Whenever a person thinks of France, and I’m really sticking my (frog’s) leg out here and generalising, I can be almost certain that the flashing procession of images contains a market in there somewhere. The place is fabled for them, making sure our happy bellies are full of technicolour produce, to-salivate-for meat and without a doubt the smelliest cheeses in the world.
Having lived in Paris for over five years (so I can safely consider myself somewhat of an expert), I’m well used to the gulf between the glittering tourist clichés and the more mundane and unspectacular reality of what the city is actually like. But these bustling markets, filled with a plethora of goodies and traders trying to push juicy figs into your mouth as you idle past, straddle the both ideas, being both the romantic cliché, and the happy reality.
Just as the 20 arrondisements are a patchwork of different cultures and salary brackets, so is the catalogue of the city’s produce markets. Ranging from the organic wonderland of the Boulevard Raspail where the prices can leave you saucer-eyed and open-mouthed, to the lower end of the scale where you can fill two carrier bags full of fruit and veg for 5 euros (and I’ve done it), there are different markets to see you through every day of the week.
Given the premise of this blog though, it’s only fair that I point you towards the cheapest. After extensive research (I still have the fig moustache), I can confirm that if it’s veggie bargains you want, then it’s to Barbès Rochechouart you need to head. The market takes place every wednesday (8am-1pm) and saturday (7am-3pm), extending along Boulevard de la Chapelle, under the metro line (so you’ll be nice and dry if it rains).
Along with the odd hardware and clothes stall, there’s are plenty of the usual suspects selling fruit and veg, cheese, fish and meat, and a handful of specialists selling delights such as olives and spices. You’ll also have to make sure you look out for the herb guys who plonk themselves right in the middle of the pedestrian traffic – if not for their fragrant green bunches, at least to save your shins.
It’s a busy ol’ affair, so if you’re not keen on elbowing through the crowds, competing with the masses to get served, or losing your heels via a fellow shopper’s loaded trolley being pulled with reckless abandon, then you’ll have to get there early. Given the rock-bottom prices, you won’t find a whole host of organic or local produce being sold by ruddy-cheeked farmers, and none of that ‘posh’ veg (watercress, asparagus, kale), though the quality is reasonable and the sales patter always lively. Who needs bananas exactly the same size and length anyway??
For more information on this market and others near you, check out http://meslieux.paris.fr/marches