Add corn and they’re scandalised. Shallots are a sacrilege. Green beans and potatoes, unacceptable.
Meet the defence committee for France’s Salade Nicoise — possibly the world’s most ubiquitous salad dish after Caesar salad — that purists are tired of seeing tossed the “wrong” way.
In a country that loves cooking, but not necessarily change, the group is not only serious but is supported and partly subsidised by Nice city hall.
“When we come back from holidays, we talk about our experiences around France, like the time I was served Salade Nicoise with mayonnaise. I was horrified!” said Renee Graglia, 78, a native of the posh Riviera city where the dish originated.
She is president of the Cercle de la Capelina d’Or, a group devoted to teaching, defending and promoting traditional cuisine from the region around Nice, a magnet for French and foreign tourists alike.
Originally, “our cooking was simple food for poor people,” Graglia said. “At first, Salade Nicoise was made only with tomatoes, anchovies and olive oil.”
A local variation is “pan bagnat” meaning bathed or wet bread in the Nice dialect Nissard. Bread was baked only every three weeks so it got hard, Graglia said, and the juicy salad and a bit of water helped soften it enough to eat. But like the salad, pan bagnat has also morphed wildly.
Once known as the County of Nice, this area, near the Italian border, has a distinct cultural and historical heritage that can be traced back to the Middle Ages.
“We want to maintain tradition… because there are limits,” said Graglia, a retired teacher from the respected Hotel School of Nice, an establishment that trains professionals in the food and hotel industry.
And Salade Nicoise with corn? “No! Some even put in lemon and shallots, no, no!” she said.