For direct access to the heart of French tradition, you need only visit one of the city’s many open-air markets, “marchés” in French. Marchés are small universes unto themselves where nothing substantial has really changed for centuries. The fishmonger trumpeting the wonders of this morning’s catch probably doesn’t sound a whole lot different than his ancestor in the Middle Ages (though their dress has changed), and I’m sure housewives assessed the fruits and vegetables in the stalls with the same pitiless stares that they do today. Certainly the hygiene and organization have improved and there are no more jugglers or bear baiters to entertain the crowds, but the essence of the experience remains the same : a noisy, bustling, joyous chaos where you can buy fresh, honest food.
Does food taste better when you buy it from a smiling farmer, whose cucumbers were just picked that morning and still bear little white flowers? You bet it does. And even if many sellers are middlemen who buy their products at the central market at Rungis, you’re still a lot closer to the source than you would be at a shop or a supermarket. Quality aside, you’ll find one thing at a marché that you will never find at a supermarket: character. The people who work here are anything but citified, suit-wearing office types; they are salt of the earth, hard-working personalities who will not hesitate to tell you what they think, or make a joke, or give you tips and recipes, for that matter. Even if you don’t have access to cooking facilities, marchés are great places to pick up picnic goodies or just a mid-morning nosh; along with fruit and vegetable vendors, you’ll find bakeries, charcuteries (sort of like a deli, but better), and other small stands selling homemade jams, honey, or desserts.
If you’re in the mood for people-watching, you’ll get a wonderful show at a marché. All types of shoppers come here, from grannies pushing shopping carts, to earnest young professionals, to noisy families looking for fixings for Sunday lunch. Some of the covered markets have small cafes inside — these are ideal for sitting down and soaking up the atmosphere. Some markets, like the Marché Raspail, are entirely outdoor affairs that stretch down the median of a large avenue; others, like the enormous Marché d’Aligre, have both indoor and outdoor sections that take up almost an entire neighborhood. Outdoor markets tend to be open only in the morning; covered (indoor) markets are usually open all day with a break for lunch.
Marché d’Aligre :
The marché d’Aligre offers one of the most colorful sights in Paris. French, Arab and African traders hawk fruit, vegetables, flowers, ingredients such as North African olives, groundnuts and hot peppers but also second-hand clothes, bric-à-brac on the streets, while the adjoining covered market (from the end of the 18th century) the Beauveau Saint-Antoine, offers meats, fishes, cheeses, pâtés, olive oil and many intriguing international delicacies.
Aligre is where old and new meet. Here the established community of this old artisan quarter coexists with a more recently established group of up-and-coming young people.
Open every day from 8am to 1pm (except on Mondays)
Marché des Enfants Rouges :
This long-established, charming fruit and vegetable market on the rue de Bretagne is part covered, part outdoors and dates from 1620. It is the oldest market in Paris. The items on sale are famous for their freshness, and on Sunday mornings street singers, performers and accordionists sometimes enliven the proceedings.
Enfants Rouges (Red kids) is a strange name for a market. Indeed, an orphanage was built close to the market in 1534, and the kids were dressed in red, a colour that symbolized charity. Thus, the neighbourhood citizen gave that name to the market, to remember the kids.
On the market, you can find, flowers, fishes, French « charcuterie », bio and vegetables, wine, local products… Everything you need for a good meal ! But do not hesitate to eat there. You will find there many cafés, bars, French or exotic restaurants. On week ends, the place is really crowded : many Parisians indeed come there to sit on the market benches for brunch and meet new people in a friendly ambiance.
Open Tuesdays to Fridays from 8am to 12noon and from 3pm to 8pm, on Saturdays from 8am to 8pm and on Sundays from 8am to 1pm.
Marché du Président Wilson :
This very chic food market on Avenue du Président Wilson is close to the Modern Art Museum and the Palais Galliera fashion museum. It is walking distance from the hotel. It has become important because there are no other food shops nearby.
Some say that this market is more staid than others because the 16th and 7th arrondissements are well-off neighborhoods. The expression is that the 16th is where the nouveau riche lives and the 7th is where the old money lives. But on a busy Saturday, the market is as lively as most of the markets in Paris, full of shouts, conversation and laughter. An authentic Parisian experience mainly for fresh fruits and vegetables (Joël Thiébault is the Parisian farmer, the one about which everybody speaks, vegetables of which make the happiness of the famous Chefs and the customers of the markets where he is present)
There’s also a stand with cooked food if you want to sample something original.
Open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7am to 2.30pm
Marché Raspail :
Created in 1920, the Raspail Market (le marché Raspail) has become one of the trendiest in the capital. You can find magnificent fruits and vegetables from local gardens or from around the world. It is not unusual to spot celebrities, wicker basket in hand, squeezing melons or tomatoes. Nearly forty vendors are on site. On Sunday morning you can find the finest biological products, in the centre aisle of the boulevard Raspail, to the delight of their demanding clients.
Open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 7am to 2pm.
Marché rue Poncelet :
The rue Poncelet food market is situated away from the main tourist areas of Paris but is worth visiting for its authentic French atmosphere. Choose from the many bakeries, patisseries, charcuteries and fruits and vegetables stalls.
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9am to 1pm and from 3pm to 7pm. On Sundays from 9am to 1pm