The most famous fish stew of the Mediterranean is bouillabaisse, and its home is considered to be Marseilles, although it is made in every little port throughout the coastal regions of Provence. According to some, bouillabaisse was brought to Marseilles by the Ancient Greeks in 600 BC, though many Marseilles prefer the more colourful myth that it was the soup made by the Roman goddess Venus to send her husband, Vulcan, to sleep so that she could pursue her love affair with Mars.
In reality bouillabaisse started life as a simple fishermen’s stew made from the leftovers of the catch they weren’t able to sell, generally shellfish and rock fish too bony to serve in restaurants.
These would be cooked in a pot of sea water on a wood fire and seasoned with garlic, fennel and (after these were introduced to Europe from South America in the 16th century) tomatoes.
In the 19th century, as Marseilles became more prosperous, the recipe was refined by restaurants and middle-class housewives. Saffron was introduced and fish stock substituted for sea water.