Tag Archives: open air markets

French Markets: What’s in Season?

by Ann Mah

Today’s post is republished with permission from the blog of Ann Mah, an author and journalist based in Paris. She has written for Conde Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune and many other publications. Publishers Weekly called her recently published first novel, Kitchen Chinese, ” a great start for a writer of much promise.”

At a recent dinner party, somewhere between the cheese course and dessert, that age old question arose again. 

Are there no seasons for fruits and vegetables anymore?

“When I was young, we didn’t have any green salad during the winter,” said the woman across from me, poking her fork disapprovingly at a leaf of mâche. “Only endive. For the whole winter.”

Granted, she was d’un certain âge, but even so, her youth was probably only 40 years ago. (Side note: if I’ve misjudged her age, I really hope she isn’t reading this right now.)

The rest of the table erupted into a diatribe against raspberries in January and artichokes in November. I kept quiet for fear of revealing my dirty secret: I really have no idea when different fruits and vegetables should appear.

Happily, it appears others share my cluelessness. Why else would Le Parisien print an article dedicated to fresh produce and its seasons? Thanks to their informative article, here’s a breakdown of what to look for:

April
New in season: rhubarb, blackberries, asparagus, chard, spinach, radishes, lettuces
Still in season: oranges, beets, carrots, celery, cabbage, endive, potatoes

May 
New in season: strawberries, eggplants, cucumbers, turnips, cauliflower  
Still in season: rhubarb, blackberries, asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, cabbage, spinach, radishes, potatoes, lettuce

June 
New in season: apricots, cherries, currants, raspberries, melons, apples, tomatoes, courgettes, fennel, beans leeks, peas, peppers
Still in season: rhubarb, blackberries, asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, turnips, onions, potatoes, radishes

And the rest of the year…
Summer
Continue to enjoy strawberries, the last cherries and apricots. It’s also still the high season for nectarines, peaches, plums, and pears. Grapes arrive. Courgettes, tomatoes, melons, beans, peppers, broccoli, and all lettuces.

Fall 
Enjoy grapes until October. Also, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Most of the summer vegetables can be found until October.

Winter
Apples and pears are everywhere. Oranges and clementines arrive in November. We can cook cabbages, carrots, potatoes and leeks. Don’t forget endive.

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Today is Market Day

by Erin Chupp

Reposted with permission from Lyon Eats, a terrific blog designed to help Americans in Lyon, France find the foods they love.   While the selection of products is apparently wider in Paris, you still may get some ideas from this blog about where to find those special treats in your Parisian neighborhood.

What better way to fully experience the joys of French life, engulfing all of your senses, than with a trip to the neighborhood market? Feel the uneven cobblestones beneath your feet, knocking you off a balanced path from time to time. See the brilliant array of colors in the fruits and vegetables lined across the tables. Listen to the women gossip and barter over the sounds of a muffled accordion player nearby. Pick up a carrot or turnip and touch the dusty layer of dirt on the outer skin of the freshly dug vegetable.  [Editor’s Note:  Touch the merchandise only if you have the vendor’s permission!] Taste the sweetness of a perfectly ripened tomato the vendor sliced for sampling.

Most neighborhoods have at least one or more weekly open-air markets, often located in a town square or open parking lot and taking place in the morning. Many covered markets are open all day long. Your neighbors can point you in the right direction, or just follow the ladies making their pilgrimage with woven baskets and rolling carts.

Arrive at the market with an open and adventurous spirit. Market shopping can inspire you to cook new dishes and try new tastes. Be spontaneous. Don’t arrive with list in hand. Let that day’s promotions or soldes write your menu. Shopping mid-week often means fewer people and lower prices. You could also try going later in the day for the possibility of easier bargaining on the food needing to be eaten that day.


(c) K. Masson

No matter when you go to these marchés découverts, it is appreciated if you try to speak the language. Keep in mind basic shopping etiquette: “Bonjour,” “s’il vous plait,” “merci,” and “au revoir” said with a smile go a long way. As far as asking for different foods, manage what you can. There are little helpful hints peeking out of each section, as the name and price of all the items are often etched in white on small chalkboards.

Tip: one kilo = 2.2 pounds

Depending on the season, you will find tables covered in melons and berries or apples and pumpkins, and always an array of flowers, bursting with magnificent colors. Most often, quantities are sold by weight in kilos or grams. Good deals can be found by buying by the plateau, or dish that is pre-loaded with ripe produce.

There is no doubt the food you come home with will be the freshest available. Each producer is an expert on his goods. You will receive one-on-one assistance picking the perfect pêche or pomme. There will not be a need to spend time reading the labels at a supermarket or hypermarket. Which is better, ‘free range organic,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘grass-fed’ meat? The perk of the market experience is the ability to simply ask the farmer how their animals live.

If you become a repeat shopper, even if you only return once a week, forming a friendship with the producteur can get you the freshest pick and ideas on how to prepare an item with which you are unfamiliar. Instead of fingering through all the fruits, poking and prodding each one, tell the producer on what day you would like to eat your choice melon, and most will gladly pick out one perfect for the occasion. And when there are more than 350 different French cheeses, you are going to want an expert behind the table; someone who learned the trade from his father, who learned it from his father.

