Category Archives: Food Shopping

Paris Farmers’ Markets: Dos and Don’ts (Mostly Don’ts)

Many thanks to Sedulia Scott who writes the Rue Rude blog for allowing Posted in Paris to repost these words of sage advice.

Went to the marché, or farmers’ market, this morning and got a little carried away on the flowers– €49 later, I came home with some peonies, Easter lilies (which in France are called arum, but I just read that both names are wrong: this is not a real lily), some yellow freesia, and four bunches of lilies of the valley, which will last only a few days, but are a symbol of May. Children sell them on May Day here on all the street corners. Aren’t they pretty?

Today, as usual, the market was full of foreign tourists gawking at the lovely food and product displays. As the vendeuse was cutting the stems and wrapping up the flowers (she gave me some foliage for free), I saw out of the corner of my eye a tall, impatient American man, identifable by his khaki pants and button-down shirt, but also by his attitude. While the florist was taking care of me, he had gotten more and more annoyed. The florist was aware of his annoyance but not of its cause and looked puzzled. Finally he just laid down his money, pointed at the lilies of the valley in his hand and said, “Pour les fleurs,” and flounced off.Enfin, he would have if he’d had flounces. The florist made big eyes at me and said, “What’s wrong with him?” and then shrugged her shoulders.

What was wrong? He didn’t know the rules of the marché. I didn’t either when I first came to France. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few!

1) Enjoy the market all you want! It’s fine to walk through slowly and gawk at the gorgeous fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, and surprisingly high-quality linens, etc.

2) Don’t touch the food! This is not done. Mais non, non, non! The merchant will serve you.

3) If you don’t plan to buy anything, photograph discreetly if at all. Understandably, the vendors don’t love being the focus, year in, year out, of lots and lots of cameras of people who never buy.

4) At the height of the market, it will be crowded and you will have to wait your turn at popular, high-quality stands. If you are a customer, make a signal if the vendor doesn’t realize you’re not just a tourist staring. Then wait your turn. There may not seem to be a line, but there is. The French don’t love orderly queues. But the vendor notices who’s first, second and so on. If they make a mistake, it’s not usually out of malice toward tourists but because too many people are waiting. Sometimes there’s a long wait, that’s just how it is. When it’s your turn next, make a little signal with your hand. Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper. And remember to begin with Bonjour! and finish with Merci! Au revoir! 

While you are waiting for your turn, don’t expect the merchant to pay you the least bit of attention. This is the problem my American man, at the beginning of this post, must have had. The vendeuse was completely ignoring him to focus on me– this is the polite, correct way for a vendor to behave in France. The American was expecting her to acknowledge him and in some way say “Don’t worry, you’re next,” or “I’ll be right with you.” But to the vendeuse, that would be rude to me.

5) If you don’t speak French, no problem! Say Bonjour and then ask if they can speak English. If they can’t, there is always someone nearby who can and will come to your aid if you need it.

6) If you are not a regular customer, watch carefully what you are being given! The French way of privilégier-ing their regular customers means that non-regular customers are the ones on whom they try to fob off the less good produce. Feel free to point at an unsatisfactory choice and say, “No, not that one! That one.” French customers do this all the time. Smile!

7) If you come at the very end of the market, you can get some good bargains, but a lot of the best stands my be out of produce. Also, the market people have to spend quite a lot of time taking their stands down, and they aren’t happy to have a customer show up just as they are putting things into the truck. So try to get to the market before 13h15. (I have no idea what time to show up in the morning. I am not a morning person.)

And voilà, one of the greatest pleasures of France!

Produce Baskets in Paris

If you’re unable to get to your neighborhood markets during the week or are frustrated with the quality of produce at your grocery store, signing up for a produce basket is an easy, affordable option for getting your weekly fruits and vegetables. A produce basket is an even better option if you’re interested in getting organic, local sourced produce that’s in season.

