Bring home the flavors of the French Riviera with a pan bagnat
Spending a vacation along the French Riviera has many glamorous perks, but it has its shortcomings, too — especially on your pocketbook.
The luxury of strolling seaside on the Mediterranean, yachting from port to port, or simply soaking up the essence of the Côte d’Azur is worth a summer extravagance, although it doesn’t come cheap.
But while dining at chic cafes on the French Riviera can be costly, the simplicity of Provençal ingredients are at your beck and call. They’re cheap and easy to find—both on the Riviera and here at home. You simply have to look.
There’s one snack with origins in Nice that has become a Côte d’Azur specialty: the pan bagnat. Essentially just a sandwich housing a traditional Niçoise salad, the pan bagnat is found in almost every supermarket or bakery from Barcelona to Portofino but rarely purchased by tourists seeking a true Mediterranean specialty — unfortunate because this sandwich drips of flavors of Provençe and the Mediterranean, and it is something that locals really do tote along for a day at the beach or pick up on the way home as a light supper.
Traditional pan bagnats are made with a round wheat roll, but contemporary versions found at sandwich stands are most often served on baguettes. On the inside of the crusty bread are the cool, refreshing flavors of Nice’s prized salad: basil, cucumbers, olives, tomato, anchovies, hard-boiled egg and tuna all very lightly glazed with a bare vinaigrette. The flavors are light but evocative of the salty Mediterranean sea.
French for “wet bread,” a real pan bagnat recipe has no measurements for ingredients. This sandwich with a bun that is barely softened with a wisp of olive oil and vinegar was created to use whatever ingredients you can procure during the season—or whatever you can afford. Anchovies are too expensive? Leave them out. You only have a little bit of artichoke left? That will do. If the structure is there, it will taste right.
And the taste is definitely something to be experienced. It’s strange how something so simple and cheap, reworked into the shell of traditional American sandwich composition, could be so absurdly French and deliciously delicate.
If your expenses won’t take you to the French Riviera this summer, sample the seasonal flavors of Provençe and the Côte d’Azur at home.