I’ll admit it – after nearly seven years in France’s fair capital, there’s still a list of things I sorely miss from the motherland for which Paris can supply no substitute. It has diminished over time, a mere scribbled shadow of what it once was, but the one thing that remains steadfastly stubborn at the top (and I’m not proud of myself, dear readers), is the British supermarket. Sorry Carrefour, Monoprix et al, but you’re just simply no match for the behemoths I’m used to (and guys, if you insist on selling Marmite at such an offensively inflated price, you never, EVER will be).
In Paris though, there’s one thing on the other side of the coin that floats high above these pile-’em-high grocery warehouses, and that’s the traditional produce market, largely abandoned back home in favour of convenience and the fruitless (ha!) search for the cheapest price. And I don’t mean the status-coated ‘farmer’s markets’ either – throughout the city you’ll find both covered and outdoor markets every day of the week selling ordinary fruit and veg from mere pennies to the more upmarket selections in the more well-to-do arrondissements.
Whereas the supermarket is a relatively modern invention at a mere 100 years old*, showing its true influence in our food culture only in the last 40 years or so, the traditional market goes way, way back into the very deepest mists of time – so far back you can hardly even see the beginning anymore. I’ll leave Tesco, ASDA and friends to contemplate their frustratingly unflinching stranglehold on the UK economy, and instead celebrate the birthday this weekend (8th November) of one of Paris’ oldest and most charming fruit and veg bazaars; le Marché des Enfants Rouges.
You’ll find this rain-friendly covered market in the 3rd arrondissement near the Rue de Bretagne, and its name, ‘Market of the Red Children’ comes from the red-suited inhabitants of an ancient orphanage that used to stand nearby. Though the latter is long gone, the market has stood strong for the last 400 years, though understandably needed a facelift after centuries of trading, and closed for six years for a spruce-up in the late 1990s.
Rainbows of produce await hungry punters, but waiting until to you get home to satisfy your hunger sounds like unnecessary torture to me. To save you from breaking your teeth sinking them into a raw turnip, the real draw of le Marché des Enfants Rouges is the huge selection of freshly prepared food on offer from all corners of the world, hot and cold, served in compact glass pod-like structures with plenty of seating scattered around to take the load off. Happily the menu also includes fish and chips, so authentic that you could close your eyes and be sitting in a café on Brighton seafront. That’s another British comfort ticked of my list then.
Things do get manically busy at the weekends, and this one will be more sardine-like than most, so best to take a wide berth if you want to be able to find a seat. And being able to tuck into fish and chips whilst occupying yourself with the weekly produce shop sounds well worth the wait to me. I’ll be at home screwing up my ‘things I miss from home’ list and flinging it into the bin.
Open Tuesday to Sunday.
*The very first was called, wait for it, ‘Piggly Wiggly’