Rungis

rungis lamb chops

During the 1960s, when Paris going through a fit of modernization, it was decided that Les Halles, the grand market that had been in the center of Paris for over a thousand years (in various guises), was going to be finally torn down and the merchants would be moved to a place well outside of the perimeter of Paris.

Reasons given were that the old market lacked hygienic facilities and was creating traffic problems (this was when it was famously declared that Paris would become more car-friendly, and highways were built through, and under, the city) and the food merchants from Les Halles either went out of business or moved en masse to Rungis, which officially opened in 1969. The grand pavillon was cleared quickly, then the building was razed and the old market disappeared from the city forever.

rungis market men

The shopping mall that stands in its place now is a blight to Paris, and part of a long, undending conversation about what to do with the ugly error that was erected in its place; an underground shopping center which is avoided by most Parisians as much as possible.

After living here for a number of years, I now understand the famous French reluctance to change. Because things can go either way, and when major mistakes are made, it’s hard to rectify them.

But back then, how exciting it must have been to have Les Halles in Paris, where you could go and buy direct from merchants and farmers, who’d travel from various regions in France to sell their wares in the towering steel-and-glass halls. For those who have read The Belly of Paris, you will surely remember the mental images of mountain-sized piles of cabbages and huge animal carcasses being hauled across the expansive pavilion. Part of the market was rebuilt in Nogent-sur-Marne, a suburb outside of Paris, and it’s possible to visit via the commuter train, which in a cruel twist, goes direct from the rail station underneath the building that replaced the old market.

langostines vendu beef

Today, the Rungis market is where the action is—lively and vibrant, buzzing with modernity; lights, running water, toilets, and easily cleanable surfaces are everywhere. It’s the largest wholesale market in the world and a virtual city with banks, hotels, gas stations, and restaurants. Almost 12,000 people work at Rungis and nearly €8 billion worth of goods pass through the market each year.

croissants

I’ve never really had a hankering to visit Rungis since to me, aside from what replaced Les Halles in Paris, it represented much of the downfall of French cuisine: the industrialization of the food supply and the defining move away from the focus on producers to large-scale growers and suppliers. It’s become an awkward point of national pride when I hear people boasting about the fraîcheur (freshness) and the l’hygiène, and the ability to ship things from long distances. However I’m not convinced that’s had a positive effect on France and their cuisine.

cocoa beans

I suppose cleanliness, plentiful varieties of fish, and sky-high crates of tomatoes in October are things that have their merits. (And after living in Paris for a number of years, I very much appreciated the abundance of restrooms, though.) So this year with my Paris tour, since it has become an intergral part of French gastronomy, as well as the culture of modern France, I thought it would be interesting to take my group to Rungis so we could all have a look for ourselves.

(Just a note: This post contains pictures taken in the various buildings of Rungis, including the halls were meat, game, and offal are butchered and sold. There are pictures of the various animal parts as well as eviscerated animals. They are part of life in France, as well as Rungis market. People who might find those kinds of images disturbing should take that into consideration when reading this post.)

beef at rungis

Speaking of unpleasant images, me at 2:30 am makes looking at a butchered animal relatively benign. But if you want to see the action, the seafood hall opens at 2am and you really do want to be there very early to catch as much of the catch du jour as possible. If you arrive after 6 am, well, you might as well have stayed in bed. (Which is where I felt like staying that morning when my alarm bolted me awake at 2:30 am.)

Camembaert cheese

Unlike some of the markets in Paris, at Rungis, touching is allowed and even encouraged as buyers want to check out the ripeness of a cheese or the heft of a fish for themselves. Nothing is hidden here. And interestingly, no one blinks an eye if you want to take a photograph. However individuals can’t shop at Rungis without a buyers card, which are available only to business owners. So unless you’re in the market for a side of beef or a crate of kite-sized turbo, you’re limited to looking.

We got there extra early, purposely in time to see the fish being traded and sold, packed in Styrofoam tubs brimming with ice, and hauled out the doors. In fact, there’s a giant ice-maker and warehouse just outside, a multi-story building roughly the size of a small hotel. Next summer I’m going to see if they have any rooms for rent.

fish tails

These are the last two remaining tuna fish in the world. That’s just a joke, but it’s no joke that the world’s supply of bluefin tuna are disappearing. When I asked a fish monger at my market one day if they felt any qualms about selling bluefin tuna, he said, “It’s terrible the way tuna are hunted by radar and airplane in some countries, then too many fish are taken out of the sea. So that’s bad. But our tuna is all line caught.” Um, okay.

On Rungis’ page on sustainable development, there was plenty on how good they were at recycling boxes and the efficiency of the heating system, but there was nothing on promoting sustainable varieties of fish. (Or raising meat, chicken, and pork humanely.) So it was disconcerting to be standing over a few dead bluefin tuna specimens, lolling around on boxes.

