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This Weekend at the Paris Market

Paris Outdoor Market-3

As the weather turns cooler, the skies of Paris take on that violet-gray color that we’re all (too) familiar with, which means the onset of winter. When you live in a space-challenged city like Paris, that means going through those long-forgotten boxes you’ve stored away since last spring, and sadly putting away those short sleeve shirts and linens, replacing them in your closet with wool coats, scarves, and mittens. (Although I think I am the only adult in Paris who wears them. The other people, over eight years old, wear gloves.)

celeri remoulade

The outdoor markets of Paris take place, rain or shine, sunshine or sleet, no matter what the skies and weather are up to. The vendors never go on strike, and even on les jours fériés (national and public holidays), they are always there, selling their fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. I’m always struck by their ability to stand out there in the dead of winter when their cabbages, bunches of radishes, and rows of lettuce, are all frozen solid. When the rest of us can barely stand to be outside for more than thirty minutes, they’re there from 7am to 2pm in the unfavorable weather, setting up, selling, then breaking everything down and packing it all up, ready to do it all again the next day in another neighborhood.

squash

There is an outdoor market every day, somewhere in Paris, except Monday, and most people simply go to the one closest to where they live. Other markets may beckon, but few want to schlep bags of produce home on the métro when they can walk to a market just a few blocks away. And once you know the vendors at your market, it’s a much more enjoyable experience to shop there. (Plus you get better stuff, and most vendors let me pick my own produce, rather than decide for me.) I happen to live between three outstanding markets – the Bastille market, Popincourt, and the Marché d’Aligre. Here are some of the things that caught my eye this week at the Popincourt market:

tangerines

The first thing you’ll notice during the winter is a lot of mandarines. It’s not winter in France if you aren’t walking by tables heaped with mandarins – a jumble of tangerines and clementines. They come from a variety of places, but the ones from Corsica seem to draw the most interest. As for me, I tend to grab ones that don’t have seeds in them. I also look for ones with fresh leaves; wilted foliage is an indication that they’ve been picked a little while ago.

clementines

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At the Market: Bitter Turnips and Smoked Garlic

figs

I regularly visit the outdoors markets in Paris to do my shopping. It’s a lot nicer than the supermarket and I’ve gotten to know many of the vendors personally. Last Friday I took a lovely journalist from Poland through the market, who was writing a story about me and my new book. And I thought I’d be fun to take her shopping with me.

bitter turnip

She asked me a lot of questions as I blazed through the market, where I dialed in on the fresh figs immediately. Worried that the fragile beauties would get smushed in my bag, I made a mental note to go back and get some. The best market tip I can give is to see what everyone has, then go back, and get what you want. But another is not to go with any expectations, because what might be available in abundance one day, will (invariably) be gone a few days later when you go back to get it. So I stock up when I see things things, like the ripe ‘n ready black figs, shown up above.

baguette and smoked garlic

The ones that were syrupy and sticky-soft got eaten fresh, right away. A few others were roasted in the oven with some white wine, honey, and a few branches of fresh thyme.

I also bought a magnificent head of lettuce, since I eat a lot of salads. And even though I had plenty of cheese at home – as usual – while introducing her the women who sell the stellar cheeses that I’m fortunate to have so close by, I was powerless to resist the artisanal goat cheeses, each wrapped in a chestnut leaf. And into my basket one of those went.

cherry tomatoes

She asked me about root vegetables, which are having a renaissance in France, so I took her to the stand that specializes in les légumes racines. I’d gotten bear’s garlic from that vendor last year (and, of course, when I went to get more a few days later, it was nowhere to be seen), and while perusing her colorful radishes and beets, I noticed a basket holding tresses of ail fumé, or smoked garlic.

smoked garlic

Parisians aren’t know for the abundant use of smoky flavors. So it’s a little surprising to see smoked garlic at the markets. This specimen that came home with me hailed from the north of France and a little research led to me learn that they’re Ail fumé d’Arleux, which have been in production for over four hundred years. Smoking was originally a way to preserve the garlic. Before refrigeration, people would store foods in their chimneys (including cheese), which would help preserve it, as well as lend a smoky taste. So why not garlic?

tart dough

tart dough

tart dough

The most notable dish using smoked garlic is soupe à l’ail d’Arleux; a simple soup of smoked garlic, potatoes, carrots, and thyme, sometimes topped with grated cheese or crème fraîche – you can find some recipes here and here, in English.

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Caractère de Cochon: Ham & Charcuterie Shop in Paris

Caractère de Cochon

Many times, I’ve walked by Caractère de Cochon, a slip of a place on a side street, just next to the earnest Marché des Enfants Rouges, in the ever-growing hipper upper haut (upper) Marais, and wondered about the cave à jambons jam-packed with hams of all sorts hanging in the window and from the rafters. But I’ve never stepped inside.

Caractère de Cochon

But recently I was talking to my friend Jennifer, and she’d mentioned the place in glowing terms, letting me know it was, indeed, an amazing emporium dedicated to all-things-ham. So we made a date to go. However as (my) luck would have it, of course, on the day of our date, it was closed for a fermeture exceptionelle.

Caractère de Cochon

Which, in my case, seems to happen a lot.

fermeture exceptionelle

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Les Provinces and Café des Abattoirs

Cafe des Abattoirs

My perfect day in Paris is one that starts at the Marché d’Aligre. I’d get there first thing in the morning, around 9 A.M. as the flea market vendors are unloading their trucks, scoping out treasures as they unpack them. (Before the rest of humanity descends on the market.) I’d rifle through the boxes of knives, cast-off kitchenware, and perhaps score a vintage Le Creuset gratin dish, before doing some food shopping, bringing home the bacon.

smoked bacon

I’ve been going to this market for over ten years, and it’s still one of my favorites. For a while, there weren’t any stand-out dining options at the market, which was a shame, because you’re surrounded by all this food at the one of best markets in Paris, but few places were serving them. So I was happy to see that in the last year or so, a number of eateries have opened where you can sit down and enjoy everything from Portuguese pastries to steak-frites, a market staple dating back to the days of the old – and sadly displaced – Les Halles.

Boucherie Les Provinces

One place in particular that I was interested in trying was boucherie Les Provinces, a combination butcher shop and restaurant. While I had my head buried in boxes at the flea market, avoiding getting stabbed by vintage French forks, an SMS popped up on my phone from my friend, asking me where the heck I was. So I hightailed it over to meet her for lunch.

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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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