Published on February 23rd, 2011 | by Ann Rickard0
Love a French Market
Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, lay on the beach in Nice, dine in one of the many Michelin star restaurants, drink bold wines in Burgundy and gaze in wonder at the Versailles Palace.
The French head to the markets in the mornings to buy fresh produce that will dictate what appears on the lunch table that day. And cliché it may be, but every market-goer has a baguette under the arm or poking cheerfully out of a large wicker basket. And most of them have a cute dog in tow.
The stall holders arrive at dawn with trestles, produce, wares…even small generators to keep fridges chugging, and sun umbrellas to protect customers while essential inspections are made.
In large cities, the markets may take place daily, in smaller towns, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in tiny villages, perhaps on Saturdays only.
The markets are a symphony for the senses with produce gloriously displayed: asparagus sits up in straight proud bunches, red and purple berries sit like jewels in square white boxes with dainty handles, olives glisten in wide wicker baskets, fat tomatoes display their green tufts outwards in military-like formations.
Cheeses come in wheels as large as old-fashioned dust-bin lids and in towering drum-like rounds that look impossible to cut into. Small circles of pale goat cheeses, freshly made that morning, sit in perfect configuration next to cheeses in little earthenware pots alongside cheeses nestling on straw beds in boxes. It is said there are 365 varieties of cheeses in France and one circuit of the markets will convince you this is true.
Then there is the fresh lavender, tied in neat bunches or soaring from pots, making its ubiquitous presence known with its unmistakable fragrance wafting over everything.
Stall-holders, most of them producers, are proud of their goods and will offer you tastes and time to chat about the pleasure you will enjoy at the table later in the day.
All this culinary splendour is enjoyed against a backdrop of handsome old buildings, trickling fountains and in the south, beneath shady green plane trees.
Around midday, sitting in a little cafe watching the markets wind down is almost as pleasurable as sipping a glass of cloudy pastis, the heady licorice-tasing liqueur the French love to drink late-morning.
Each stall holder has his packing routine perfected. Umbrellas come down and are slid into sheaths in one fluid movement. Any leftover (rare) produce is swiftly packed into crates. Trestles are dismantled in moments and loaded into vans. Hoses wash away any debris and the space that had only moments before been brimming with produce, is once again empty and spotless.
Within a very short time, the noise, colour and movement of the busy market has gone and the square a tranquil place. Time to head home, spread your market bounty on the table, call the gang and open a bottle of wine.