A few guests also noted that it was hard to look at them, knowing that they’re on the verge of extinction. It’s a perplexing dilemma and it was gratifying to see plenty of smaller, more sustainable fish, such as sardines and mackerel for sale as well. And the French don’t shy away from less-expensive varieties of fish, many of which are the best-tasting and most nutritious, too.

conger eel bluefin tuna

Ever since my days when I worked at the fish market in Paris, I am still fascinated by all the various species of sea creatures that are available here. Especially the stubby gray conger eels coiled up in boxes, les sabres (scabbardfish or cutlassfish), which are packed in like thin strips of intertwined metal, and tight bundles of razor clams, whose slithery insides recoiled when I poked one with my finger.

razor clams

Rungis is a real working market and visitors are relatively rare. So you’ll always need to be on your toes, no easy feat at 3 am when the forklifts come barreling through the aisles, blaring their horns. And if you don’t move out of the way, you might find yourself being spirited up and outta there. I was warned that it was easy to take a wrong turn and get lost, which our driver did, even though he is a regular shopper at Rungis himself.

crab claws man with cart

You need to be nimble and get out to the way, especially in the tripe halls when big bloody bins of various animal parts are wheeled and paraded around, and you certainly don’t want to have any hare-raising adventures. (Sorry..couldn’t resist….)

rabbit

My favorite place in the market was the poultry hall. (Well, after the Pavillon de la Triperie, which we’ll get to.) In France, hunting game is only allowed during certain seasons, and the season just began, so there was everything from feathery grouse, doves, and skinned pheasants lined neatly in boxes with their talons sticking straight up in the air, as if to signal their surrender.

poulet fermier market cafe

In the center of the poultry hall was Le Saint Hubert, a glass-enclosed café named after the patron saint of hunting, where the merchants were packed together like non-free range chickens, drinking coffee and taking a break. It was quite a sight.

brin d'amour chavignol goat cheese

You won’t find any picturesque slices or wedges of cheese at Rungis; here it’s wholesale-only. And the cheese selection in the halls was a little sparse. I imagine most of the cheese shops in Paris get their cheeses from the producers or from other sources. However there were some giant wheels of Comté, herb-coated Brin d’Amor from Corsica, and lots of little crottins and pails of thick, sticky crème fraîche packed and ready to go.

corn on the cob

The produce halls were filled with boxes stacked halfway to the ceiling. Before we entered, I offered a €100 reward for anyone who could locate the ever-elusive kale, which a few of us are on the hunt to find in Paris. There was no reward for corn on the cob, which interestingly was available, because it’s sold in Asian and African markets, and in ethnic neighborhoods of Paris, one can find vendors roasting ears on the corner. They’re usually so tough that they give your teeth a good workout, although steamed, the corn on the cob isn’t bad.

chestnuts mushrooms

Anything but bad were the wild mushrooms. Jumbo cèpes and dainty girolles (chanterelles) were packed in wooden boxes, along with their cultivated counterparts, the champignons de Paris, or common button mushrooms, which are said to have originated in France in 1707 in a somewhat darker form.

wild mushrooms fresh thyme

The French are not big users of spices and chiles. Instead, fresh herbs play a major role in French cooking. When I moved here, I was happy to find them readily available at the outdoor markets, sold inexpensively, and I always could keep a fresh supply of them on hand.

cepes

The most common herb used in savory cooking, after parsley, is thyme, and in France, it’s always sold with the roots still attached, so it lasts longer. The thyme here is also much stronger than the thyme I was used to cooking with back in California and I’ve had to dial back how much I put in foods, even though I never thought I could get enough fresh thyme.

bay leaves and thyme

Sage is still elusive in France, but rosemary, tarragon, chervil, and bay leaves are put to good use in French cuisine.

Lest you think the French don’t have a sense of humor, because of the early hour, it took me a few moments to get the joke of “Larry Cover” green beans. Le haricot vert is French for green bean, and is pronounced just like Larry Cover, when spoken with a French accent.

larry cover rungis crates

Aside from plenty of hothouse tomatoes, whose looks promise heirloom flavor but one bite is enough to discover that they’re all show, there were strawberries, red currants, and plenty of apples and pears. I didn’t see any of the lovely varieties, like Boskoop, Reine de Reinettes, or clochard apples that the growers bring to my local market, but there were late-season peaches and nectarines which I’m sure could join those aforementioned tomatoes in the aucun goût department.

