Saturday, February 12, 2011

Re-discovering French Markets

One of the reasons I moved to France and one of the things I still enjoy most about life here is the markets. Having written about them several times before, and been to them hundreds of times, I found myself assuming that people have had enough of reading about them. But each visit to the market is different, and if I hadn’t been going to French markets all this time, I would still want to read about them!


This morning was frozen and frosty as I drove to the market. There were some wisps of mist, but I could tell that it wouldn’t be long before the sun broke through with full force.

I hadn’t intended to buy anything at the market; I just needed to get a card from a shop. But then I decided to do some market-watching and enjoy a chocolatine (the southern word for ‘pain au chocolat’) with a milky coffee. I bought my buttery chocolatine from a fantastic bakery in a market square (there are a number of market squares in Périgueux), sat outside the café next door, and ordered my coffee.

By now, the sun had indeed broken through, and I had to take my coat off. Bright blue skies and hot sun in February – after heavy frost in the morning – love it!

I tore off a piece of flakey, gooey chocolatine and dipped it in my coffee. As I put it in my mouth and looked up, I noticed that the couple on the next table were ordering glasses of muscadet. ‘How nice’, I thought.

I had my back to the café, tables on either side, the market stalls and covered market a few metres in front of me. Directly opposite was a stall selling mainly oysters – all different varieties and sizes – along with a few other shellfish. The oyster-seller was opening oysters, the liquid pouring out of each one – and putting them directly on a big platter. Even as I was eating my sweet breakfast, my mouth started watering for oysters.

Other stalls were selling bread baked in a wood-fired oven, garden produce, farm eggs, cheeses, sausages, chickens with their gizzards displayed, skinned rabbits, huge bunches of seasonal herbs, rotisserie chicken dripping tasty goodness onto roast potatoes, black puddings, foie gras, plaits of garlic, flowers, olives…. And much, much more. And times that by about 20, for each medieval square and cobbled alley packed with stalls, among the limestone walls of the old town.

The oyster man had filled his platter. I wondered whether it was a display or maybe he was offering free tasters that I could take advantage of. But as he walked towards me with the mound of oysters, he veered to the right and put it down in front of the couple drinking muscadet. I was quite overwhelmed with feelings of happiness, love for French culture, respect and jealousy. How brilliant that you can sit in a café and order wine, then have a plate of opened oysters delivered from the specialist stall opposite! And at 11:30 am! 11:30 is unusually early for lunch, but people do tend to relax their strict midday lunch custom for market day.

This event reawakened me to how there’s always something new to discover at the market, some new tradition, food or way of doing things. I never get tired of it. I thought, ‘I want to share this with everyone, but I don’t suppose they’d be that interested anymore’. That’s when I realised I had made subconscious assumptions about my readers, when actually they might really enjoy hearing more about the markets. Do you? Shall I keep giving you these anecdotes, or have you had enough?

A friend joined the oyster couple, and started tucking in with them. I had finished my breakfast and needed to get on, but before heading for the car, I was compelled to buy myself 6 oysters. The man gave me 7 and they cost me €4.

I drove home with the window down, feeling the heat of the sun and smelling the start of spring. But as I pulled up at home, the warm, sunny weather we have had for a week started to change, and some dark clouds started welling up around me.

Inside, I stoked up the fire, poured a glass of white wine, and began opening my oyster treasures. I took Tabasco, the pepper grinder, my plate of oysters, a wedge of lemon and my glass of wine into the lounge, and had myself an oyster picnic in front of the fire. Love market days.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gemma, just love your observations on the French markets. Came across your blog whilst reading La Belle Saison by Patricia Atkinson, she mentions sanguette which I didn't understand so resorted to Google. Then I had to read all your articles! My wife and I are staying in a cottage for a couple of weeks in the Haute-Marne, the weather I isn't great (early January) but it's very peaceful and we love cooking duck, rabbit etc. Love your bloggs, cheers for one Dave Huxley.

Gemma Driver said...

Aw thanks Dave! You made my day. I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip - plenty of food and drink goodies in H-M. Enjoy! Gemma