There are several online companies that offer produce delivery services to the Ile de France, including residents of Paris’s twenty arrondissements. While many companies provide similar products, they differ in the size of baskets offered, price, subscription options, organic versus non-organic, and delivery method. Depending on your needs, you may also decide to go with a company that does more than just fruits and vegetables. A handful of the companies listed below also sell specialty items, just as cheese, meat, and even oysters!

Bio Culture
Green Republic
Le Panier Paysan
Mon Pre Bio
Local Bio Bag
Ze Blue Box
Fruit Bureau
Dans Mon Panier Bio
Tous Primeurs
Les Paniers du Val de Loire
Panier Paysans
Le Campanier

Once you choose the company you’d like to use, signing up online for a weekly basket is quite simple. You select the size and type of basket you’d like (fruits, vegetables, mixed), the duration of your subscription (with options ranging from one time to one year), your delivery method, and finally you pay for your purchase. The companies will bring the basket to your home or office for a fee or you can choose to pick it up from a point relais on a specific day between set hours. The pick-up points are typically small stores, such as a local organic markets or health food boutiques. Most companies have more than one pick-up point in Paris and there’s often at least one per arrondissement. For example, Bio Culture delivers its customers’ baskets to a handful of pick-up points on Monday, different pick-up points on Tuesday, etc. After picking up your basket, all that’s left to do is whip up a delicious meal using the fresh ingredients!

Time constraints on grocery shopping, a desire to eat seasonal food, or a commitment to buy local are just a few of the reasons produce baskets are an appealing option to Paris residents. The vocabulary list below makes it especially easy for Anglophones to navigate the ordering process and take advantage of this alternative shopping opportunity.

Helpful Vocabulary

basket le panier
organic bio
to order commander
fruit le fruit
vegetable le légume
fresh frais, fraiche
mixed mixte
home delivery livraison à domicile
pick up ramasser
pick up point point relais

Boulangerie Basics

Today’s post is re-posted with permission from Vingt Paris. Vingt Paris is a website devoted to helping its readers get the most out of life in Paris and its 20 diverse arrondissements. This post is part of a larger series exploring the city’s unspoken rules.

By Guillermom Martínez de Velasco

Who doesn’t like bread? It’s probably humanity’s oldest baked good, and when it comes to breadlove, Parisians take it to the next level. The Boulangerie is not just a place to get bread, it is a neighbourhood institution much like your local Alimentation Génerale or Brasserie. I know it may seem odd to think that something as meaningless as getting a baguette could go so potentially wrong. Therein lies the first mistake; a baguette can be regarded by Parisians as more meaningful than most of the things you’ll have to face in a typical city morning.

Out of taking the crowded métro only to change lines at Gare de l’Est; walking through streets full of vendors, noise, cars, unpleasant smells; walking up five flights of stairs constantly, and God forbid, breaking a sweat because of the heat; a baguette is the only thing that is constantly good. This explains why they take special care of the stuff made in their bakeries and why you should too! As these series of articles are meant to illustrate, protocol is protocol.