strawberries

Then onward we went, into the darkness, to the meat and tripe markets…

Trip pavillion

I had warned my guests that they might see things they considered shocking or icky, and if they did, they were welcome to excuse themselves from that part of the tour. But they were all troopers (or still asleep) and no one blinked at buckets of slippery innards and body parts, like cow hearts and pig heads displayed on meat hooks and arranged on stainless steel shelves. Bins were wheeled by that looked like a biology lesson in a box and I don’t know what a lot of that stuff was, but I had a weird image of falling into one, so I kept my distance.

sides of beef

Some might consider a tripe pavillon a giant shop of horrors, but I found it fascinating and it was my favorite part of the trip to Rungis.

pig feet

It’s amusing to watch the whole “nose-to-tail” phenomenon happening elsewhere because the French have been eating that way for thousands of years without making a big deal about it. Of course, the current generation of French youth isn’t all that keen on chowing down on tête de veau with sauce gribiche or kidneys braised in cream sauce.

kidneys

But cured meats and sausages are still popular in France. Yet I haven’t seen brains on any menus in a while, although perhaps I’m eating in the wrong restaurants.

Or the right ones? ; )

brains

The French love cows. So much so that in 2004, La Poste issued a series of stamps depicting the various breeds of cows. I remember Romain cooing over them, and asking me which one was my favorite and I didn’t quite know how to respond. As much as I like a good steak every now and then, I’ve never ‘favorited’ a specific breed of cow.

triperie pig head

Curiously, a good deal of the beef I saw was from Ireland. I guess because they have so many dairy cattle there, naturally a good amount of beef comes from the isle. There was no shortage of cow and pig heads hanging up everywhere, and other animal parts were well-represented, too. For some reason, I knew I wouldn’t be ordering the steak tartare at our upcoming meal.

french cowboy hanging beef

At the end of the market, we finally sat down for dinner (aka; breakfast), passing a long row of butchers with their blood-stained aprons, lined up at the bar drinking coffee or white wine. This was presumably the end of their day, or their mid-‘afternoon’ break. I wanted to take a picture of them all standing there, but I’d seen what they could do with a cleaver, and kept my camera capped.

steak tartare louisa steak tartar

A big pile of steak tartare didn’t have much appeal after what we’d seen, but Louisa Chu, my friend who led the group through Rungis, was up to the task. But it would have seems folly not to join the crowd and rip into a juicy steak, even though it was barely 8 am.

steak beaujolais

Of course, a carafe of fruity Beaujolais stood in for my normal morning jus d’orange. Which is not something I’m ready to do on a regular basis. But I figured this morning, it was warranted. The additional glasses, well, I can’t explain them.


Rungis (Official Website)

In order to visit Rungis, it’s pretty much required that you join a guided tour. Although I’ve heard it’s possible to finess yourself into the various food halls, it isn’t really allowed and you might find yourself in an awkward position if there’s a problem or you get questioned.

Rungis itself runs group tours. Go to the site Visit Rungis for specific information, and I’ve listed a few tour operators that arrange visits as well in the links below. Note that the market opens at 2am, specifically the seafood hall, so going early means you will see the biggest variety of items.



Related Links

Guided Tours of Rungis Market (Meeting the French)

A Visit to Rungis (FX Cuisine)

Rungis Market Sightseeing Tour (Easy Dream)*

Rungis: The Biggest Fresh-Food ‘Buffet’ in the World (Christian Science Monitor)

The Biggest Market in the World: Rungis (Ms. Glaze’s Pommes d’Amour)

73 comments

  • Beautiful, beautiful post and pictures.

  • This kind of post is why we continue following you. Very nicely done, sir!

  • Thanks for a terrific article David. We had the fortune to visit Rungis with community college culinary students, An eye-opener for all.

  • Fascinating, David! I have always wanted to visit Rungis and wish I could have been with you and Louisa. Thanks for the virtual tour!

  • I think I might change my screen name to Larry Cover! Loved the post and I am so jealous of the tour. You take your guests to the most wonderful places.And you bring your readers along. Very good.

  • I must admit, I can take or leave the meat, but I’m all for the cheese, chestnuts, and corn! (Apparently, I like foods that start with C…)

  • Thank you for taking the time to transpose your joys of seeing, touching and tasting the best of Paris and sharing with me (all the way in the Caribbean). You do it well.

  • Fabulous post & photos, David! Markets are amongst my absolute places to visit during a trip. Through this post, I felt like I was there. How long did it take you to get there from central Paris?

  • And Cacao! Cacao pulp is high on my must-taste list.

  • Apologies for straying off topic, and onto a more breakfasty one, but I just noticed your twitter comment on making confiture de quetsches. Any chance you could share the recipe? I have a big bowl of them in the kitchen right now. Thank you so much!

  • Anna: I basically used the technique and amounts in my Apricot Jam recipe.

