“You can’t visit Provence and not sample a Navette de Marseille,” my friend said to me as we entered a French sweet store in the Aix-en-Provence town center…
Longtime readers of this blog will know what I have a sweet tooth for… just about anything! So when I was offered the opportunity to try a Navette de Marseille delicacy in Provence itself, I wasn’t going to say no. We entered one of the many traditional Provençal delicacy stores that litter the region with the view of buying a few ‘souvenirs’; as in a lot of nougat and other biscuits. Ha! Obviously, I ate all of my purchases before even leaving Provence… Once inside the store, we were offered many more samples of the products than we were actually purchasing.
I visited the Provence region in Southern France for a week this past summer, but could easily have stayed longer. The friendly people, great weather, quaint architecture and constant sea breeze made Provence my favourite travel destination of 2016. Plus, it’s fairly easy to secure relatively low fare tickets to the region from Paris if you book your tickets in advance for an unfavourable time (mid-week, very early/ late at night etc.)
Navette de Marseille: A history and taste test
Traditional navette pastries come in one flavour, and one flavour only: orange blossom. The taste is sweet, light and not altogether different from other floral noted flavours such as rose blossom. More modern twists on the pastry come in a larger variety of flavours and spices. However, if you want to get the ‘authentic’ experience, I suggest sticking with orange blossom.
The navette is typically formed in the shape of the boat. Although the word ‘navette‘ has come to mean ‘shuttle bus’ in modern French, it once evoked thoughts of the sea. After all, Marseille, the town for which the pastry is named is a portside town.
Like many foods, there is no one agreed origin of the Navette. One theory suggests that the pastry was baked to evoke thoughts of the Sainte Maries (the three Marys, followers of Jesus) to Marseille. Another theory suggests that the boat shape is meant to make the consumer think of fertility. Finally, the most popular theory is that this biscuit was originally baked to celebrate Candelmas (February 2nd, the 40th day after the Christmas season). In the rest of France, pancakes are usually baked on this day.
Whatever the origins of the Navette de Marseille (all the theories I read were fascinating and provide an insight into the culture and history of the region), it’s definitely worth trying one on your trip to Provence!