Carolyne Kauser-AbbottLocal Food ProducersTaste

Where to Eat Bouillabaisse in Marseille, a Classic Seafood Dish from Provence

Marseille, France’s second-largest city, might not have an Eiffel Tower, but it has beaches, sunny skies, and fresh Mediterranean rockfish for its signature dish, bouillabaisse. But where should you go to eat bouillabaisse in Marseille?

However, bouillabaisse is a culinary dish with a humble past that now has a quality standard. Is it a fish stew or a soup? Is it a noble dish or peasant food? Was it created by the invading Greeks or by hungry fishermen? Is it even from Marseille? In this article, we unpack some history, ingredients and places to sample this seafood dish.

“Everyone has his own idea of what constitutes the real bouillabaisse (all other are imitations), and if a contrary opinion is suggested, he acts as if his honour has been impugned.” ~ Waverley Root noted in The Food of France.

Bouillabaisse Marseille Provence

Bouillabaisse Origins

Whether they were from Greece or Marseille, it is probably true that fishermen (or their wives) simmered unwanted fish scraps with local spices, creating a watery broth. By the 19th century, the middle class had acquired a taste for this concoction. Chefs responding to their client’s tastes added tomatoes, fish stock, and saffron, which increased the cost.

Planning Guide Visit Marseille Fishermen

Simple in concept, bouillabaisse is prepared by boiling the broth (bouillir) and then lowering the heat (abaisser). The high heat followed by simmering allows the spices to flavour the broth as it infuses and cooks the fish.

Chowder, cioppino, gumbo, moqueca, zarzuela… There are probably as many versions of fish soup as there are cultures. Bouillabaisse’s unique flavour combines local ingredients: rockfish, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, and herbs like fennel. By the 1970s, this soup was on menus throughout Marseille, once the staple of poor fishing families. However, the quality and preparation of bouillabaisse varied widely.

A Soup with Standards

“Today, the musts and must nots of preparing bouillabaisse are so numerous and so contradictory that one should be prepared to break rules at will.” ~ Richard Olney

Chez FonFon Bouillabaisse Fish Selection

©Chef Francois de Melogue

To address the lack of quality standards, chefs from nearly a dozen restaurants created la Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise (Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter) in 1980. They acknowledged that cooking is not an exact science and that chefs can experiment with ingredients. However, the goal was to maintain consistency and ensure that clients received top-quality ingredients and service.

The Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter states that the fish should be fresh from the Mediterranean (never frozen).  And must include at least four (4) of the following types:

  • Scorpionfish (Rascasse) – a bottom-feeder with a ridged head and sharp spines.
  • White scorpionfish – a variation of the above.
  • In French rouget de roche, a red mullet is a goatfish prized since antiquity. The Romans reared these fish and traded them by weight for silver.
  • Skate – a slow-growing, cartilaginous fish is a relative to stingrays and sharks.
  • Conger eel – the largest of the eel family, can reach up to three meters long.
  • John Dory is listed on a French menu as St. Pierre (Saint Peter’s fish). Olive green in colour, It has long spines on its fins and a distinctive dark spot on its side.

Restaurants might suggest additional options, such as spiny lobster or Cigale de Mer, a local crustacean. These options might be tempting, but be aware that these supplements add to the cost of your meal.

L'Epuisette Bouillabaisse in Marseille doree

©Chef Francois de Melogue

“The subject of bouillabaisse is a complicated one. . . . For the ingredients, only one fish is agreed upon by everyone — rascasse. No two lists are the same, and rascasse is the only name common to all.” ~ Waverley Root wrote in his book The Food of France.

Chef François de Melogue: That may be true if you live in the Mediterranean region or have a fantastic fishmonger who gets regular shipments of European fish flown in. Rascasse gives the broth a specific gelatinous viscosity and fish flavour that only a noble rockfish seems to provide.

Bouillabaisse Presentation

The Charter attempts to regulate serving standards for the bouillabaisse. Once cooked, the fish is presented to diners at the table. The fish must be filleted and deboned within viewing distance so you know you are getting what you ordered.

