The glorious French Markets

The Glorious French Markets


By Gabriel Gaté
For French home cooks, visiting a fresh food market at least once a week is a way of life. French markets are a feast for the senses, and as a chef, cookery writer and family cook, I feel stimulated and inspired by the great beauty of the colourful displays of fruits, vegetables and other stunning ingredients.
I often mentally plan a menu or create dishes while strolling through the atmospheric food aisles. I am inspired by the seasonal smells of fruits and fine herbs, such as basil, tarragon, strawberries and melons.
 
I like to visit a market between 8 and 10 am when it looks its best and is not yet too crowded. I first walk through the aisles to feel the atmosphere and discover the best stalls; then I reward myself with café and a croissant or some other irresistible goodies before returning to the most tempting stalls. I must confess I have a weakness for fromage!
 
My native country has over 10,000 food markets, so when on a French Scenic river cruise, you are never far from one. Paris alone has about eighty weekly markets, most of which are situated in an attractive or historic street and open two or three days a week. The French capital has also twelve covered markets open five or six days a week. The oldest, le marché des enfants rouges, was established in 1615.
 
The French word for market is marché, and a covered market is called a marché couvert, while larger, long-established covered markets are called les halles if there are several covered sections. You’ll find a stunning example of les halles in Versailles where the market is within walking distance of the extraordinary royal château. The best market days are usually Saturday and Sunday when family cooks have more time to plan their weekend feast.
 
A visit to a rural farmers’ market is a memorable cultural experience. When discovering a gorgeous hilltop village, charming provincial town or famous gourmet city, such as Lyons, Avignon, Bordeaux or Paris, visiting a market is a most agreeable way of absorbing the richness of France's gastronomic treasures.
 
Most rural markets were established centuries ago, in old historic centres where you may also discover ancient châteaux, churches and medieval architecture.
 
Local farmers set up their stalls early in the central square of the village to sell their  home-made cheeses, the freshest seasonal vegetables and herbs, and fruits ripened to perfection.
Other artisans like butchers and fishmongers, smallgoods makers and cheese masters sell their goods from a specially equipped refrigerated truck, travelling during the week to a different village every day. These artisans are proud of their products and are usually happy to give you a taste before you buy.

Country markets offer amazing take-away food ideas for a picnic. The charcutier is the shop to buy freshly prepared salads, delicious smallgoods like patés, hams, terrines and salami. Most markets have a rôtisserie stall with the irresistible smell of roast chicken and other succulent, ready-to-eat meats and roast potatoes wafting through the air. 

Around a market square you are sure to find a good boulangerie (bakery) and pâtisserie selling their regional specialities. And last but not least, you’ll find a wine shop to transform your picnic feast into a celebration!

Vive la France!

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