    John: Depending on where you are in Paris, it takes about 20 minutes to get there. There are all-night city buses that run out there, for the employees…but of course, anyone can take them. I’ve read taxis don’t go out there, but I don’t know for sure as we had a driver arranged.

  • An amazing post David! I feel like I was there with you without the pain of having the alarm wake me at 2:30am.
    And a bit sad to read about the bluefin tuna and industrialized tomatoes and fruit…and good to learn first hand that not all the produce/meat/fish in France is necessarily seasonal/farm raised/sustainable. Another reason to pay attention to where our food comes from. Even here.

    Larry Cover. That really made me laugh!

  • I hope this was worth waking up at stupid-o-clock for! With your amazing writing and photographs, it surely seem worth it to me!

    I am with you for not eating the steak tartare after all of that, though! Haha.

  • I was just about to ask about a trip to Rungis in your last post, eh voila, here it is.

    It’s on my list to do when visiting Europe the next time, no doubt.

  • Zola’s “The Belly of Paris” is easily one of my top five favorite reads!

    The photographs here are fabulous. One thing that stands out is the obvious skill of the butchers! When I consider the ‘sloppy’ meat-cutting at local markets here in the States and the quality of our Styrofoam & plastic-wrapped products, is it any wonder I am a near vegetarian!

    The pigs feet are stunning! The hanging carcasses look like works of art.

    Anthony Bourdin included a visit to Rungis on his “No Reservations” TV series, which was also a fascinating ‘live’ tour. Thank you for this stunning photo visit…and also the reminder that fresh cepes are in season. I need to dash and check D’Artagan’s Web site, toute de suite. Maybe fresh cepes are available here.

    Thanks for the exceptional feature today!

  • I couldn’t take the eel and tuna, or the meat MKT. The cheese and veggies looked wonderful. Oh those stone Crab Claws are all for me.

    Very interesting post. You put a lot of effort in it. Thanks so much.

    yvonne

  • Love this post – the pictures are beautiful. I’m an oddity here in New Orleans in that I don’t eat meat, but I’m definitely a pescetarian. As my beau said when I moved here ten years ago, this is the last great estuary in the U.S. and it will be gone in the next twenty to thirty years: eat the fish now, no one is trying to save them. Despite all the articles stating how “lucky” we on the Gulf coast are, dodging the worst with the BP oil spill, the fish supply was hurt, and we won’t know for a few more years how badly the blue fin population was decimated. This is one of their two major spawning areas, and any eggs touched by oil are gone. I appreciate you highlighting the problem blue fin tuna were already facing; the oil spill exacerbated it.

  • Larry Cover

    lol…

  • Great post, beautiful pictures. The culinary school I attended offered tours to Rungis but for cuisine students only (I took pastry); their tours started at 5am though……I think I’ll check Rungis out the next time I’m in Paris. Thanks for sharing. I’m now convinced it’s worth it to wake up at such ungodly hour.

  • Perhaps you don’t see brains in restaurant menus simply because of the mad cow disease scare. I’m not sure how the disease is contained and monitored nowadays in Europe, but consumer trust probably sank down to a point where no one thinks it’s profitable to have brains in their menus. Well, it’s just a wild guess.

  • Great post – but poor bunny!

    I think a similar process happened with markets in London – Covent Garden and Billingsgate (Fruit/Veg and fish) both relocated further out of town. Smithfield (meat) is still central but constantly threatened with closure.

  • What a great post:) Thanks so very much for getting up at 0dark00 to go there.

    As far as the brains, or lack thereof, goes, I strongly suspect that Patricia is correct.

  • Thanks for the wonderful tour. And, thanks for raising the subject of “sustainable fish” again.

  • David,

    Your photos and description are just AMAZING!! I really loved the tour through Rungis! Merci!

  • When I worked in France we used to cook rabbit once in a while and I loved how it let out so much juice you barely needed any other liquid – I wonder if hare is the same. It’s a shame I’ve never seen much rabbit/hare outside France, I’ve definitely never seen it at the butcher here in Austria.

  • You saved me a trip with this beautifully documented and pictured post. I have always been curious about Rungis, but now I feel as if I have been there myself.

  • Honestly, where IS the kale in Paris? I have lived here for four years and have never seen it. We should start a kale consortium to raise awareness among the French, who I feel would like it, especially with lardons added.

  • Thank you David for this great post! My father used to work at Rungis
    and got up every day at 12.30 am for many years. But the prize was
    to eat wonderful fresh food and peaches from South Africa in the middle
    of winter.

  • David! I realize that I’m just echoing the comments that others have already left, but seriously, this post rocks. Thanks so much for giving us a peek inside Rungis.