Unless you were lucky enough to have a real French bakery outside your place before coming to Paris, chances are you thought that the spongy white and brown square you had with toast, was bread. This is not to say that other countries don’t have good bread. It’s just that amazing bread is not as immediately available for the majority of people as it is for Parisians. Luckily, you live here now, so this is what you need to do:
  1. Find a Boulangerie and stick to it. Even though Paris is a big city, it manages to maintain a very local vibe within each neighbourhood. Say bonjour to the people next door, or the gardienne, or anyone in your building, everytime you run into them.  Eventually their replies will come with a smile. Once this happens, slip in the question: What boulangerie do they go to? Congratulations, from now on it’s yours also. Don’t even think about getting bread anywhere else.
  2. Arrive early. After midday bread will be stale and most of the good stuff, like croissant aux amandes, will be long gone. That doesn’t mean that if you walk by the bakery in the afternoon you shouldn’t wave at the employees. Remember, they make your bread and therefore hold the power. The customer is definitely not king in Paname.
  3. Say Hello. At the beginning you’ll notice that everyone seems to be getting warm bread while you, quite simply, aren’t. This is normal. Unfamiliar people get the less than fresh stock. Why would some tourist get the same bread that the gens du quartier do? I know it seems very basic but sometimes we tend to forget to say hello. Everytime you see your baker remember to drop some “Bonjour” “Comment allez-vous?” “Bonne journée” etc. This will make them remember you and, once they do, you’ll start getting the good bread.
  4. Respect your elders. At any given moment, there will be at least one old person in the Boulangerie. Bear in mind they have been going to the same place, most likely every day, for longer than you have been alive. They probably know the baker’s parents and even grandparents. Old Parisians are your gateway to good service. Be extra polite to them; let them cut in front of you, say hello and goodbye, talk about the weather; anything really. What you want is for them to one day step in for you, look the baker in the eye and tell him to treat you right. Befriend the cardigan and béret wearers.
  5. Get the right stuff. There are a lot of options in your standard Boulang’. Don’t be afraid to ask what they would recommend. Remember, this is not some teenager behind the counter working a summer job. The person usually lives for and because of bread. If you feel like choosing for yourself, there are also some failsafe varieties. For the sweet tooth, I recommend either croissant aux amandes or the classic pain au chocolat; if the places makes canelés, don’t think twice about getting some. If it’s a baguette you’re looking for get the tradition. French law requires it to be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked on site. Freezing it is literally illegal.
  6. Holiday Bread Be it Christmas or Poisson d’Avril, most French holidays have an accompanying holiday bread. Get it, you’ll find that most of the time you’ll eat the whole thing faster than expected. If not, give it to someone as a present. Most importantly, anyone who’s anyone in the eyes of your Boulanger is getting one. You don’t want to miss out.

When and where to eat bread is mostly up to you. As a general rule, resist the urge to bite into your bread before you have reached your destination. Remember the ever-Parisian mantra of keeping it subtle. Was that you eating in public, like you couldn’t afford to give yourself five minutes of leisure time? Mais non! Even though this seems like a long and tedious process, rising to the status of Boulangerie regular is still faster than opening up a bank account (a month), or getting your titre de sejour (several months to a year).

French people don’t conceptualize time the way most other nations do, and even in the hustle and bustle of Paris, no one likes time to be more important than they are. Bread is one of those ways in which Parisians stick it to the man. Be it a 2 hour lunch break or a baguette with ham and camembert while on strike. Take the time to take your time, and enjoy the best bread in the world. After all, it’s just around the corner.

Organic Food

Curious if the apple you ate for a snack is organic? Not sure how to tell one kiwi apart from the next? Whether you want to become more familiar with the produce aisle at your grocery store or are interested in where your food is coming from, here is some basic information about organic or bio products in France and where you can find them in Paris.

France uses two major labels to designate certified organic food. Organic food is labeled with the European Union’s organic food sticker which became mandatory for pre-packaged food in July 2010. According to information from the European Commission’s organic farming initiative, any food displaying the green and white leaf motif of the EU organic food label meets the following criteria:

1) Contains at least 95% ingredients from organic production methods

2) Complies with the rules of official inspection and certification

3) Comes directly from the producer or preparer in a sealed package

4) Bears the name of the producer, preparer or vendor and the name or code of the certification body

The EU sticker was created to standardize organic food labeling across the 27 member countries, but French organic producers have the option to add the national green and white “Agriculture Biologique (AB)” logo in addition to the EU organic sticker. The “AB” label, first introduced in 1985, meets all of the EU organic farming requirements. The AB certification process is overseen by Agence Bio, but certification itself is left to a variety of French authorities.

