- Category: Europe - 2015
- Published: July 1, 2015
- Written by Grant
The French are known for many things but one of my favorites is their food. I've mentioned Provencal markets and how much I like them but Paris doesn't really have an equivalent in a lot of ways – and this is unfortunate for sure. Years ago there was a massive indoor food market in the center of the city called Les Halles but it was moved to the suburbs and is currently focused on the wholesale market. I've never been to the new Les Halles but the old one is now a metro station and an underground mall – neither of which interest me much.
There are several indoor markets in Paris that sort of resemble a Provencal market but they're really not the same. In Provence it seems the entire town is buying produce at the same time – in Paris a few people stroll the overpriced stalls and maybe even buy something – this is clearly not the same thing.
You do have a few market options in Paris that you just don't have in Provence or anywhere else in France which I'll cover here.
Two of the Paris covered markets were near our apartment this summer. We had the Marché Couvert Saint-Quentin in the 10th arrondissement as well as Marché Saint-Martin which looks and acts largely the same as the former. Both are interesting if you've never seen a real popular working market. I'd love to have either one in Seattle but the problem is that France has amazing, busy markets in other cities and these just aren't amazing or busy. Both try to act upmarket and offer wine stores, German import products, middle eastern cuisine etc.. The wine, produce and cheese they do offer is overpriced. Perhaps it's the cost of land in Paris which creates the high prices which in turn create a lack of activity – I'm not sure.
The closest thing I saw to a Provencal market was the indoor market at St. Denis – which probably resembles an Arab market more than anything. This thing is massive and reminds me as much of markets in Mexico or Turkey as it does a French market. This is probably because this market IS more Arab than French.
A better option if you live in Paris is to hit the uncovered street markets – the prices are a fraction of what the covered markets command and they're very busy. The biggest downfall is they don't run every day so you need to keep an eye out or do as I do and add their schedules to your online calendar. Every day I'd check my calendar on my mobile device and know which direction I would be walking to get to the market.
On Sundays I'd go to the very small Alibert Market which is all of a block long but very near our apartment. It has a wine vendor, a cheese vendor, a fish vendor and two produce sellers and that's about it. I liked it though and the people who worked it were all incredibly friendly.
On Tuesdays and Fridays the Marché de Belleville is in full swing. This is an interesting one as Belleville is one of Paris's “Chinatowns” so the products on offer are more eastern. This market is very crowded and I walked and walked and walked until I finally broke out of the side and headed back home only to find out that I'd only walked about three city blocks, it just took forever because I was elbow to elbow with everyone else. The prices were very good and if you ever needed a lifetime supply of mint leaves for tea this is where you want to go. I got 5 melons for 3 Euro at this market which I then had to carry back home slung over my shoulder like Santa Claus.
On Thursday and Sunday we could go to the Marché Bastille, possibly the largest outdoor market in Paris. This market has two rows of shops down the middle of a boulevard and goes for a few blocks. It also has clothing and other hard goods. There's a couple of cooked food tables where we got rotisserie chicken, fruit, sausages, fruit and more fruit. There's many many shops selling everything from lettuce to can openers so it's not just produce. You can't get everything here but you can get a lot of varied items. We bought food to eat, ingredients for later meals and a coat with scarf... Again prices were amazing for Paris and much much cheaper than the indoor covered markets in the area.
The last option that Paris offers which I never seen in Provence is the market streets. Note a market street is not the same as a street market. A street market shows up out of nowhere, takes over a boulevard for a day and then disappears. The vendors have temporary tented booths where they sell their wares. A market street however, is a permanent fixture which is usually pedestrian and lined with shops. During the day the shops may place tables out front so people can get a better look at what they're selling without entering the building. My favorite of these may be Rue Cler even though it's not the largest nor is it the more complete. Rue Cler is also over touristed thanks to Rick Steves but to me it's a very inviting street as it's mostly pedestrian, on flat ground and fairly open. Rue Cler is in the 7th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower and has the normal smattering of shops for produce, raw meat (boucherie), fish (poissonnerie), cheese (fromagerie), prepared meats (charcuterie), olive oil, bread (boulangerie) and desserts (patisserie).
Ironically I don't buy my breads or desserts at a shop on Rue Cler but rather a shop at the east end of Rue Cler across the street. They don't speak English but the quality is much better than the touristed shop on Rue Cler that does.
We also visited Rue Montorgueil which is near E.Dehillerin the cooking shop that I've been going to for most of a decade and also a shop called G. Detou which specializes in odd cooking ingredients and imported items. Rue Montorgueil is longer than Rue Cler and has several of each shop on it in addition to many restaurants including L'Escargot Montorgueil - the oldest escargot shop in Paris having been established in 1832! That's a long time eating snails. I can't say I love Rue Montorgueil but it's convenient because there's so many other things in the area and if you're lucky a street performance will break out in the middle of the day holding up traffic.
Last year we went to Rue Daguerre near Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement quite by accident really. To be honest I didn't know for sure if there was a market street there and just happened upon it. It was mostly untouristed and had a decent little crepe shop that we enjoyed. If I lived in the 14th arrondissement I'd shop on this street daily just because of the lack of tourists. Most of the other market streets in Paris are fairly crowded with people just browsing...
The only other market street on the left bank that I'm aware of is Rue Mouffetard which is just kind of fun to say even if you don't go there. It's a bit more claustrophobic just by the way the street is oriented, how tight the walls are and the gentle slope down a hill. I've been there several times but I'm not sure I've actually bought anything there ever.
I do miss Provencal markets and I haven't found markets anywhere in the world that I think are as practical or that I enjoy as much. Italy has their high end markets, Mexican has massive markets with meat sitting at room temperature all day long and Paris has overpriced indoor markets, twice weekly uncovered markets and market streets.
However, having said that I'll add that Paris DOES have you covered when it comes to markets. You will find anything you want in Paris – for a price. They even have several import stores so if you want to buy something as silly as Heinz Beans and Budweiser you can. Not that you should, but you could.