For food-lovers, a visit to France is like a trip to a culinary mecca. This spring, I found myself with an itch to travel and, as typical for us local pickers, a hungry belly. So when an opportunity came up to visit Paris, I was off before you could say “bon voyage!”
One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to visit a market. The abundance of good things to eat, the vibrant colors and sounds of vendors calling out their goods never ceases to inspire me. Most of all, I like visiting markets because it’s a snapshot of local life that anyone can participate in.
The markets of Paris do not disappoint. There are marchés dotted all over the city, with at least one in each neighborhood. Visiting a foreign market can be a bit daunting at first – there’s the language barrier and the sometimes mysterious-seeming details of exchanges. Not to worry! We’ve put together a few tips from our Parisian market experiences…
Market stall of the Fromagerie Bellevaire
1) Give yourself plenty of time. The French have mastered the art of slowing down and appreciating the good things in life. Taking in the vibrancy of a market is an event to be enjoyed. Most Parisian markets are liveliest on weekends, when people aren’t rushed by obligations. Do like the locals: allow your senses, not your schedule, to guide you.
2) Take a tour of the market. Now that you’ve slowed down your pace and aren’t pressed for time, let yourself wander. Scope out the various stalls before you decide where purchase. Maybe you’re interested in organic (biologique) produce. If you want to buy directly from the source, look for the words “producteur” or “maraîcher.” Compare price and quality. Keep an eye out for any stall with a big line, which is a sure sign of a good thing.
3) Hold off on handling the produce. In the U.S., we’re pretty used to inspecting our fruits and veggies to see if an item is ripe. In France, picking produce up is a bit of a faux pas. If you see something you like, wait for the vendor. The thinking is that vendors are absolute experts when it comes to their goods. If you want to buy a peach, a vendor will choose from among all the peaches he has to select the best one. It’s not at all uncommon to be asked when you plan to eat the item (“C’est pour aujourd’hui? – Is it for today?”), since the timing will affect the ripeness. Vendors are looking out for you. They’re passionate about their goods and want you to enjoy produce at the exact moment it’s at its best.
4) Don’t stress about the language. You don’t need to be fluent to visit a market. A few key phrases will go a long way. In France, it’s important to say “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur” when entering any sort of shop (to not do so is considered impolite). People will appreciate the effort and your transaction will go more smoothly. When you’re done, a simple “Merci, au revoir” finishes the interaction.
Armed with these tidbits, as well as a sturdy shopping bag and an adventurous attitude, I ventured out into the markets of Paris. And boy, did I make the most of my experience. With so much good food in the city, it would be hard to go wrong, but I can’t help but especially pleased with my market harvest. We hope you’re taking full advantage of the spring markets as well, wherever you are! Bon appétit!
Market Spoils: Roasted chicken, salted butter from Brittany, saucisson au poivre, asparagus, potatoes, Bordeaux wine, Saint Nectaire cheese, baguette tradition