Like many meals in France, bouillabaisse has prescribed rituals. The first course is the broth, served in shallow bowls. Crusty rounds of bread and rouille (mayonnaise mixed with red pepper) accompany the broth. Some restaurants will also serve shredded cheese. Pro Tip: Don’t fill up on this first course!

Chez FonFon Bouillabaisse Worth the Visit

©Chef Francois de Melogue

The second course is fish, all four (or more) varieties served with the remaining broth. Restaurant serving staff will continue refilling your bowl until you indicate otherwise. If your table is brave enough to order the supplemental homard (lobster), it will come as your third course. Assuming you can pay the bill, you might need a long siesta after la bouillabaisse Marseillaise.

L'Epuisette Bouillabaisse in Marseille Sides

©Chef Francois de Melogue

Marseille’s signature restaurants carefully maintain these exacting standards. A door emblem indicates that the establishment follows the Charter.

“In its strictest form, bouillabaisse is an assertive flavoured, richly textured saffron seafood stew made from a specific list of Mediterranean fish that is always served in two courses. The worst-case gives us a barely flavored, thin broth speckled with too many vegetables that some old seafood has been laid to rest in.” ~ Chef François de Melogue

Bouillabaisse Rituals

Chef François shared, “Eating bouillabaisse is a carefully choreographed religious ceremony, requiring 24 hours’ notice and preparation. Its consumption is performed in two sacred rites, ending with genuflexion to the sacred cauldron.”

I stand by those words with more conviction today than I originally wrote them several years ago. Bouillabaisse is correctly served in two courses, starting with the aromatic saffron and tomato-hued broth ladled into warmed bowls and served with garlic croutons, shredded cheese, spicy rouille, and garlicky aioli. After seconds are offered, the whole fish poached in the broth is presented to the table, then filleted and glistened in a thin pool of extra broth. For adherents of the bouillabaisse religion, certainties and expectations must be met.

Bouillabaisse is a gourmet experience.

Where to Eat bouillabaisse in Marseille?

Bouillabaisse by the Sea

Christopher and Laurent at OohProvence boutique tour company said, “Bouillabaisse is a real experience of taste, texture, and smells. You share it with friends or family as it’s quite large. It’s very rich and filling, so you need to take your time!”

Les Goudes L'Esplaï du grand Bar des Goudes


Christopher and Laurent love l’Esplaï du Grand Bar des Goudes, and the restaurant terrace overlooks the fishing boats. Goudes is a village at the eastern end of Marseille before the Calanques National Park. The restaurant first opened in 1920 and still retains a traditional fish-based menu. Christopher and Laurent say visiting Goudes is like a voyage abroad to Greece. The village is tiny, filled with small townhouses owned by local fishermen. Goudes is part of Marseille, but it feels exotic!

L'Esplaï du grand Bar des Goudes Bouillabaisse in Marseille

©Chef Francois de Melogue

Chef François echoes the sentiment about this restaurant. One of our first stops in Marseille always goes to Les Goudes for a meal. It is a down-to-earth eatery with fantastic food. Their bouillabaisse is as incredible as the setting, the staff, and everything else on the menu. Local’s tip: Stop for a pastis at their bar across the street first.

l’Esplaï du Grand Bar des Goudes
29 av. Désiré Pellaprat
13008 Marseille

The food is excellent, traditional, and always fresh.
Reservations required
Open daily

Les Goudes L'Esplaï du grand Bar des Goudes


Still going strong after 70 years, L’Auberge du Corsaire, a restaurant locals affectionately call “Chez Paul,” serves a petite bouillabaisse. While the poêlon du pêcheur might be called “petite,” you will be satiated after eating this dish with fresh catch straight off the local fishing boats.

L’Auberge du Corsaire – Chez Paul
35 avenue Désirée Pelaprat,
13008 Marseille
Telephone: +33 (0)4 91 73 19 26

Special Occasion Bouillabaisse

Here are Chef François’ gourmet restaurant picks:

If you want a perfect bouillabaisse in a gorgeous dining room, look to no other than l’Epuisette. The restaurant’s bouillabaisse is a study of perfection. Made and served traditionally by a 1-star Michelin chef.