  • Haha, in the first pics, the lamb chops look like big faces saying “AAAH”, like that Ö ! it seems like we can see their uvula :D.

    I love what you did photographically with the tripes pavilion. Very good job, the “fascinating” effect is pretty well rendered !

  • “the downfall of French cuisine”

    What on Earth can you possibly be talking about?

  • yet, another great post and great photos……..need I say more?

  • Dave……..On the US teevee program Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations, in the initial episode “Why the French don’t suck” (serious) Tony took us on a tour of Rungis’.. It was fascinating as was your post… Beautiful !!! Thanks..

  • I love that I can often expect to be transported to a place I’ve not visited with your food tours; thank you. Beautiful photos along with a lovely story.

  • This was a great post. Really great.
    Who in Paris would eat the bluefin tuna? Everyone needs to become aware of the over-fishing problem and refuse to eat the endangered fish.
    No one else has mentioned the pert young man in the Stetson. Nice.

    Hi Linda: Unfortunately the eating of bluefin tuna isn’t confined to France. In fact, the President of France last year tried to ban it (following in the footsteps of Monaco), but the measure was defeated. Fortunately there are places like Matsuri that offer alternatives, although places like that are still few and far between. But let’s hope that changes.. -dl

  • Thank you for another wonderful article. You make me feel like I’m touring with you. Love your posts.

  • Oh, my! I agree, you go all out to convey the experience. Magnificent photos, wouldn’t have been the same piece *sans*. Woot!

  • Wow! This was such a lovely piece. The world does get smaller. As you had that lovely picture of a woman with her breakfast, I thought she looks like Louisa. Then I read the description underneath and low & behold it is indeed Louisa.

  • Thanks, for the memories, I had the pleasure to tour Rungis with a small tour about 12 years ago, and have not forgotten the pleasures of it all!!! Wild boar and the Football field size of all Vegetables, meats, Innards, foul, fish, and the most exciting –the Fleurs!!!

  • am i the first person to be HORRIFIED by this place?! i realize the french are carnivorous cavemen, but this is too much. i also find it bewildering that you and others are so worried about the bluefin tuna out of some sense of sustainability. eating animals is not sustainable. period. and the joke you made about the “hare” after pretending to be sensitive about the contents of your photos is just cruel.

  • @Danna
    David gave a clear warning about the meat part so you had the choice to avoid being offended. It sees that you do not realise that there are animal slaughtering facilities and meat markets like this one in every large community in the world.
    Also, it does your cause (sounds like you have one) no good to lump the sustainablity of fish and animals together in such an unnuanced way. These are two entirely different issues. Man takes fish from the sea for free and man breeds animals: the feed is certainly not always ‘sustainable’ but they can always go back to using grass.

    OK, the hare joke was not up to David’s usual standard but it was more of a weak pun than a slight. And he aplogized! How was that worse than the pun on l’haricots vertes: they were also dead and about to be eaten. The same old argument about emotional values….

    Oh dear, I’ve ended up ranting back at a rant.

    Thank you David for a great tour!

  • Loved this post, David. You truly recreate the scenes you are visiting. I remember shopping at Les Halles in the city in my twenties and mourned the destruction of the market. There is/was a shop up the street from Poilane on the Rue du Cherche-Midi called Larry Covert which I discovered a few years ago and laughed heartily!
    (By the way, one green bean is “le haricot vert” with no liaison between the “l” and the “a” sound, and the plural is “les haricots verts”, neither exactly pronounced as Larry Covert, but fun, anyway). Please excuse the spelling correction of a former French teacher. Keep writing and teaching us all!

  • I assume your ‘real unprocessed meat-shock warning’ was aimed an US audience, as it seems odd to me that people can eat meat completely oblivious to where it comes from. Butchery does of course include a certain amount of brutality, but I really feel the (traditional) French way of eating meat (never too much, and eating the whole animal, offal included) is both more sustainable and respectful to the animal, rather than the industrial scale farming, and killing a whole cow only for the steak which has become the norm. I think knowledge about food is very important, and it’s lack of it that make people eat processed food, vegetables full of pesticides, shrink wrapped meat and unsustainable fish.

    So DL- the job you are doing here is important. If anyone by seeing these pictures questions their meat consumption that is great. To eat meat and not acknowledge it’s origin I find very hypocritical.

    And i never understand why people think hares and rabbits are too cute to eat, they are wild and have happy lives and killed with little stress when shot and are an incredible sustainable food resource. So are grey squirrels (the American kind who have made the red squirrels near extinct in Europe). Personally I only eat what I feel comfortable with killing and butchering myself, and who’ve had a happy life outside captivity.

  • David, what a wonderful post. I’m booking my tickets to Paris in about 30 seconds. And I’ll gladly bring you a bunch of kale!

