In honor of le 14 juillet - Bastille Day in English – a post about France and something very French would be in order for today.
Markets! French markets that is. And not all markets either. Food markets. They’re my favorite. Not that I don’t like the other markets – flowers, flea, antiques, rare books. Au contraire! But the important tradition of the French food markets is anchored very deep in the culture and they are such a unique experience.
Seen from the U.S., they make France… well, so French!
If you missed the market on Wednesday mornings, or Fridays, there is always one somewhere in town on Sunday mornings.
Sunday mornings don’t all start with a trip to the market. No, they start with a grasse matinée – yes, sleeping in is a “fat morning”! Another idiom. To this day, I am still unsure if it’s supposed to mean that after 8:00 am you’ll magically gain weight from staying in bed, salivating about 2 or 3 crispy butter croissants.
In any case, once the nutritious coffee-baguette-jam-butter-croissant breakfast is over, with 3 wicker baskets around the arm, the call for the marché is heard loud and clear like a first crusade. And all roads lead to the market.
Just follow the French – they know where to go. And they all walk in the same direction too.
The discreet hubbub of le marché already surrounds me even though I am still walking towards it. Entangled voices of shoppers are intertwined with louder voices promoting a cheaper kilo of shiny red tomatoes and a dozen fresh farm eggs.
The melodic church bells are ringing – it’s 10:00 am. It’s always better to go earlier rather than later. By noon, markets become overly crowded and not as enjoyable to navigate through.
The place smells of everything and anything. Floating scents of garlic, curly parsley, ripe peaches, moldy Roquefort and greasy spit-roasted chicken as I walk past the different farmers. My nostrils are filled with appetizing flavors – it feels like having a fancy 4-course meal by just walking aimlessly and smelling the air.
I want to look at the prices first, let’s walk around. I never buy right on the spot. I want to see what each farmer has to offer and the quality of the food.
Le fromager is whistling as he cuts through a colossal round wheel of holey Gruyère cheese. Et avec ceci, Madame? This lady is not having anything else but I already eyed a big chunk of yellow cantal, which I think would royally pair with this light fruity red wine I still have at home.
The rustle of the thin plastic bags carrying food whispers throughout the market. It’s a sign people are buying. Baskets are full.
Oh, des fraises des bois! It’s not often that you see wild strawberries on the market – strawberries of the forest as we call them. So small, sweet, brightly red and deliciously strong. They’ll be perfect for strawberry tartlets with a lemony cream in the center. They’re expensive though. C’est une folie!
The French always “complain” about splurging and love to say out loud that it’s “crazy”. But they secretly love it nonetheless.
It’s a whole process for them – first, acknowledge the price, then announce the word “une folie” out loud, and finally, appear to find some comfort: ok, just for once - yes, pour une fois. Let’s get the strawberries! <shoulder shrug>
Le boucher has a great rôtisserie oven next to his booth-truck. Un poulet, s’il vous plaît, Monsieur. The skin of this slow turning chicken looks so crispy, I will make a meal out of it. Eggs, we need eggs! I know where to get them.
I prefer not to give my money away to the big farmers in their fancy food trucks. No, I buy from my favorite adorable 78 year-old grandpa in the corner there… next to La Poste and the Café Bar Tabac. He does not have much with him – eggs, some tomatoes, cherries, plums and green beans. I always buy a dozen from him. His wife Léonne is not here today, I hope everything is ok.
She’s taking care of Jolie, my best egg-layer. Something happened. I think the fox scared her last night. You’re not buying Jolie’s eggs today. These were laid by Picorette.
As he’s searching inside his rusty metal coin box to break my 20 €, the noises of loose change hitting the box with other coins echo sounds of empty cardboard fruit crates being tossed on the side.
The church bells are ringing again. This time it’s noon! Where did 11:00 go? And I did not have time to make it to the fish and seafood booths. They’re my favorite too.
Do we buy something to eat here or just go home? In all honesty, I want my crispy chicken now. The green beans with parsley and a bit of butter will be just enough. We’ll cook them in the pressure cooker – so much faster and they’ll be crisp, just how I like them. We’ll make a plum tart too.
The wild strawberry tartlets will be for tonight then. For dessert. Une folie!
Farmers already actively packed up and left.
Some abandoned wooden and cardboard crates stayed behind.
Hissing water sprays are cleaning the market ground.
Lively homes now sparkle with colorful fresh veggies and fruits.
We’ll go back next Sunday, c’est sûr!
Joyeux 14 juillet!