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Some Things from the Friday Market in Paris

Ail frais nouveau

It’s Friday and hallelujah. Not just because it’s the end of the week. But also because I discovered an open hole in my schedule, with the entire day free. And the lure of sunshine coming though my windows was all the prompting I needed to grab my market bag and take a leisurely stroll to the outdoor market on the boulevard Richard Lenoir (M: Oberkampf, Tuesday & Friday). After one of those never-ending winters, it was nice to be able to walk in the sunshine, sans gloves and not being all bundled up in a wool overcoat.

When I arrived, the market was teeming with people who obviously had the exact same idea (although don’t know how they got a day off as well), and I was squinting in the sunlight, taking in the fruits and vegetables, noting the changing of the season. In addition to being able to go out without gloves and an overcoat, another sure sign of spring in Paris is ail nouveau, or “new garlic.” Garlic has a season and it’s starting right now, with violet-hued heads of garlic, piled up in baskets. New garlic is slightly soft, without any of the harsh pungency of garlic that’s been stored for months and months. It’s beautiful and wonderful in aïoli.

potimarron

While squash is considered a winter vegetable, all the stands seemed to be carrying small potimarrons, whose name is a mash-up, reflecting their pumpkin (potiron) and chestnut (marron) flavors. Perhaps it’s time to use ‘em or lose ‘em? I like them roasted and the small ones are particularly attractive when served that way.

rostello ham

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Salon de l’Agriculture

Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

Every year, beginning in mid-February, thousands of farmers, wine makers, cheese makers, sausage makers, and an arks’-worth of animals, makes it way to Paris for the annual Salon de l’Agriculture. The salon began in 1870 in a country that was, and still is, justly fond of its agriculture, which is celebrated on tables, in steaming cauldrons, on picnic blankets, in restaurants, and ready-to-slice on cutting boards, all across France.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

The best of France converges on Paris and last year, there were nearly three-quarters of a million visitors, filling up the massive, grand halls of the Porte des Versailles, on the edge of Paris.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

There are exhibitors from twenty-two countries in addition to France, as well as foods from tropical French regions. And four thousand animals are trucked to Paris from the provinces to bring the taste – and smell(!) – of the country, to Paris.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

Like many agriculture fairs, there are competitions, too, honoring everything from the liveliest livestock to the best wines in France. But to me, it’s really an astounding place to enjoy the best of France in one hectic visit. However, it’s impossible to see it all in one day unless you have the stamina of one of those massive bulls in the pens, or the men who stir (and stir and stir and stir) the giant pots of cheese and potatoes.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

 

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RAP Épicerie

RAP Italian Epicerie

Due to our closeness to Italy, it’s fairly easy to find an Italian épicerie in almost any Parisian neighborhood. (Although locating an authentic Italian espresso is a little more elusive.) I’m fortunate because there are two excellent Italian épiceries (speciality food shops) close to where I live, but most of the places get their items from a distributor, which means the selection is somewhat narrow. Few places have farro, and I’ve never seen anyone selling farina polenta taragna, the mix of polenta and buckwheat that I first had in the mountains above Milan, and I’d never seen it anywhere outside of Italy. (So I’ve been making my own.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

That’s not a complaint – it’s great to be able to find Sicilian salumi and pasta from Tuscany. And Cooperative Latte Cisternino, an excellent Italian dairy cooperative, is a terrific place for Italian cheeses and other products. (Although they always seem to be closed when I go there.)

RAP Italian Epicerie

But artisanal products, items from small producers, are a little more challenging to find. So I was charmed when my friend Terresa and I took a field trip to discover RAP, which offers rarely seen Italian foods, imported directly by Alessandra Pierini, who curates the selection in her jammed-to-the-rafters shop in the 9th arrondissement.

RAP Italian Epicerie

I haven’t seen such a varied and curious selection of products all together outside of Italy since, well – ever. (Eataly, eat your heart out.) Granted RAP is tiny; imagine if someone pushed eight phone booths together, and you’ll get some idea of its size.

RAP Italian Epicerie

Yet I was incredibly excited to be surrounded by shelves and shelves holding many of the foods I love from Italy, including unusual chocolates, citron soda, and pure, unadulterated pistachio spreads, which were in danger of being eclipsed by things that I’d never seen or tasted.

RAP Italian Epicerie

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Frenchie To Go, Terroirs d’Avenir and L’Arbre à Café

Pastrami sandwich at Frenchie To Go

I don’t gush all that often, but one of the people in Paris that I really admire is Gregory Marchand. He’d probably be a little irked that I said that (or maybe not), but he’s one of the few chefs in Paris that’s been successful at creating what have become some of the best places to eat in the Paris. His restaurant Frenchie is always complet, and I went to Frenchie wine bar the other night, getting there just before opening time, and there was already a line of folks waiting outside for it to open so they could snag a table. And the food, from cornmeal-crusted “nuggets” of sweetbreads to the pulled pork sandwich, was as good – if not better – than dishes I’ve had in multi-starred restaurants. A friend who I worked with in San Francisco was there as well, and he kept giving me the thumbs-up from across the room.