EU certified organic food may also include items imported from non-member states, including countries such as Brazil, New Zealand, and Costa Rica. The EU recognizes the production practices in these countries as being equivalent to EU standards thus allowing you to buy organic Thai rice or Indian chamomile tea right here in Paris. When filling your cart or market bag with food, scan your goods for the “EU-leaf” sticker and you’ll know your purchases are certified organic. Spot an “AB” label and you’ll know your food is coming from your backyard–the fields just beyond the French capitol to the far corners of the France.*

Where can you find food labeled with the EU or “AB” logo? Head to these markets and stores to make your organic food purchases:

Raspail Organic Market
boulevard Raspail between rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Rennes 75006
Metro: Rennes
Sunday 9AM to 3PM

Batignolles Organic Market
boulevard des Batignolles between rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Rennes 75017
Metro: Rome or Place de Clichy
Saturday 9AM to 3PM

Brancusi Organic Market
Place Constantin Brancusi 75014
Metro: Gaîté
Saturday 9AM to 3PM

Naturalia

Biocoop

Elan Nature

Touch of Bio

Bio Culture

Nature a Paris
47 Boulevard St Germain
Paris 75005
Tel: 01 44 07 36 99

Canal Bio
46 Bis Quai Loire, 75019 Paris
Paris 75019
Tel: 01 42 06 44 44

Bio-Moi
35 rue Debelleyme
Paris 75003
Tel: 01 42 78 03 26

*To learn about other French bio distinctions, such as the AOC and AOP, visit here.

International Ingredients: An Update

We’ve made major updates in an earlier post telling you where to find ingredients for the cuisine of countries other than France.  Take a look to see what’s new and rediscover old favorites:  http://postedinparis.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/in-search-of-the-right-ingredient-ethnic-groceries/

If you’ve got anything else to add, please leave a comment.  We’d love to hear from you.

Paris Supermarket Souvenirs

Ellise Pierce, otherwise known to foodies as the Cowgirl Chef , is a Texan transplanted in Paris.  Although she hasn’t given up her love for cowboy boots and Tex-Mex cooking, she also writes lovingly about the cuisine and quirks of her adopted home town. 

Her recent post, Paris Supermarket Souvenirs, unearthes the culinary treasures that can be found in a typical Parisian supermarket.  (She refers to her own neighborhood store as “the stinky stinky Franprix.”  And yes, she still shops there.)  No Fauchon, Hediard or La Grande Epicerie for this gal.  Just eleven must buy items that a) make great gifts for folks back home and b) you should try out yourself, that is, if you haven’t already discovered these classics.

Ellise’s list includes:

  1. Mousse-worthy chocolate
  2. Drinking and baking chocolate
  3. Sea salt
  4. Piment d’Espelette
  5. Nut oils
  6.  Tuna in olive oil
  7.  Sugar
  8. Real French mustard
  9. Lentilles du Puy
  10. Powdered veal stock
  11. Speculoos paste

For all the details (including pictures with brand names), go to Ellise’s blog.   Bon shopping y’all.

Where Can I Find……

Don’t pull out your hair.  We’ll keep a running list of those things you may be searching for but just can’t seem to find.  This list will be updated regularly, adding items previously featured on the top right hand side of the site.

Dental floss:  Yes, dental floss exists in France but you won’t find it in the supermarket with the toothbrushes and toothpaste.   Stop by your neighborhood pharmacie.  You will find it there.

Fresh tortillas: Take a trip to the Latin Quarter to stock up at Mexi and Co., 10 rue Dante (5th arrondissement).  These tortillas freeze well.

Rice Krispies:  Kellogg’s products are widely available in Paris and you’ll easily find chocolate flavored rice cereal as well.  But for some reason, only two of the major supermarket chains carry Snap Crackle and Pop:  Auchan and Super U.  Unfortunately neither has a store in the city of Paris.  Check their Web sites for an outlet in a suburban community near you.

Graham crackers for making graham cracker crust: You can probably find graham crackers at one of the markets catering to Americans but for one-quarter of the price, grab a package of Speculoos cookies at your local supermarket. These Belgian treats, nicely spiced with cinnamon and cloves, crumble well and are the perfect foil for cheesecake, Key Lime pie, and pretty much any treat calling for a graham cracker crust.

