Everywhere I turn in Paris, there is food. In the short stretch of a few hundred metres between my apartment and the Metro, I pass 4 restaurants, 2 bars, 1 wine cave, a Russian deli, a Middle Eastern deli, 2 boulangeries (bakeries) and a patisserie (a good old fashioned ‘cake shop’). The variety and quality are excellent and as all of you dedicated foodies already know, Parisians and the French in general, have a reputation for using only the freshest and best quality ingredients. This is why, despite there being small supermarkets dotted throughout the suburbs, the boulangeries outnumber them in a ratio of around 5 to 1. In fact, in both the supermarkets I have visited, bread is not even sold. The daily run to the boulangerie is ingrained and the fresh Baguette reigns supreme.
The other mandatory activity is the weekly visit to the neighbourhood marche’. The local market in our part of the 15e sets up every Wednesday morning, at the very respectable hour of 7am, around the base of the raised Metro station La Motte Piquet Grenelle along the Blvd Grenelle.
When I wandered down at 9am, I was expecting a small market of a dozen or so stalls (1 boucherie (butcher), 1 poissonerie (fish monger), 1 boulangerie etc). I also thought that perhaps there would not be too much left to look at. Well, how wrong could I be? Not only did the market spread over a few blocks underneath the rail lines, it was only starting to warm up at 9am with some sellers still setting up their stalls. By the time I left at 10.30, it was in full swing.
As I read in Michael Booth’s book Sacre Cordon Bleu (thanks Michelle O), you can tell the stalls that have the best produce. I witnessed stalls with no customers, right beside stalls where the well heeled retirees and Nanny Noir (a term that we have coined) gently jostling to be served. Perhaps the prunes (plums) were over ripe at the other stalls, the noisettes (hazelnuts) a little stale or the eye of the saumon (salmon) too dull? Who can say – it’s a secret code that you need to divine over many visits to the marche’ and unfortunately, is a luxury I do not have.
I was surprised to see only one place selling fromage (cheese) and fewer bouchers that I expected. Most interesting was the plethora of poissonerie, which perhaps reflects the desire for truly fresh produce on the day it is caught. I watched as the fish mongers filleted purchases on the spot (that’s purchases, not purchasers) and replenished stocks with fish that was so fresh, it was still firm to the point of being stiff. Very stiff competition indeed with an amazing array of fish and shellfish.
Next time you visit Paris (and you know you will end up here one day), make sure you fit in time to visit one of the fresh food markets. They’re all over the city on various days so there is sure to be one on the day you visit and it only takes a couple of hours to immerse yourself in this ‘other side’ of Paris.