At a typical pâtisserie orientale, the front window is often stacked with towers of sweets – honey-soaked visual merchandising to entice passersby to pop inside. Some pastry shops line their walls with colorful geometric tiles and Moorish arches, the icing on the Maghreb cake. Pâtisserie Orientale Journo goes for a decidedly more subtle approach.
Though located a block from Marseille’s main drag, the Canèbiere, this unassuming shop is somewhat lost in the shuffle of the pedestrian Rue de Pavillon. The few tables scattered out front suggest that there’s food to be found inside but the open storefront is bare – save for a giant five-gallon water jug propped on a stool, with a hand-scrawled sign “citronnade – 2 euros” beside it. That’s all the advertising needed for a pastry shop that has survived by word of mouth for 60 years.
Roger Journo’s bakery actually began in his homeland, Tunisia. He landed in Marseille in the mid-60s, joining his fellow compatriots who flocked to France for work and opportunity after Tunisia’s independence in 1956. To keep connected to his Tunisian Jewish roots, Roger essentially re-opened the bakery he had across the Mediterranean: the same recipes, the same set-up, even some of the same customers. “The kids of customers come in searching for the tastes they had when they were 4 years old,” explains David, Roger’s grandson who helps run the shop.
“The kids of customers come in searching for the tastes they had when they were 4 years old.”
In addition to the Tunisians who insist Roger’s pastries are the “only authentic ones in town,” the loyal clientele is an eclectic mix of the Italian Catholics who comprised Tunisia’s biggest immigrant community in late 19th and early 20th centuries, North Africans, observant Jews (the shop is certified kosher) and other locals. They come for the makrout, date-filled almond cakes; you you, donuts dipped in honey syrup; and loukoum, the sugary, jelly-like squares loaded with chopped nuts. They lick powdered sugar from their fingers left from the cornes de gazelles, crescent-shaped almond cookies. Everything is baked fresh daily – the baking sheets go from oven to drying rack and then directly to the shelves lining one side of the shop, their only effort to tempt customers.
Along the opposite wall, a pyramid of pink cans of Tunisian tuna represent the savory side of the menu. Choose from a simple fricassee, a fried roll stuffed with tuna, black olives and tomatoes, or get the sandwich tunisien, which is loaded with veggies and hard-boiled egg. Hold the bread with a Tunisian salad or opt for a brik, a crisp pastry stuffed with egg and tuna. The plat du jour ranges from cumin-scented leblebi soup to loubia, a white bean and lamb stew. Since these hearty dishes are better suited to cold weather (and considering that the small kitchen becomes a sauna in the summer), they are only offered in the winter.
To sip there is the aforementioned citronnade (lemonade made with whole lemons), mint tea, and an incredible orgeat. Historically made with orge (barley) for hundreds of years, the refreshing drink is now prepared with almonds. Here, they simply add water and sugar, no coloring or preservatives like the cloyingly sweet industrial versions. It’s the ideal beverage for a hot day – or for a souvenir in the to-go bottles.
“I have the feeling I am the keeper of a museum,” David explains while standing next to shelves teeming with traditional pastries. He ended up at Pâtisserie Orientale Journo because Roger’s children chose to practice medicine over baking. Although he’s a law school grad himself, David decided to come on board because he “couldn’t bear [the thought that] the shop would close.” So he joined his grandfather, who, at 85 years old, still does the baking. If he’s not in the kitchen, you can find him sitting out front, chatting to the regulars as he’s done for decades.