  • I loved taking a virtual trip through Rungis with you. And, despite it taking me a few minutes, once I got the Larry Cover joke, I had to laugh out loud. Great Monday morning read.

  • Wonderful post. I especially appreciated the information and links on how to join a tour.

  • So THAT”S where the bay leaves are! Not having a friend in the countryside – being terrified of what the gaurdienne might be spraying on the one in the courtyard – I’ve been bringing them over from the states.

    And, I promise that if I ever do get ahold of the tiny bit of French earth that the husband has promised me, I will grow kale for you. (The patch in my New England garden is beautiful… Wish there was a way to share!)

  • Is Louisa Chu the ONLY “fixer” that knows how to navigate Rungis? Most people that recognized the scenes of Rungis from Bourdain’s FIRST Paris show forgot that Louisa was his “enabler” at the market. She was also his sidekick with Eric Ripert in Chicago. My major problem with Louisa is her inability to keep her Movable Feast blog updated. Her writing and perspective as an itinerant chef is always a joy. Somewhere out here on the net is a great article she wrote about Daniel Rose and Spring.
    When I started reading your Rungis article, I thought of her and was thrilled to see that she was accompanying you and the group. I feel like a stalker when I try to track down her articles about cooking and eating around the globe. I would gladly get up at 2:30am to follow her through Rungis, especially with food and wine waiting at the end of the tour.

  • WARNING,
    DO NOT DAVID LEBOVITZ’ BLOG
    UNLESS YOU ARE FREE TO TRAVEL
    IMMEDIATELY to where he takes you virtually!

    Such a wonderful place and post, David.
    Hard to resist, all of me wants to leave my desk immediately!

  • Did you book your visit through the Rungis site? From their forms, it appears that the earliest tours start at 5:30, which sounds a bit late for the fish market (indeed for most of it). If there’s enough interest I’d like to arrange a flickr in Paris outing and any advice would be welcome.

  • Zita: Thanks for pointing that out. I was/am pretty dazed after this visit…still!

    autl: As mentioned, it was a private tour arranged by Louisa Chu specifically for my group. I’ve listed a few operators that do Rungis tours, and they host tours via their own operator as well, but I haven’t had experience with any of them.

    danna: As a former vegetarian, I try to be very conscious about what I eat. That said, I think the French are more honest than other cultures about leaving heads on chickens, and so forth. People still go to butchers here, rather than buy their meat in sealed plastic containers, and fish is often alive or offered intact. Many European countries, as well as a majority of other countries and cultures (Asia, Mexico, the Middle East, etc), present food in the same manner. Americans are fortunate in many respects to have the luxury of choice and convenience, although it seems that in a lot of ways, we’re paying the price for that.

    I do realize that people have different sensibilities which is why I did mention that folks who may have an aversion to images shown should decide if they wanted to read the post. I do find it unfortunate that not more attention is paid to not just how fish is captured, but how animals used for food are treated. Although in France, free-range chickens and eggs are common and available.

    If you read other blogs, people gleefully talk about using slaughtered animals in their cooking. And aside from a dumb pun, which I acknowledge, I wanted to present the market to show readers what a large wholesale market in France looks like. And as I do sometimes disagree with how things are done in France, I always have to remember that I am an outsider, as well as an observer. And the blog is a way to share these experiences, whether we like them or not.

    craigkite: I did have drinks with Louisa and we talked about blogging, and she may ramp it up again. It can be quite a bit of work and I don’t know if she will, or won’t. But her blog was always interesting.

    Marie: We are all looking for kale here. Someone found a farmer in the Loire that grows it, but I’m surprised that not one Portuguese market in Paris carries it (considering how many Portuguese there are.) I was told that the French don’t like bitter greens, which is why we can’t track it down, but frisée and trevise (radicchio) are pretty plentiful. So I’m not sure why kale isn’t available.

  • David,
    Un grand MERCI !
    I remember visiting Les Halles after seeing Irma la Douce. It was an iconic part of Parisian history. When I returned post 1969, I clearly remember the tears that streamed down my cheeks as I encountered Le Forum des Halles for the first time.
    It was – it is- a monstrosity! Although I frequently visit Paris, I have yet to make my way to Rungis. You’ve peaked my curiosity.
    I must tell you how much I enjoyed “Living the Sweet Life in Paris”. I used it as the “point de depart” for my most recent trip where I focused on strolling through arrondissements in the footsteps of David Lebovitz. It was the first time I ate my way through Paris. What fun! Thank you again for sharing “your Paris” with me.