Tip: for farm-fresh eggs, save a cardboard container from your last supermarket trip. If not, there is a good chance you will be given your dozen in a brown paper bag, playing a juggling game to see how many whole eggs you have once you reach the kitchen.

There is much more to a market than fruits and veggies, though. Selections vary at each location, but you can often find fresh fish, meats, cheeses, honey and fruit juices. Let us not forget about the non-edibles too! Beautiful scarves, dainty handbags, shoes, jewelry, clothes and handmade crafts are also for sale; although on sale is more like it—a necklace at a department store might cost you 25 euros, whereas you might find the same one at the market for just five.

By shopping at a market, you might also lose a few things as well. In the popular book French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano reveals her ideas on the mysteries behind French eating habits, weight gain and “the secret of eating for pleasure.” One of Madame Guiliano’s recommendations for keeping a French figure is fresh ingredients found at your local market. She also says the way a French woman walks everywhere provides great exercise. While you are walking back and forth from the market, adding a rolling cart for a little resistance, you have combined a small workout with grocery shopping.

Whether it is picking up a mélange of dried fruit as an afternoon snack, instead of McDo, picking up supplies for a scrumptious picnic, or checking out the ripest produce for a delicious dinner, the open-air market is a true French advantage. Get out in the fresh air; take a stroll and find some fresh food.

Weekly Schedule for Parisian Food Markets

Guest author Erin Chupp is an American freelance writer and photographer. Copyright 2009. No reproductions of any part without prior written permission.

The Rhythm of the Week

There’s a certain rhythm to the week in Paris and it’s better to know what might be open when than to be caught short.  For smaller shops, you may have to ask specifically as to their opening and closing schedules.  Some shops and restaurants post their hours on the door but these are not always strictly observed.   And unfortunately, it’s been my experience that Web sites are not completely reliable on this matter.

Open air and covered markets are typically open at least twice a week, usually from around 8:00 a.m. to around 2 p.m. but the schedules vary by quartier and town.    A handful of quartiers also have afternoon and evening markets.  Consult the complete list here: http://www.paris.fr/portail/marches_parisiens/Portal.lut?page_id=5675&document_type_id=5&document_id=10926&portlet_id=12148

Mondays:  Many smaller food shops are closed, including butchers, greengrocers, and bakeries.   Restaurants that are open on the weekend are also often closed on Mondays.   Beware: many supermarkets restock on Monday mornings; if your cupboard is bare, you might think about shopping after 2 p.m.

Monday is also not a very good day for museums.   Among those closed are all museums run by the City of Paris (such as Musée Carnavalet, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Catacombes), the Musée d’Orsay, and Versailles.

Tuesdays:   Don’t try to go to the Louvre on Tuesdays; it’s closed as are the Centre Pompidou and the Cluny.

Wednesdays:  No school today for kids attending école maternelle ( ages 3-6) and école élémentaire (ages 6-11).  Older kids go to school half day.   Book your doctor’s and dentist’s appointments in advance to avoid the crush, and sign up early in the year for extracurricular activities like dance, sports, and art.   Wednesday is a great day to take little ones to cultural events; many museums have special workshops on Wednesday afternoons for them.

And while we’re on the subject of kids, one savvy mom recently pointed out to me that playgrounds can be crowded and crazy between 4:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. during the week; better to go play between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. when daylight permits.

New movies come out on Wednesdays as does Pariscope, the guide to all cultural events available at the news kiosk for just 40 centimes.   Today’s issue of Le Figaro includes Figaroscope, a similar guide to cultural events but with feature articles.

Fridays:  Think twice before doing your grocery shopping on Friday afternoon; it can be a zoo.

Saturdays:   Since Saturday is the one day pretty much everything is open and most people are off work, it is an incredibly busy retail day.   If you need to go shopping or run errands, do so early in the day.  There is no such thing as a quick run to the store on a Saturday afternoon.  Expect long lines for cash registers and often a lot of cranky people.

Many Parisian restaurants are closed on weekends so if you want to go out to dinner on Saturday night, make reservations.  In fact, making a reservation is pretty much always a good idea in Paris.

Sundays:  For the most part, Sunday is still considered a day of rest in France.  Most shops are closed all day.   Food shops, such as bakeries, fishmongers, butchers, and the like, are often open on Sunday mornings until around 1 in the afternoon.  A limited number of small supermarkets are now also open on Sunday mornings.  

One notable exception to Sunday closures is the Marais.  Once primarily a Jewish quarter, the area has changed its character but remains a lively place on Sundays.

In the weeks before Christmas and the first week of the annual sales in February and July,  other retailers, including those selling clothes, electronics, and gift items, are allowed to open their stores on Sundays.

Finally, the first Sunday of the month is always free museum Sunday.   Go early to avoid the crowds.   Click here  for the list of  participating museums.  Note:  The list changes with the season with more museums open for free on Sundays during the winter months.