Gregory took a previously deserted street, set up shop, and now it’s a bustling, charming little rue with a seafood shop where the fish is purchased directed from the fisherman, an excellent butcher, and a vegetable shop that has bins of things that you rarely see in Paris, from gorgeous (and giant) citrons from Corsica to leafy greens like dinosaur kale, and crates of curious root vegetables – parsley roots, tiny celeriac, and something else that I forgot the name of, but went by a Latin name that I never heard of before. (So, of course, I want to try it – whatever it was.) I was tempted to pick up a bag of the bright-yellow, smooth quince that were no larger than tennis balls, until I realized how much peeling would be involved. So I put them back.

Bacon

His other talent, which is perhaps the most profound – and rather challenging, is that he’s great at taking American flavors and using French products, making them appeal to the French palate. This is obvious when you bite into a sandwich at Frenchie To Go, a take-out place with a few stools for those who want to eat & run.

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La Graineterie du Marché

Graineterie du Marche

There are a number of “have-to” lists in Paris, places where people just have to go while they’re here. Often people have limited time, and I hear ya, so I might suggest the departments stores on the Boulevard Haussman, Printempts and Galeries Lafayette (although even since Printemps started charging €1,5 to use the restrooms, I’m inclined to go to the Galeries Lafayette, just on principle.) Some of the well-known chocolatiers and pastry shops have kiosks in those stores, so you can hit the “big names” in one fell swoop. If that’s your thing.

French honey
Winter thyme

For those wishing to shop on a smaller scale, there’s La Graineterie du Marché at the excellent Marché d’Aligre. It’s the only outdoor market in Paris that’s open every day, except Monday, and in the center of the market, you’ll find José Ferré tending to his lovely, old-fashioned dry goods shop.

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French Honey

french honey

I had to put a moratorium on jam-making this year because I realized I had enough jam to last a normal person, who doesn’t have a French partner, at least ten years. (I’m not naming any names, but one Frenchman in particular can go through half a jar at one breakfast alone.) But one thing I can’t make is honey, in spite of the fact that I am certainly capable of giving a nasty sting every once in a while. It wasn’t until I moved to France that I fell in love with the stuff.

When I led tours, I’d bring guests to honey shops and people would just kind of look around – or look over me, perhaps wondering when we were getting to the chocolate – as I started to explain fabulous wonders of French honey. And am not sure how convincing I was, but since I have a captive audience here (don’t touch that mouse!), as well as a cabinet-full of the stuff, I decided that as I started to clean out my honey larder, I’d also come clean about my love for the stuff.

Various honeys are said to have various properties. I don’t sit down to breakfast and think about all the polyhydroxy phenols and bioflavonoids, or how my body is going through phagocytosis or endocytosis while I eat my toast and sip my orange juice and wonder how the heck I’m going to make it through another day. (And I have nothing against polyhydroxy pheols or phagocytosis, it’s just that they’re not popular topics at my breakfast table.) On the whole, I eat pretty healthy stuff and am not one to think about the health benefits of food. I don’t need justification, ie: antioxidants, to eat chocolate. I just eat it – and thinking that you’re going to get healthy from eating cheesecake because you put a tablet of vitamin C in it is kind of ridiculous, if you ask me. So geez, just eat!

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La Ruche qui dit Oui!

washing kale

The word “non” is often the response of choice in France. And while it makes for funny snickering from outsiders, chuckling at complicated and arcane bureaucracy, it’s become a serious hindrance to innovation and small businesses, which have been having a particularly tough time lately. And there’s a younger generation of entrepreneurial talent, who have new ideas and are striving to be innovative and inventive, who want to succeed in their home country.

cheese

The group, Les Pigeons was recently founded by French web entrepreneurs, who felt used by politicians by increasing their taxes, who call themselves “pigeons” – which has been translated as “chumps“, a reference to the difficulties they’re having, feeling like they’re being taken for granted.

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Turkey Melon

turkey melon

Not long ago, I mentioned the Lamb Melons I saw at a butcher stand at the Marché d’Anvers in Paris. Since it’s an afternoon market, I thought it might be fun to mosey over there at my leisure and pick one up for Sunday lunch. However I was surprised to see the market completely packed. Since there are less than a few dozen stands, it’s not surprising I suppose. Plus we had a holiday weekend ahead of us.

french radishesAnvers French market Paris
potato chipscherry tomatoes

I did my usual quick scan of everything and found the produce selection rather limited, although there were a few interesting things here and there. I picked up a musty-looking Selles–sur-Cher goat cheese from a woman who makes her own goat cheeses, and each one was sold by how ‘ripe’ you want it.

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