Part of the French tradition of eating well stems from the French love affair with le marché, or the outdoor market.
In the USA, we have the occasional farmer’s market. But often the prices there are way too expensive or it’s just too much of a hassle to get there.
In France, we have le marché. In this country, fresh fruits, vegetables or farmer’s products like cheese and sausages should really only be bought at the market. Why? There’s two reasons – 1) the products are fresher and 2) they’re often much cheaper!
Because Lyon is a large city, we have markets pretty much every day of the week. Smaller cities probably have their big markets twice a week, on the weekends and then maybe on a Friday. Every Wednesday morning on my way to work I pass through the marché at Jean Macé. No matter the weather or the climate, there are always people dragging little food shopping carts and picking out their food. You have your choice of olives, strange looking tomatoes, and whatever fruits and veggies are in season.
I personally enjoy the market along the Boulevard de la Croix Rousse (pictured above). It’s the place to go for flowers and local produce, such as the St. Marcellin cheese and the Rosette Saucisson. The vendors are often quite pleasant; the olive vendor allowed us to sample as many olives as we wanted before buying! On Saturdays an organic market complements the normal stalls; on Tuesdays a manufactured goods market is added. Buyers beware, si tu goutes, tu craques. If you taste, you won’t be able to resist.
Most cities in France also have un marché couvert, or a covered market. In Lyon, ours is called “Les Halles de Lyon.” Les Halles’ tagline is quite appropriate: “La ou le produit est roi.” Here, where the product is king. This is Lyon’s upscale market, named for Paul Bocuse.
Paul Bocuse is one of Lyon’s most celebrated chefs and is primarily associated with the French nouvelle cuisine (as opposed to the cuisine classique). His big break came in 1975 when he served the President of France his now-famous soupe aux truffles. In short, he’s kind of a big name in French cooking and in Lyon.
Word on the street has it that many of the best chefs do their shopping at Les Halles. You can see why as this market boasts the absolute best of everything Lyon is known for – pralines! St. Marcelin cheese! the Lyon Rosette & the Saucisson de Lyon! quenelles! It has some of the most appetizing foods out there, and even features some foreign foods. This is the first time I’ve seen mangosteens outside of Vietnam.
Can you imagine buying 1 kg of that Norwegian or Scottish smoked salmon at 53€ per kilo? I am sure that the salmon must melt in your mouth – just look at those slabs and the rich red color. Doesn’t it just make you want to try it?
Markets are not limited to just food. In Lyon, we have a book market called the Marche Aux Bouquinistes. It’s located along the banks of the Saône River at the Quai de la Pêcherie and sells old books, new books, children’s books, and adult books every Saturday and Sunday. This market is absolutely charming and perfectly situated for tourists/residents to come by and visit.
At any rate, I’m slowly turning into a food snob; the idea of eating packaged foods with (gasp!) preservatives makes my toes curl. Frozen meals or even already cooked meals in the fridge at the supermarket no longer hold any appeal to me.
It makes me a little sad to see that France is slowly becoming more Americanized with their supermarkets (Auchan, Carrefour). I can see why people do their grocery shopping there, but I think the market tradition of France will stay here for a long time.
Can you imagine, while we Americans are frequenting our local Giant, Food Lion, Shaw’s, Star Market, or what have you, French men and women are still coming out in full force to buy their food from these markets. French cuisine is renowned throughout the world – when you start with the best ingredients it’s no surprise that their food comes out consistently on top.