Provençal speciality made with garlic

Although present in many countries and with centuries-old origins, aioli strongly represents Provence and the Midi. Try this Provencal speciality during your stay in Marseille.

Origins and history

Aïoli (or ailloli, alhòli in Occitan; all i oli in Catalan), from modern Provençal alhòli or aiòli (Mistralian spelling).

A mixture of the two words “ail” and òli, “oil”, aïoli is a sauce based on an emulsion of garlic and olive oil.

The sources of this very old preparation date back to antiquity. Aïoli is said to have appeared during the Roman Empire and in ancient Egypt.

The sauce is closely linked to the ancestral origins of olive oil in the Mediterranean basin, a basin in which aioli is very common and appreciated. From Andalusia, through Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, the Basque country, Languedoc, Provence, the Nice region to Sicily in Italy, the aioli brings together many sunny nations.

Warmth, sunshine and conviviality… these are three flavours that can be added to aioli, the historic dish of the Mediterranean.

Recipes and different versions

For purists, aioli is a garlic sauce prepared with a mortar and pestle, using only garlic emulsion and olive oil.

Many chefs also prepare other variations of aioli and may add egg yolk, lemon juice, milk, breadcrumbs, potatoes, or mustard.

The current recognised version, especially in the Marseille region, is still the one that benefits from the addition of an egg yolk to the preparation, giving it the same appearance as a mayonnaise, …however, the aioli can pride itself on being a different speciality in itself, taking advantage of the pronounced character of the garlic.

Around a good ailloli, well put together and fragrant and red as a golden thread, where are, answer me, the men who do not recognize themselves as brothers?

Frédéric Mistral

The different dishes

Aïoli is found in various southern dishes;

Escargots à la provençale, Aïoli garni, Bourride and ratatouille, Bourride à la sétoise, Potatoes with aïoli, Tapas, croutons, toasts, fish, seafood, fish soup and even grilled meats such as lamb chops. Among all these dishes, the garnished aioli remains the most representative dish accompanied by this miraculous recipe.

The garnished aioli

Aïoli garni or grand aïoli marseillais or simply “aïoli” is the most widespread dish associated with the sauce. This speciality harmoniously combines desalted cod, sea snails or whelks with boiled seasonal vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, green beans, leeks, hard-boiled eggs, and sometimes (depending on the restaurant) other seafood such as prawns or mussels.

Generally, this dish can be served with, for example, a white wine, such as a Languedoc, or a red wine, such as a Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, …beer also offers an excellent alternative.

Aïoli garni is a unique and very convivial dish, as it is very suitable for a dinner with family or friends as well as for a large buffet or a barbecue on the terrace. Aïoli, synonymous with warmth and cordiality, brings people together!

Aïoli in popular culture

There are a few expressions linked to aïoli, such as: “Pédaler dans l’aïoli”(making futile efforts), a regional variant of “pédaler dans la choucroute”, which is taken from the Dico marseillais: D’aïoli à zou! by Daniel Argomathe and Jean-Michel Kasbarian

The Marseille expression “faire monter l’aïoli” is also used and means to party, to set the mood, in connection with the energy needed to “make the mayonnaise take”. The Marseille group Massilia Sound System often refers to it in their songs.

The Provençal writer Frédéric Mistral created the newspaper L’Aiòli in 1891 where he quotes;

“Aïoli concentrates in its essence the heat, the strength, the joy of the sun of Provence”.

He also gave his personal recipe for aïoli in the Almanach provençal.

The Marseilles journalist Jacques Bonnadier devoted an entire collection to it in his Petit traité amoureux de l’Aïoli.

During the summer, many towns in the south of France organise large Aïolis to close festivals and celebrations, such as Saint-Rémy de Provence, Graveson en Provence, Trets, etc. Some towns, such as Mouriès, even make the aioli the main activity of their summer festival.

As you can see, aïoli, a rich Provencal and Mediterranean heritage, is very present in popular culture and offers the rest of the world a dish that is both simple and tasty.