The street markets in Paris are one of the foundations of the way of life in Paris. Over eighty spectacularly colourful and lively markets pop up across the city every week where some of the best growers and producers across France bring their freshly harvested goods into Paris for sale. Without a doubt one of our most favourite things to do in Paris, is going to the food street market, a foodie paradise.
First light in Paris on Market Day, the air is crisp, coffee is strong.
Every Wednesday and Saturday a car parking area right in front of Palais de Tokyo on the Avenue du Président-Wilson is transformed into our local street market – Marché Président Wilson, filled with the freshest of produce.
The bustling locals gathering the most amazing artisan goods without realising just how lucky they are. I am so excited that this trip, we are basing ourselves in Paris for six weeks, immersing ourselves in the community and getting to know our market producers!
There is something magical about the markets here in Paris, everything is imbued with so much love and care. The produce is treated with such respect, very gently and carefully laid out, both to look fabulous and ensuring nothing is bruised or damaged. We love to come early in the morning when it is still dark and watch the set up.
We wander through, watching as each stall holder presents their goods.
The seafood is so very fresh that the langoustines and other crustaceans are still wriggling. Scallops are arranged in rows all looking perfect, there are giant crabs nestled into a bed of hay. I love all the different pretty fish, the sole with their orange spots are intriguing. Then we spot a big old ugly monkfish! There is nothing pretty about that guy but he is super fresh! Oh and oysters, big ones, little ones, special selection ones, all waiting to be freshly shucked! I feel like a kid in a candy store.
We sometimes shop for a few days cooking, getting quite a selection of things and sometimes just walk up and down for the sheer joy of it, collecting one or two special treats. The must do is always the charcuterie stall! On our first market visit this trip we discovered a fabulous husband and wife team that had the most wonderful selection of artisan, hand made goods. Terrines, pates, saucisson, bacon, all the magical treats imaginable. I tried our opening “Bonjour, je suis Australian je ne pas parler Français. Parlez vous Anglais? (Hello I am Australian and don’t speak French, do you speak English)” to which we got a succinct reply “Non!”. Ok then it’s charade’s time! And so through a series of pointing and nodding and measurements by how far apart fingers were, we managed to order a brilliant selection of things.
We are particularly excited to spot a fantastic looking head cheese. A terrine made from every part of the pigs head. “Ah le Tete sil vou plait!” My love points excitedly! “Le tete?” Madame says, eyes wide, pointing at her own head like, you know this is made of head stuff right? You sure you want this, you aren’t French monsieur. “ yeah, yeah, yeah, oui Madame!” He says. She indicates a slim sliver with the placement of her knife “ok?” “No, no, more sil vous plait” he waves her knife further down the terrine. She moves her knife a few millimetres, still uncertain, looking at us like we are mad. No love keep going! I read in his excited body language, signing with his fingers inches apart instead of centimetres. The look of surprise on her face is priceless, like ok sure but I still reckon you don’t know what you are doing!
We continue with this one, that one, more, more, bigger slices, oooh and some of that too! Madame’s face changes from uncertainty to a kind of “respect!” expression. She is warm and kind even though we have absolutely no idea what she is saying. She slings the jellied end of a terrine in as an extra “pour le chat” for the cat, that of course we don’t have. My love’s face however is sufficiently like the cat that got the cream to suffice! How exciting. At home we just never see the kind of selection of lovingly created products that are simply the usual selection here in France. I just love how every slice is carefully wrapped in pretty pink paper before the lot is finally wrapped as one big parcel.
We continue to frequent this market stall over the six weeks we are here and while neither our French or their English improves over that time, our rapport certainly does and we soon feel like regulars. They give us a bright bonjour each time we pass, doing our laps up and down the market before we actually stop to buy. Patrick the monsieur of the charcuterie ends up being the one who serves us most often and it is clear that he is so excited to have a couple of mad foreigners like his produce so much. I think he is particularly chuffed that my love is always keen to get more of his head cheese each time. He always puts a few slices of this or that extra. One day with a swift glance sideways to make sure the missus wasn’t looking, he swiftly sliced off a huge section of saucisson sec and quickly wrapped it up, giving us a cheeky wink! Yes we are all definitely friends now!!
There is a fabulous organic vegetable stall that is swooped upon early by locals and by cooks and chefs shopping for local restaurant kitchens. It has mountains of pretty herbs stacked in bunches and an extensive collection of root vegetables. The carrots are fascinating, all colours and shapes, purple, yellow, white and of course orange. Long thin ones, short little thick ones and even round bulbous ones more shaped like tiny apples than you would imagine as a carrot. The restaurant guys are great to watch, professional selectors, they quickly spot the best and grab large handfuls of this and that, stuffing big bags full. The other cool advantage that the restaurant guys have is they get to go in behind the counter and help themselves. Usually at the market the customer doesn’t touch the produce.
We love to go early, to the markets, often before sunrise, so there is still space and time to wander casually through. After the sun comes up the vibe changes, everyone arrives and things get very busy. It is still a rather fascinating dynamic to watch. You can sense the tourist from the locals very easily. The locals confidently stride through the narrow gap between the market stalls in single file dragging their trolley, heading straight for what they need with no hesitation. Then their are the tourists that meander through, trying to walk side by side blocking the entire walkway or umming and ahhing over something only to find that a local has pushed right past them for what they want, beating them them to be served. The local people are not rude about it, just swift and direct. In fact there have been multiple occasions where I have been stumbling, trying to communicate with a stall holder that has no English, where lovely people have kindly assisted with translation.
The thing I love the most about the market is the enormous sense of pride and care that the producers exude and being here early gives us an opportunity to try to communicate with them before things get hectic. We were lucky to catch the end of fig season and a lovely lady gave us wonderful dark tiny figs to try that she was clearly really excited about. They were stunning and we kept buying boxes of them until they were no longer available. Carefully placed in a little cardboard box to protect them and wrapped in paper for us to carry home. Gently placed in my hands with instructions to take care. There was no way that she wanted her lovely fruit to be bruised, she wanted them to be perfect when we eat them.
Oh and of course the market is cheese heaven. With a wide range of stalls from those with a large selection of all manner of cheese to smaller boutique producers. There was a fantastic little stall that’s had a small selection of little round cheeses, milk and yoghurt with hand written labels and when I asked if they had cream, the chap opened a bucket of it and smiled with a big spoon in his hand “how much would you like?”. We chatted as he dolloped the thickest richest looking cream into a little container for me. Turns out he was British so chatting was easy. We talked about how much we love the market and apparently his view was that this Marche on Avenue President Wilson is one of the best in Paris, the quality of the produce being so very good. I wanted the cream to make a white wine sauce for my dinner but it looked so wonderful I found myself fantasising about just eating it with a spoon!
After each market trip, with our basket filled with produce and hearts filled with love and joy we head home talking about what we will make from our collection of goodies. Whether it is a little charcuterie plate with a glass of wine for a light meal or golden roasted tarragon chicken with both the chicken and the potatoes specialities from Normandy, we cherish every bite. I can’t quite explain the joy I feel as I put a very humble plate of food on the table. Our bodies are nourished by superbly fresh produce and our souls are nourished by all the love and energy poured into each and every ingredient by passionate producers. There is something that feels deeply connected and grounded for me, a sense of trust in the simplicity of it, of knowing where the food on our table comes from. Being in Paris for an extended period this time has provided the opportunity to become regulars with our producers and to understand them more deeply. What a wonderful privilege!