I have lived all over France, from the cold, coal-digging North to the sunny South to infamous, nearly central Paris. And while I have chosen the latter as my current home, it was actually during a four-month stint in Cannes that I decided to move to France.
I went to Cannes, as so many American students do, as part of a study abroad program. I spent the spring semester of my sophomore year of college taking classes in French language, history, culture and cooking, and by the time my four months were over, I was certain I wanted to move, not only to France, but to Cannes... and this was before the summer season had begun.
Cannes is a city, like many seaside cities, that is best known in its high period, when international movie stars arrive to walk the red carpet at the film festival, and glamorous hotels put out chaise lounges for those wishing to sip cocktails at the seaside. But the Cannes I knew – the Cannes that exists for the rest of the year – was much different.
In the winter, native cannois bundle up against the (relative) cold, seeking shelter indoors and company over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. They do their daily shopping at the Forville market in the old town, picking local produce and cheeses and eating, not in expensive, seaside restaurants, but in the comfort of their own homes, with friends around the table. When the summer season arrives, the people that flood Cannes' streets are not the natives: they've already departed for picnics at the public beaches and hikes in the Alpes Maritimes... which is where knowledge of one of the local specialities, pan bagnat, comes in handy.
My professor in Cannes, a Frenchman by the name of Serge, complete with a moustache, tiny glasses, a large red scarf and a boisterous laugh, answered all my questions about the natives of this little corner of the Riviera. In their language, pan bagnat means pain baignée, or “bathed bread” in English: a sandwich made of a special local bread, “bathed” in olive oil and topped with local specialties: tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, olives, boiled eggs. The exact combination can vary from family to family and according to your personal tastes, but in the end, what you get is a sandwich that only gets better with time. Make them before leaving on a walk or a hike, and when you finally unwrap them to eat, you'll be rewarded with bread that has soaked up the juices and flavors of this very Provencal group of ingredients.
Recipe: Pan Bagnat
Summary: Southern French Sandwiches
- 1 bread for pain bagnat (or any crusty French bread)
- 2 tsp. good olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/3 cup tuna fish, canned in oil and drained
- 1 tsp. Salt
- 1 shallot, minced
- ½ tomato, sliced
- 3-5 anchovies
- 1 hard boiled egg, sliced into rounds
- several leaves of lettuce (optional)
- Slice the bread in two horizontally. If the bread is particularly doughy, remove some of the interior ofthe bread.
- Brush each side with olive oil. Cut the clove of garlic in half, and rub it vigorously against each side of bread.
- In a small bowl, combine the tuna, salt and shallot. Place the tuna mixture on one side of the bread. Top with tomato slices, anchovies, egg and lettuce, if using. Place the other side of the bread on top.
- Wrap the sandwich very tightly in plastic wrap to secure the ingredients. Best if prepared several hours in advance.
Emily Monaco is native New Yorker, living and writing in Paris since 2007. She loves discovering new places and, of course, their local cuisines! Read about her adventures in food and travel at tomatokumato.com or follow her on Twitter at @emiglia