Towards the end of the nineteenth century, impoverished Neapolitan Italians began making the journey across the Mediterranean in search of a more prosperous life in France. For many, their first port of call was Marseille, the nation’s oldest city and one whose location has fostered a long tradition of immigration that survives to this day, with Italian culture still present in the city.
This influence finds its purest expression in the city’s food. Since the 1960s, when local chef Jean Meritant created Marseille’s first camion de pizza, these roadside vendors have been synonymous with the region of Provence. Equipped with wood-fired ovens, the trucks serve up freshly baked pies to thousands of people every day, and alongside lavender, pastis, and pétanques, they have become a symbol of local identity.
With demand so high, competition between the trucks is fierce – meaning that the quality of pizza here generally falls somewhere between good and truly special. For starters, every vendor makes their own dough. Whilst it’s fine to cook after four to six hours of resting, many leave it for considerably longer than this (forty-eight hours in some cases) in order to achieve the lightest, crispiest crust possible. Then there’s the sauce, which doesn’t depart too much from your classic tomato/garlic/olive oil concoction aside from the addition of herbes de provence, the local melange of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. The toppings, too, can take on a distinctly local flavour. In addition to the classics, most menus will include options such as goat’s cheese and honey, marinated aubergine, and the pizza corse, which is usually topped with Corsican figatelli sausage and creamy brousse cheese. This being France, Emmental remains the standard cheese for most pizzas, with mozzarella usually listed as a topping in its own right. Regardless of the specifics, the products served up in the pizza trucks of Provence are generally very, very good indeed. The quality of the ingredients in this idyllic corner of Southeast France is of the utmost importance to the pizzas. Yet it is the dedication, attention to detail, and skill of the pizzaiolos who make a living from the vans that truly makes these pizzas some of the best to be found anywhere, Italy included.
A truly unique regional custom, the pizza trucks of Provence not only serve their amazing product to people across the area, yet they also represent a key cultural aspect of modern Provençale life, adding to the ancient region’s undeniable charm in the most delicious of ways.