L'Epuisette Bouillabaisse in Marseille

©Chef Francois de Melogue

Vallon des Auffes
13007 Marseille
Open: Tuesday – Saturday

Chez Fonfon’s version was everything you would expect from an excellent bouillabaisse house that has been here for over 50 years. My mother used to eat here when she was younger, and it has become a family tradition. The broth was perfect, golden-hued and with an ideal balance of flavours. The second course of fish was fantastic and impeccably fresh. The portions were what one would expect from anywhere that serves bouillabaisse – gargantuan. A perfect day!

Chez FonFon Bouillabaisse in Marseille Vallon des Aufres

©Chef Francois de Melogue

Chez Fonfon
40 Rue du Vallon des Auffes,
13007 Marseille
Open daily

Michelin-Star Bouillabaisse

Distracted by Marseille’s traffic, we almost missed the sign indicating a sharp right turn towards Le Petit Nice. You want to be at this 16-room boutique hotel and eat at the Michelin three-star restaurant. Perhaps that is part of the grand plan, a commitment to relaxation and Gérald Passédat’s gastronomic experience. When the enormous metal gate slides open, the Mediterranean stretches to infinity.

“Le Petit Nice is 5 minutes from the city centre and 100 km from the noise.” ~Germain Passédat.

The story of Le Petit Nice dates back one hundred years to 1917. Germain Passédat (Gérald Passédat’s grandfather) was in the right place (working at his nearby bar) at the right time. The story goes that he overheard a conversation that the owner of the Villa Corinthe had via the bar’s telephone—her discussion with her notaire related to the sale of the majestic property. Germain seized the opportunity and raised funds needed for the real estate transaction. He renamed the villa “Le Petit Nice” as the littoral reminded Germain of the Côte d’Azur.

Luxurious le Petit Nice Archive

Photo archive ©Le Petit Nice

Inspired by his Mediterranean “pantry,” Chef Gérald Passédat created a menu dedicated to Marseille’s famous dish. Served in a deconstructed manner, La Bouille Abaisse is a three-course menu. The menu features a shellfish carpaccio as a starter and a whole baked fish served in an ultra-concentrated soup. Wine pairing is available, too.

Le Petit Nice
Anse de Maldormé
Corniche J.F. Kennedy
13007 Marseille
Telephone: +33 (0)4 91 59 25

Bouillabaisse Terrine by Gérald Passedat
A Michelin-starred chef variation on the Marseille classic.
Check out this recipe
Bouillabaisse Terrine Terrine De BouilleAbaisse #GeraldPassedat (c) RichardHaughton

More Bouillabaisse and Fish Recipes

Marseille Fish Soup Poissons

©Chef Francois de Melogue

Marseille Classic Bouillabaisse
A Bouillabaisse, to be served in perfect conditions, should be prepared for a party of at least 6 to 7. This allows the cook to purchase a wider variety of fish. You will have to be persevere to find all the different types of fresh Mediterranean fish. If you are far from the Mediterranean, use your local white fleshed fish. The recipe proposed here, consists in poaching the bigger fish into the small fish soup. It is the luxury version of the recipe, as it differs from the original fishermen who were simply recuperating the damaged and unsold parts. Follow the steps to create this a gastronomic recipe.
Check out this recipe
Marseille Classic Bouillabaisse
Bouillabaisse with Seasonal Mushrooms
If ever there was a great recipe to exploit and highlight the season's best offerings of mushrooms, there is none better than this one. A light and cool vegetable bouillabaisse teeming with the bountiful delights of fresh local mushrooms garnished with a creamy rouille.
Check out this recipe
Bouillabaisse Champignons mushroom bouillabaisse @Toquadom #TastesofProvence
Bourride Mediterranean Fish Soup
Bourride is similar to bouillabaisse, a seafood soup flavoured with garlic aïoli.
Check out this recipe
Fish Market #Marseille @PerfProvence
Boulettes de Poisson à la Marsaillaise {Marseille-Style Fish Balls}
This fish recipe was adapted from the book "Flavors from the French Mediterranean" by Michelin 3-star chef Gérald Passedat. This dish can be prepared in advance and assembled when you serve.
Check out this recipe
Boulettes de Poisson Marseillaise @Cocoa&Lavender

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride at six months of age was her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

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