouille de seiche is baby squid or cuttlefish cooked in a tomato, garlic, egg and wine sauce.
- Piste de Moule are fresh mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and piment d’Espelette from the Pays Basque.
- Moules farcis à la Sètoise are mussels stuffed with sausage and cooked in a tomato and white wine sauce.
- Eau-sel is an old-style recipe, and it is relatively rare to find it on a menu. Turbot and sea robins are poached in a salty broth and served along with boiled vegetables and aioli.
- Zézettes de Sète are sweet biscuits made with flour, white wine and vanilla essence and shaped like a cigar. In the late 1970s, Gaston Bentata began baking these cookies that reminded him of his North African roots.
- Frescati is a distinctive cake made with cream, fruit preserved in sugar (confit), kirsch and a sweet crust. This cake has been produced by the Aprile family since 1890.
A food and market tour with Nancy McGee from Absolutely Southern France inspired this list of 12 dishes à la Sètoise. The expertly guided excursion lasts about 3 hours and includes food samples along the route.