  • David,
    Great pictures as usual! I was glad to see you bring up what is happening to the bluefin tuna. I used to work in studying declining fish populations and it is always good for people to openly discuss how we have decimated our oceans’ fish species. With all this disscussion about living sustainably there still seems to be a big disconnect between people and where their seafood comes from. It was astonishing to me that 70 million sharks are killed every year, not only for their meat and fins but as innocent bystanders in a non-discriminant fishing industry. I hope that posts like yours increase people’s awareness, and encourage people not only to eat sustainably when it comes to the food we grow, but also the food we harvest. Also, I always find it interesting that in other countries that you can see the intact animal, before and after euthanizing it. Here in the states you just get your piece of meat, neatly packaged, ready to use. It’s always a good to remember where that hunk of meat came from!

  • On my first visit to Paris a few years ago, I only made two reservations: a trip to Rungis and a docent-led tour of the Musee d’Orsay.

    We didn’t arrive until around 5:30, so there no transactions taking place, but it was nothing short of amazing, even without the buzz of commerce. Instead, we saw orders being prepared — various crates assembled onto palettes, waiting to be loaded onto trucks.

    Yes, Rungis is food on an industrial scale, but there’s also a pavilion for local farmers only, which showed us exactly what was in season (and I knew what to order for the rest of our stay). My non-meat eating partner trooped through the Triperie without a single complaint (taking photos of the various parts — although I think he shuddered at the table where someone was sorting sweetbreads). And I was rather impressed by the cheese pavilion — stacks of cheese giving off that familiar odor.

    The most hysterical moment: after talking about hygiene in the meat pavilion, we walked outside to head to the Poultry pavilion. In the back of small car was what looked like a side of beef cut in two, resting on newspaper. And in the front seat sat a small dog waiting patiently for his owner. It was priceless — now only if I’d taken a picture.

  • We had “beignets de cervelle de veau” at Le Vin de Zinc at 25 rue Oberkampf.

  • fraîcher should be fraîcheur

  • Superb post, David.

    I lived with a bunch of French people in the late 60’s, and we would often go to Les Halles when, after about 5am, it would open to the public, to shop for fish, vegetables, etc–it was impressive even after all the wholesale buyers had made their purchases.

    Sometimes we went earlier, at maybe 2am, just to wander around and look, and I’ll never forget the endless rows of deer and boar hanging upside down, still with fur and antlers, in the dim light of those cathedral like halls—it was like Gulliver’s travels.

    As an architecture student, I had all sorts of ideas for reusing those superb buildings, and was horrified when they were torn down.

    And to Simian: I agree entirely with you, and feel that if you choose to eat meat (I don’t anymore), you should take an interest in the quality of life the animal has led, and not shy away from the fact that it was a living creature, and not created in a styrofoam tray in the supermarket.

  • We have a giant bunch of beautiful, dark purple Russian kale in our fridge!!!

  • Thank you, David. We all have different sensibilities; you were careful to be PC, & Ms. Donna should not have ranted that way. Thank you Jennifer B & Simian for your thoughts.
    Animals and fishes are there to sustain us. I appreciate how other people (including Asians, me being Asian), eat almost all parts of the animal or fish without too much waste because they are all sources of sustenance – protein, cartilage. They are cleaned, cooked and seasoned well. It may take growing up with such meals to be able to appreciate them (altho I do not eat all offals). They are available/are raised as sources of food (noting that raising them utilizes energy & gives off methane energy. I try to source them from home, but also buy them from our groceries.) I do not partake of endangered species. I partake of plant food also; fruits, vegetables which require water, fertilizers, harvesting, etc; are living things and have ‘feelings,” too. If not then, what to eat?

  • What most people won’t ever get a chance to see on an early morning tour of Rungis is David, who despite what he says looks dapper in a long white paper coat and so witty and informative that I just had to step back and listen. Plus, these gorgeous photos? All taken while walking, talking, not slipping in blood – answering questions, offering tidbits, just charming every single guest, vendor, and buyer drawn in by his magnetic enthusiasm. And all that, before the wine.

    @Meg: next time we’re in Paris at the same time I’ll take you out to Rungis – and Le Potager du Roi ;)

    @David: taxis will take you out there – but you know Parisian taxi drivers, sometimes just do what they want, not what they’re supposed to do

    @Marlene @ron shapely: that was me with Tony Bourdain at Rungis in the first Paris episode. Luckily for all of us, I had the chance to show David a whole lot more.

    @Ava: This was why I missed Chicago Gourmet and Cathy’s Grace Young and Dianne Jacob events the past 2 weekends!