Bread crumbs:   Take yesterday’s baguette, let it sit out another day until it’s good and hard, and then smash it with a rolling pin or put it in your food processor.  If you don’t have the time or the patience, you can usually find boxes of bread crumbs in the supermarket next to the flour.  Look for the carton marked chapelure.

A decent hamburger: Okay first of all, the beef tastes different in France so it’s never going to be like a burger back home. And second, let’s just say that neither France nor the U.S. can really do each other’s cuisine justice. That being said, there comes a time in the life of every North American expat when a decent burger is just what the doctor ordered. Le Figaro did an article on this awhile back but it’s been so long, you now have to pay to retrieve it from the archives. So take a look at blogger David Lebovitz’s post: Where to Find a Great Hamburger in Paris.

A place to rent a tuxedo:   Two good sources are: www.jjloc.fr and www.lesdeuxorsons.com.  Bear in mind that you cannot rent accessories so be prepared to buy ties, shoes, pocket squares, even shirts.  Thanks to Anne at Fête in France for the info.

Dried sweetened cranberries:   Although you may find them elsewhere, you might be surprised to learn that the ubiquitous urban supermarket Franprix carries dried cranberries.  Look for a display of green or orange plastic packages with various types of nuts, dried fruit, and popcorn.    You can also sometimes find them from the fellow selling nuts, dried fruit, olives, and spices at your local open air market.  And the word in French for cranberries is…….”cranberries.”

Aluminum foil that doesn’t feel like tissue paper:  Look for the package marked papier aluminum renforcée which has roughly the same durability as the regular aluminum foil sold in North America.  Stay away from the regular variety which tears at the slightest provocation.

Aveda hair care products:  Joel Villard at 16, rue de Saint-Simon in the 7th arrrondissement (Metro: Rue de Bac) is the only licensed Aveda salon in France.  Its stylists are trained at the Aveda Institute and familiar products like Rosemary Mint Shampoo, Be Curly, Shampure, and Hand Relief are for sale.  Call 01 45 55 85 69 for hours.

Information about what’s going on in Paris this week:  Pariscope is the definitive source for all things cultural — art shows, theater, concerts, movies, special events.  It comes out every Wednesday and is available for only 40 centimes at every press kiosque.  (And if your French is limited, check out this on-line guide  to how to read Pariscope!) Figaroscope, a weekly supplement to the newspaper Le Figaro. also comes out on Wednesday and includes feature articles as well.

A playground that suits my kids:  There are tons of playgrounds in Paris, ranging from a tiny seesaw and a sandpit in a pocket park to full fledged affairs for older kids.  The city of Paris has a complete list on-line arranged by arrondissement.  Click on the text “toutes les infos” on the right hand side for a detailed listing of the offerings.

Fabric, notions, and everything else for sewing:   Take the metro to Anvers, head up the hill towards Sacre Coeur, hang a right and you’ll find everything you need for sewing whether you’re making clothes or decorating your Parisian apartment.  The two biggest stores are La Reine and the Marché Saint-Pierre but there are also a dozen or more other stores selling material, buttons, trim, and the rest.

Musical instruments and sheet music:   All musical roads lead to Rome, in this case, not the city in Italy but the metro stop on the border of the 17th and 8th arrondissements.   Some of the stores rent musical instruments but get there too late in the school term and you may be out of luck.

Plants, seeds, window boxes and other gardening gear:  Paris is thick with florists and you probably won’t have any trouble buying geraniums, vases, and small pots in your neighborhood.  If your needs go further, check out the stores along the Quai Mégisserie in the 1st arrondissement.  There’s also the Marché aux Fleurs on Place Louis Lepine on Ile de la Cité (Metro: Cité).

A cheap but decent manicure: There’s no equivalent in Paris to the $15 manicure you find in the Vietnamese nail salons in New York or LA. For the most part, a full manicure will set you back 30 to 35 euros. But if you can trim your own nails and deal with your ratty cuticles, you can get nail polish applied expertly for around 6 to 8 euros. Ask for a pose de vernis rather than for a manucure.