It was an afterthought on the end of the walk. We had spent the last two hours walking the streets of Nice with Gaétan, a volunteer from the Greeter organization. Now near the end of our time, he suggested we take a table on the sidewalk bistro and try some traditional Niçoise faire. The carafe of Rosé gets poured into three glasses and we toast to Nice.
A plate of thin, fragrant chickpea pancake is placed between us. Gaétan tears a piece off and encourages us to do the same. It is piping hot and slightly greasy. A little awkward to handle so casually while sharing with a stranger. But he doesn’t have to explain to us what this is – every blogger and travel guide has told us to eat socca. They’ve ranked the places that serve it and told us the history of each. My plan was to get it from Chez Therese in Old Town, not here at a faceless bistro. But Gaétan knows what we don’t – it is delicious everywhere.
For the rest of our vacation, socca is a regular occurrence. Any food stall on any street will do. We eat it, without judgement or moderation. We are not ranking one serving against the next, but enjoying the moment the flavor of olive oil and chickpeas and salt, roasted in aged cast iron, hits our mouths.
Two weeks later, I am home in Oklahoma. I’ve secured Chickpea flour, a task that has taken me to four grocery stores. I’ve read too many recipes, but settled on one that seems traditional enough. My socca falls short. It’s a little too stiff and a little too bland. But we eat it, and drink Rose, and remember how much fun Nice was. We were so relaxed. So content.
Almost a year passes, but I think of Nice often. Sometimes when the sky is blue and there is a slight breeze, I think about the palm trees that line the Promenade des Anglais. I paint seven of them in the month after the trip. Each tree, covered in gold leaf and thick black outlines reminiscent of Raoul Dufy, stands singularly on a white canvas. After the Bastille Day attacks, I think of lazy afternoon strolls down the boardwalk, and cry for the people who’s warmth toward us was matched only by the tropical sun over our heads.
In the summer, farmers markets become ritual. I walk through my own neighborhood, conversing with friends and local farmers, but think back to the packed stalls of Liberation, full of fat aubergines and fiery red bell peppers.
Rotisserie chickens make their way home with me from the grocery, only half as good as the poulet roasting on sidewalk spits.
At the end of the Oklahoma summer, on a whim, I buy chickpea flour. I dump it into a mixing bowl and start adding water and olive oil. I’m not measuring. I’m not reading recipes. I am relaxed – feeling my way through. I heat my crepe pan on the stove and mix rosemary, cracked pepper, and fleur de sel into the batter. As I spread the batter onto the crepe pan, I am happy with the consistency. The batter cooks quickly. I find a rhythm as I run the spatula around the edges and flick my wrist to give it a quick flip. It lands in the middle of the pan and sizzles. The smell of rosemary hits my nose and fills kitchen. I pull it off the pan and onto a plate. I tear a piece off while it is too hot and take a bite. The flavor fills my mouth. It is nutty and creamy and salty and rich with olive oil. It tastes like Nice. I call Travis to the kitchen and we spend the next few minutes devouring this flavorful memory. We open wine and get out olives and cheese. We are relaxed and content. For a moment, we are in Nice.