    @craigkite: Only fixer? Don’t know about that. Bourdain “enabler”? I like that – may borrow that! And thank you sincerely for your kind words and kick-in-the-ass comment about my dormant blog – seriously. And as David replies above he gave me a good talking to about food blogging – then again, there was a LOT of booze that night…Here’s the link to my Daniel Rose Q&A on CHOW: http://www.chow.com/food-news/54332/hot-spring-in-paris/ But will you eat the steak tartare? ;)

    Now excuse me all while I make sure there’s kale in the upcoming CSA boxes. :)

  • What an amazing post – and even more so because you still took such gorgeous photos despite getting up at 2:30 a.m!

    I just have to make one small comment as someone who grew up on a midwestern farm that raised beef cattle, the fact that you saw so many lovely dairy cows in Ireland doesn’t mean that’s why there was so much Irish beef sold in Paris – unless the French aren’t very discriminating about their beef. Dairy cows make for very tough steaks, etc. because they are kept for many years to produce milk and also because they aren’t bred to produce tasty beef. I would imagine there is a separate Irish beef industry because all the rain there produces lush green pastures.

  • When we were in Tokyo I got up at an equally ungodly hour to visit the fish market. I must say, it was the highlight of my trip. I’d do the same in Paris.

  • Fascinating story, David. I stuck it out through every single photo and it turns out that one of them took me back. My dad liked to eat brains and eggs once in a while. The first time I saw them in the pan and asked my mother what they were, she said they were sausage!! I didn’t buy it, not for a minute. Again, I want your life except for the getting up at O-dark-thirty part.

  • What a beautiful work, David. You describe everything so well.

    In 69, I was a little girl but I still remember the trauma caused by the relocation of the market to Rungis. Like all Parisians, my Grandma pétait les plombs grave.

    This week-end Sundance aired the movie “Paris” with Juliette Binoche, and I thought of your group and the Rungis tour, as several fantastic scenes feature the Rungis market.

  • David

    I was a little girl when I would eat everything, everything, placed in front of me without complaint no matter the stinky or the sticky I tried it. I have fond memories of eating Brains and Eggs with my Grandfather as well as marrow spread on toast. You cannot find either item here due to the worry of mad cow. I hope to move to an area where there are more open farms so I can eat my meat and eggs without worrying. No sweetbreads in our mega markets, nothing that might make some silly person freak out.

    I had a checker inquire at what my package of ox tails was she asked if they came from rib ends perhaps, when I told her no, really, they are Ox Tails she dropped them on the scanner in disgust and used a bag over her hand to push them down the belt.

    I think it’s time to move… sigh…

  • Thank you for drawing attention to the threat of extinction to some varieties of fish and to the lack of humane treatment of animals in industrial food production. It seems from many of your recent posts that you are acting on this awareness by creating some wonderful vegetarian dishes. Your farro salads have become favorites in our house, and now I’m an Irish brown bread addict.

    I hope you’ll get a chance to visit and write about more vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants. (Like the post about London’s great vegetarian chef Yotam Ottolenghi) That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this tour of Rungis!

  • David

    I totally feel you on the kale thing! I lived in Paris for a year, and could not find it ANYWHERE… it doesn’t really seem to exist there, and no one every knew what I was talking about (Blette! my host mom would say). I did, however, once see 2 bunches of broccoli rabe at the marche richard lenoir…. for 8 euros!

  • Loved the post. I was at a local Les Halles last week and I thought my seven year old, very American, daughter was going to pass out when she saw the hares.

  • Gorgeous post. Thank you.

  • Ooh amazing photos – even the brains look incredible! This place looks like it sells the freshest food available anywhere. Can only imagine how wonderful food would taste.

    BTW, I know you’re a friend of Pim. Any idea what happened to her, she hasn’t updated her blog in months :(

  • Interesting post. I could take or leave the meat, but you warned us about that.
    I’ll send you some kale if you send me some cheap, fresh herbs!

  • Wow. I really felt like I was there. I live in Oakland CA and we have a very old produce hall downtown by the waterfront they keep threatening to tear down. Guess I’m going to have to get up uber early some morning and look around before it goes in the name of progress or condos.

  • LOVED this! I live in Quebec City (transplanted from California) and I was shocked that I couldn’t find Kale here any where either! I’m not sure if that is the case in much larger and culturally-diverse Montreal as well.

    I just marked my 5th year anniversary here this last week, and on my usual early-morning trip to Jardin Mobile (a small supermarket, specializing in mostly fruits and vegetables) after taking the kids to school, I was surprised to find the elusive kale on special and called “chou ‘Kale.'” There were very few bunches, so I took two.

    So today, my kids will be able to have a Portuguese “Caldo Verde” for the first time in their short lifetimes. The second bunch I bought will be made into a healthier Pate Chinois made with celery root purée and red wine, but with minimal top sorloin. A far cry from the traditional ground beef and creamed corn version which I find “icky.”

    I hope I don’t have to wait another 5 years to find kale in the supermarket again!

    Nancy