Among the special delights of Paris are its richly coloured street markets. Maryanne Blacker, wicker basket in hand, is your guide.
In Paris alone there are upwards of 70 markets, and more than 60 percent of Parisians shop there. There are basically two market types: the rues commerçantes, permanent indoor/outdoor street markets open six days a week, and the marchés volants, roving markets open in particular neighbourhoods on pre-ordained mornings.
All offer a festival of aromas: sharp cheeses, roasting chickens, freshly-picked basil, ripe melons, simmering pots of choucroute (sauerkraut, ham and sausage) and mounds of dried spices.
In summer the stalls are awash with brilliant-coloured stone fruits, in autumn it’s game birds, boars and wonderful wild mushrooms. Oranges, olives and oysters are proffered for tasting and important advice is dispensed by vendors: which potato roasts best, which mushroom partners a pheasant or which cheese is ripe for tonight.
The gastro artery
The Rue Mouffetard market (Tues-Sat and Sun morning) is arguably the most picturesque of them all. La Mouffe is the gastro artery of the Latin Quarter with stalls of milky cheeses, flour-sprinkled loaves, fleshy oysters and, in winter, steaming pots of boeuf bourguignon – and exotic produce from abroad. The narrow, hillside street runs for about a mile, with dozens of cosy bistros or small restaurants full of lively atmosphere.
Take a peek in Facchetti (no. 134) with its superb tiled facade and baskets of pasta, Italian meats and antipasti, and if you’re there on a Thursday, call into Vivement Jeudi (no. 52), a clandestine shop/house with antique plates, fabrics and furniture.
The market Saxe-Breteuil (ave de Saxe, 7th, Thurs & Sat mornings) is one of the city’s largest and finest. Book-ended by the Eiffel Towers and the Place de Breteuil it is a delicious phalanx of stalls. Buy fish from the raucous Jacky Lorenzo or the more sedate Bourgeois family, some emerald-green lettuce and cabernet-coloured beetroot from the songbird Monique, and spinach and geraniums direct from the grower Monsieur Credaro.
The Marché d’Aligre (rue and place d’Aligre, 12th, Tues-Sun mornings) is one of the cheapest and busiest Paris markets.
This is a neighbourhood with a rich ethnic mix, so there’s lots of North African, Asian and unusual Carribean fruit and vegetables, plus Kosher and Halal butchers at the end of the street. Quality can sometimes be suspect but that’s small potatoes at these prices! With the money you save have a glass of Bordeaux and a plate of cheese on the pavement of the nearby Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Théophile-Roussel) and fill up a bottle for home.
Once the city’s oyster market, Marché Montorgueil (rue Montorgueil, 1st, 2nd, Tues-Sat and Sun mornings) is nowadays a string of café terraces and shops proposing seafood, cheeses, pasta, sausages and flowers. After browsing, pause for bruschetta at Le Centre Ville (no. 57) or pick up pastries for home from Stohrer’s (no. 51), apparently the oldest bakery in Paris. Organic produce is increasing in popularity as the bustling Marché du Boulevard Raspail (6th, Sun mornings) testifies.
No matter that it costs two or three times more than non-organic produce; food scares have plumped its prevalence. Stock up on organic butter and chickens, cider and mud-crusted carrots, rustic tarts and breads, and fish. The fish aren’t strictly organic but as the fishmonger explained it they’re ‘traditional’; caught by fishermen and not farmed, and the prawns and salmon aren’t treated with preservatives or colouring.