French Markets


I don’t profess to be an expert on markets in France. In fact, I’m not at all. In the past, when I visited my family as a child, I don’t remember markets. I do remember walking to shops with my grandmother in her village, getting milk, then cheese, then meat, and so forth. I don’t think I remember seeing a farmers-type market until I was much older. I also remember my mother commenting on how much prettier all of the produce is compared to the U.S.

Fast forward to married life, when my husband and I have, luckily, traveled in France and many other European countries. Because we always wanted to see the countryside, we’re typically on the move. We’ve never rented a home, spent a week, and cooked.

So it wasn’t until I visited Stéphane from the blog My French Heaven, that I really got to see markets and experience them.
In 2013, when my daughter and I went, the three of us went to a different market on four days in four different towns! But I know that the one Stéphane frequents is on Sunday in Libourne, where he resides. Which is why he refers to it as his church.

In France, as it is in many European countries, markets aren’t like a visit to a super Wal Mart. It’s about planning what to cook, seeing what’s in season, visiting with friends. It’s almost more of a social institution than just buying groceries.

After three trips to visit Stephane, I’ve been to the Libourne market many times now. I recognize his favorite butcher, who blushed when my girlfriend gave him a hug for a photo. I recognize the old curmudgeon of a foie gras guy. And there are the cute young ladies who sell seafood. And so forth. Can you imagine having such a relationship with a cheesemonger? I have none of that where I live.

If you’ve never been to a French market, please read Stéphane’s post, entitled “My Market is my Church.” It gives you tips on how to navigate a market, how to talk to the vendors, and also what not to do.

I thought this was such important information because if I’d never had guidance from my mother, I could be one of the ugly Americans, touching the beautiful produce, asking for samples, perhaps yelling when a Parisien butted in line in front of me.

That doesn’t happen in France. In fact, you keep your hands to yourself and you remain calm. Farmers are proud, and they’re not selling any strawberry or green bean that isn’t perfectly ripe. There might be dirt on the carrots and potatoes, but that’s the only thing that an American would consider imperfect. You tell the vendor you want a half a kilo of mushrooms, and he/she will place them in a bag for you. Payment is in cash.
Farmers markets are also not like our food festivals in the US. They’re not giving out food samples to draw you in. They’re too busy doing what they should be doing anyway. If you want one of their cheeses, ask for it, or move on.

There are counterfeit farmers. In Stephane’s post, you’ll read that if you see stamped eggs, for example, or if a “farmer” has baby-bottom soft hands, chances are you’re not dealing with a true farmer. They’ve most likely stopped by the French Costco equivalent and are re-selling at the market.

When my husband and I visited Stephane recently, we spent a couple of days in his home town. This was at my request, because as much as I like traveling and eating out, I can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like spending time with Stephane at his home, shopping with him, sipping the wine he’s chosen for you, and being served perfect food prepared by him.
For lunch on our first full day in Libourne, he served my husband and I steaks with a green peppercorn cream sauce, and sauteed potatoes. Followed by a platter of cheeses.

We had purchased all of the ingredients that morning at the market.

In the evening, just for me, along with my Lillet, I enjoyed cured duck filled with foie gras.

Then Stephane made us a dinner of his famous prawns in a Jack Daniels cream sauce.

How nice it must be to have a relationship with people who really understand their food, who have raised it, caught it, cooked it, and are proud of it. It’s wonderful to have trust in these vendors as well, and know their reputations. These people are so knowledgeable that they will tell you how to cook the eel they’re selling, still wiggling, of course, or even how best to prepare a cut of lamb. This is also a part of what makes shopping at farmers markets so meaningful.

64 thoughts on “French Markets

  1. I love French markets, too. But I love the ones we have here. One of the few really good things about central KY is the incredibly thriving farmers’ market culture.

  2. I remember the German markets on a business trip with my hubby. The market was in walking distance from our hotel and my first venture there I got yelled at in German (I am sure) not to touch her grapes. Apparently way back then (as now) you had to point and tell the vendor what you wanted. Not like the good ole USA :)

      • The year of the royal wedding, when Diana married Charles, we stayed in a place called Quimiac in an apartment over looking a square where they held a market regularly. My brother and I were both under 10 I think and we used to go round as they were packing up and collect discarded produce! We had great fun, it was like finding treasure :)

      • Me too! The weather was wonderful during our trip as well. Not a drop of rain. I loved both places so much I don’t think I could choose a favorite!💜

  3. I agree with everything you wrote … a lovely post and great photos … and think that ‘meaningful’ is what it’s all about, it’s what keeps us going in life. Thank you for a lovely Monday morning read!

  4. I absolutely agree Mimi – I love the relationship that the French seem to have with their food and those who grow it, sell it, and cook it. Such a wonderful post. I absolutely love France and can’t wait to get back.

  5. I absolutely love the markets there! No idea how much I ended up spending there but we didn’t want for anything. Except fresh herbs. For some reason fresh herbs were not readily available. I did manage to find a thyme plant. Fabulous post!

  6. I don’t know Stéphane’s market, but he and I definitely have the same philosophy: my Sunday market is my church! The food you shared looks incredible – thanks for the beautiful photo essay, Mimi!

  7. Such a great post with wonderful photos. I think when it comes to food – and as you mention, it starts with choosing it – Europeans treat the entire process as a much more special event than Americnas. How many people here do more than grab something as they’re running home from work, rushing to put something on the table, and doing more than shoving it in their mouths? Not everyone, but for so many people it’s just another thing to get out of the way.

    Mealtimes used to be family times and it was a social occasion. I love markets like these.

    • Thanks! It’s my favorite part, although I’ve never gotten a chance to stay somewhere are cook my own food. But no complaints about someone else doing the cooking!!!

    • We’re typically in a hotel, so I don’t cook on vacations. I might have resulted in a tantrum I had about 30 years ago when a big group of friends went to some cabins in Colorado, and it turns out I was the only person who knew how to coo. None of these people knew how to wash dishes, either!

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