TO SEE | MARKET
If you want to experience the heart of Sète, you have to pay a visit to the covered market of Les Halles. After all, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Works for women as well, if I speak for myself. Being the first fishing port of the French Mediterranean, you can expect a lot of fish, oysters and other shellfish. But there is more!
Les Halles of Sète already exists since 1890. The original cast-iron building was based on the Baltard style, to be replaced by a concrete four-storey building in the 1970s. Not the world’s sexiest covered market as you can imagine. So in 2011, the architect François Fontes created a contemporary version of Les Halles. To me, it looks like a giant fishnet covers the market. I really enjoyed strolling around, looking at all the local flavours. And non-local flavours. Being rather close to the Spanish border, I found some lovely tapas stalls.
To my surprise, I also discovered quite a few Italian food stalls at Les Halles, offering some fine and fresh pasta. Sète’s nickname is “Venice of Languedoc”, from what I thought came of the many canals in Sète. However, many Sètois have Italian blood flowing through their veins. About one-third of them originates from Italian immigrants who came to Sète as of 1860 to catch anchovies. It is said that you’re only a real Sètois if you have Italian ancestors. True or not, I bought some great truffle ravioli that tasted absolutely divine!
Tielles and zézettes
Another heritage of the Italian immigrants is the very local “tielle”. Apparently, these pies filled with octopus in a spicy tomato sauce were brought to Sète by Neapolitan fishermen. Already in 1930, the Italian fishermen of the Haut-Quartier had tielles for lunch. Of course, you can find the original ones at Les Halles, but also all kinds of variations on them. I saw pizza’s with a tielle topping and even sweet tielles. Talking about sweet: another famous delicacy from “l’Île Singulier” are the “Zézettes de Sète. This biscuit, based on flower, sugar, oil and white wine, made its entry at Les Halles in the 1950s. Still very popular, as during the summer season, no less than 800 kilos is produced. Per day!
I resisted the tielles and the zézettes though, as I saw quite a few people sitting at tables in the very heart of Les Halles. All of them having a nice plate of freshly caught oysters in front of them, accompanied by a glass of white wine. It was well before lunch hour! By the time I figured out where to get these salty delights, the queue was lining up. But it was worth the waiting. And the perfect end to my culinary visit to Les Halles.