Legend has it that this signature fish stew was first made by Marseillaise fishermen, upon their return from daily fishing expeditions. After they sorted their catches in the fishing nets, the larger, more expensive fish would go to local markets to be purchased by restaurants, while the common and bony rockfish would be boiled with garlic, tomatoes, and fennel, as dinner for the fishermen. At that time, fishermen cooked with what they caught each day, usually fish such as red rascasse and sea robins. It is believed that name “Bouillabaisse” came about through the process of its own making: the soup base is first boiled (bouillir), then firm-fleshed fish is added to the stock and boiled, and lastly, tender-fleshed fish is added and further boiled. Crucial to the process, the heat needs to be lowered (abaisser) each time the stock comes to a boil.
As Marseille became a prosperous city of manufacturing and trade in the 19th century, the fisherman’s Bouillabaisse transformed into a main course on restaurant and hotel menus, with the addition of saffron and shellfish to further improve upon the original recipe. The method for preparing Bouillabaisse has evolved throughout history, and even today the flavor profile for this iconic soup continues to develop with the introduction of non-traditional ingredients, such as lobster and orange zest, being used to create new variations on menus across the world. But loyal to its taste tradition, it is in Marseille where visitors can still enjoy an authentic taste of Bouillabaisse from years past. Surrounded by the calming sound of the sea, the sun shining across a watercolor palette of blue and green, indulging in the comfort of a deeply rich, warmly inviting bowl of Bouillabaisse, is where one can perhaps best appreciate the essential Marseille.