Paris Shopping Tips: Open Air Food Markets
By Theadora Brack
Open-air market shopping in Paris can look pretty intimidating, even to a shopping fanatic like myself. In fact, I used to stick instead to the safe predictability of the supermarché aisles.
But I’ve changed! I have seen tomates, aubergines, and haricots verts in a natural light, and I’m not going back to fluorescent. So to help out, here are a few tips. Grab your list and shopping bag. Let’s hit the stalls!
1. Create a plan
Throughout Paris, there are roving open-air markets (“marchés volants”) and covered markets. They don’t call them “marchés volants” for nothing. The “flying markets” appear only once or twice each week on their assigned market days, sell their goods, and then move on to another hood.
Ring-a-ding: The markets also carry wine and flowers. Being the perfect house or dinner guest just got easier!
2. Arrive early
Set your alarm clock! The open-air food markets typically open at 8 AM and close at 3 PM. Kick off your spree with a cup of fresh white goat cheese or a chocolate cravate!
3. Cash and carry
If you can, organize a small “till” the night before. I usually carry 20 euros in coins and small bills. Most street merchants don’t accept credit cards.
4. Buying the whole week or a picnic?
Better bring a marché caddie or “chariot” (rolling cart), “panier” (basket), or a sturdy sac. Most grocery stores sell them. Sporting vibrant colors, they’re also the perfect souvenir.
5. Social Bee
Julia Child mused that if a proprietor, “senses a visitor is delighted to be in his store, and takes a genuine interest in what is for sale, then he’ll just open up like a flower.” What’s more, your relationship with the vendors will really flourish if you give them repeat business. The locals value fidelity. Sometimes money can buy love or a sample!
6. Sell! Sell! Then bye-bye.
Time is money for the open-air merchant. Need to know your chicken’s pedigree or the soil temperature where your tomatoes grew? I’d take your browsing to a specialty shop or a “biologique” (organic) food market, such as Marché Batignolles (Métro: Place de Clichy).
7. U can’t touch this (or can you?)
If plastic baskets or tubs are in reach, it’s usually okay to handle your own produce. An absence of these containers typically signals that the grocer will make the selections for you. Also, let them know exactly when you plan to eat it, and they’ll be able to figure out the ripeness with their eyes and fingertips. I love to watch them in action!
8. For every season turn, turn, turn
Think seasonally! In-season produce and “fromage” tastes better and costs less. Asparagus is best in the month of May, cherries ripen in July, and apples are at their tastiest in early autumn. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for those “soldes” (on sale) signs.
9. Follow your nose
Don’t let your shopping list call all the shots. You’re better off using all your senses, following your gut, and trying whatever you fancy. Try the young (and difficult to find outside France) cheeses. Don’t hold back. Some vendors offer samples, so by all means break one of my grandmother’s rules: shop while hungry!
10. No market close to your flat or hotel?
Don’t fret. Most arrondissements have bustling “rues commerçantes” (shopping districts) which have many of the same advantages, if not the same Old World atmosphere. Abbesses is one of my favorites. Flea market junkies: There’s a food market next to the Porte de Vanves Flea!
WWHD? (What would Hem do?)
Signing off with a favorite Hemingway “Moveable Feast” passage, “I knew several of the men who fished the fruitful parts of the Seine between the Île St. Louis and the Square du Vert Galent and sometimes, if the day was bright, I would buy a liter of wine and a piece of bread and some sausage and sit in the sun and read one of the books I had bought and watch the fishing.”
Now that’s a plan! But first, let’s trek it to the Marché Barbès (Métro: Barbès-Rochechouart) for more shopping. Happy Hunting!