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The southern French city of Marseille on the Mediterranean Sea has long been famous for its spicy fish soup, known as bouillabaisse. Eleanor Beardsley sampled the dish, and sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The kitchen is already hopping early in the morning at the restaurant Le Miramar, on Marseille's old port. The Miramar's 15 chefs are busy preparing for the Saturday lunch crowd. One of the favorite dishes, and a specialty here, is the traditional Marseille bouillabaisse. Miramar owner Christian Buffa explains that it's made in two stages - the first with tiny sea creatures and the second with the main fish.

CHRISTIAN BUFFA: In the first part you make a soup with all this different little fish with vegetables, tomatoes, onion, garlic, fennel, olive oil, saffron. And after, we cook the six different fish in the soup. It's very big. But this is a vrai bouillabaisse.

BEARDSLEY: Buffa gets his fish fresh every day at Marseille's fish market near the docks. He says in the summertime the restaurant needs some two tons of fish a week. A true bouillabaisse contains about three pounds of fish for one person. And it costs about $75. Ironically, it used to be a poor man's dish, says waiter Andre Bluck.

ANDRE BLUCK: (Through Translator) Bouillabaisse was created by the sailors who worked on the fishing boats. All the best fish was sold, so they took what was left over and made a spicy stew of it.

BEARDSLEY: Bouillabaisse today has high quality fish such as John Dory, Monkfish and Red Snapper.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Around noon, the Miramar begins to fill up with tourists from around the world and not so far away. Parisians Franc and Antoine DuBosc have brought their families down on the train.

ANTOINE DUBOSC: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: We came down to Marseille for the sun and the sea, and to eat a bouillabaisse, of course. You can't get a real bouillabaisse in Paris, they say.

Finally, my own bouillabaisse arrives.

BLUCK: Bon appetit.

BEARDSLEY: Waiter Andre serves up the first course, a thick fish soup, which is eaten with croutons dipped in rouille, a mayonnaise, olive oil, garlic and saffron spread. Andre presents our six fish, which will be cut up and put in the soup as a sort of second course.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIQUID BEING POURED)

BEARDSLEY: A crisp, dry white or rose is the perfect accompaniment to the spicy delicacy. Diner Elaine Cobbe, who hails from Ireland, is enchanted by the dish and the ritual around it.

ELAINE COBBE: It's very good. I love the two-course idea of the meal. I really enjoyed the first, the soup part. And then, it just looks beautiful. The color as well. There's just so much saffron in it, and it's so yellow and orange. And it's kind of like the sun down here in Marseille.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News.

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