One of the best things about the city of Paris is the outdoor markets in every quartier. With over seventy such markets dotted across Paris, every Parisian has a market they can call their own. At these markets, vendors set up shop along the streets a few times a week, from morning to early afternoon to sell fresh produce, seafood, meat and charcuterie, cheese and dairy, and maybe even some regional products of France.
The abundance of ingredients to cook with, the changing colours every season, the smell of the earth still clinging to the root vegetable and the casual banter and familiar smile after being a loyal shopper, all come together to create the typical Paris market experience.
When you visit a market, you must forget about the time. Nobody every seems to be in a hurry, and everybody always seems to buy way too much produce to stuff into their caddies. Why aren’t they in a hurry? Because the vendor needs all the information he can get to fully understand how you intend to use your potatoes (purée or poêlée?) or when is it that you plan on consuming the punnet of purple figs. This way, he can make make you the perfect little panier (seldom do vendors let you touch their produce), based on questions like:
Gros ou petit? (Big or small?)
Mûr ou pas trop mûr? (Ripe or not very?)
Pour combien de personnes? (For how many people?)
Let’s say you’re buying apples and pears, you’re going to be instructed not to eat the pears for at least another two days, because they were harvested only last night and they are not to be eaten today. You always comply. Buying apples is also a big decision – this is trés croquant (very crisp) or that one is un peu acidulée (a little acidic) or the other one is parfait for a tart.
How about when you are curious about a certain variety of fish or are looking for a new way to use those topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes)? They have a solution for that as well. Eavesdropping on market on conversations where recipes are exchanged is becoming an increasing enjoyable recreation for me. Most of the time the recipes are downright simple and attest to the fact that when you have good, fresh produce, there is little you need to do to it.
Here’s a market tip: When you see the awnings read “maraîchers” you know that the people selling the produce are the ones growing it. And thus, in all likelihood, the produce has been picked right before making it to the market, and is not the sticker-sporting kind that has gone through the enormous supply-chain of the Rungis wholesale market.
Some favourite markets include:
Marché Ave du Président Wilson (Wed, Sat)
Marché Place des Fêtes (Tue, Fri and Sunday)
Marché Raspail (Tue, Fri and Sunday)
Marché Convention (Tue, Thu, Sun)
Marché Bastille (Thu, Sun)
Marché Aligre (open all days except Monday)