One of the enjoyable things about travel is seeing how people live.
In France, visiting the local markets is a great way to see, smell, and taste the area.
The French are using supermarkets more and more (such as Carrefour, which also has hypermarts that also sell clothing and personal services). But in certain parts of Paris, and throughout the countryside, local markets are well-used. Some travelers will actually plan their itineraries around each town’s market day. My trips are planned around the destinations, so being at a market day is a happy coincidence.
While staying in the Montmartre district a few years back, we rented an apartment and prepared our meals from what we found wandering around the streets. These aren’t really the farmer’s markets you find in rural towns, but shops that are always open. Some streets have the same feel as a marketplace, especially to Americans who are used to doing the bulk of our shopping in a single store, with side trips to specialty shops on occasion. On this trip to Paris, the friends with whom I was traveling — Eric, Janet, Laura, and Whitney — all love seafood, so the fishmongers of course drew us in. We ended up buying some lovely paella that Eric noticed.
Another night, we found a shop that specialized in ravioli. Each type, whether filled with cheese, lobster, pumpkin, or meats, had a different colored (or even striped) pasta, so we bought an assortment so that we could all have a bit of every type. On the recommendation of the owner, we bought a bottle of good olive oil, some cheese, and bread.
No heavy sauces, just fresh ingredients, simply prepared. I also found a shop that sold nothing but pates. Fortunately, there was a British woman shopping who spoke excellent French, so she was able to help me pick out the exact right pate to go with our meal.
The French are very serious about their food. They talk about it, evaluate it. In the US, it’s considered bad manners to discuss your food while you are eating it, other than passing compliments, but often I would overhear the French focusing their meal times conversations over what they were eating, especially outside of Paris. When we bought a melon, the proprietor wanted to know if we were going to eat it that evening, or the next day. She picked one out for us based on our answer. That’s real love.
In Provence, we happened to be in the town of Uzes on market day. Not only foods, but clothing, books, kitchen utensils, and shoes were all for sale. Having never lived near the ocean until very recently, I’m always fascinated by the varieties of fresh seafood available. Also, somewhat squeamish, since shrimp, scallops, and vertebrate fish were my family mainstays.
One custom in French markets of which I heartily approve is that they typically will not buy produce or other foods if they can’t sample it first. Munching on a grape in a supermarket is considered something akin to stealing in the US, unless there is some employee offering you tastes. In Uzes, one vendor had about two dozen varieties of olives – she expected you to want to taste any variety you were considering. Dozens of varieties, prepared with different dressings, oils, accompaniments, scooped up with deep-bowled wooden ladles. Lovely!
Wine seems to be heavily subsidized. I wouldn’t touch a $5 bottle of wine with a blowtorch in the US, but we found drinkable table wines for €3-6. While there were certainly expensive wines available, these were quite nice. We also enjoyed chilled rosé wine in Provence (note to wine newbies: this is NOT white zinfandel!!)
A few more shots of market finds!
- Montmartre (maisouiparis.com)
- Provence – Provence, France (travelpod.com)
- Eating Well In Paris Sometimes Means Not Going Out. (yellowflat.wordpress.com)
- Provence: readers’ tips, recommendations and travel advice (telegraph.co.uk)