In Paris, one markets on Sundays.
I spent one hour this Sunday at the Bastille market, which fills the median on boulevard Richard Lenoir between rue Amelot and rue St. Sabin. Entering the market from the Bastille roundabout, I was amused to find the very first stalls setting the tone of the market and in a manner of sorts, introducing the dramatis personae of vendors and shoppers of the quartier. To the left, young Moroccans with crates full of brightly painted earthenware – café au lait bowls 3 for 10 Euros, water pitchers, small plates for small mezze and larger serving plates adorned with painted fish. Factory seconds from the pottery outlet everyone goes to in Meknes. To the right, racks and racks of nighties- meant as daywear? The modern, summery and slightly slinky housecoat, perfect for the lounging, cooking, cleaning housewives I was about to encounter in hoards.
This is not the chic 6th arrondissement with its organic-only market on Raspail, this is working class Paris.
This Parisian market on a Sunday is not a place for lingering, for sipping morning latte and leisurely with your loved one indulging in tiramisu as your first nourishment of the day. Aside from a few Lebanese vendors, who offer moitié-moitié wraps of za’atar and tomato coulis, or hummus or kibbe, the stall owners do not intend for you to eat sur place. No fresh squeezed juices, no espresso or deca. Come to shop, chat in line a bit with the lady in front of you, select your produce and then go home to prepare the Sunday family meal. In Paris, at least, it seems that there still persists a culture of eating together. At home.
The loudest vendors always seem to procure prime spots in the markets. “No photos!, merci” shouts the fishmonger. I had wanted to ask him why he is selling oysters (for 4.40 Euros per dozen) in a month without “R.” But there are other, friendlier fish stands with plentiful offerings. I have to cross-check back in land-locked Berlin, but the prices seem lower here, and the fish certainly fresher. How nice to be able to serve turbot or dorade at Sunday lunch and know it’s fresh and slippery:
Turbot: 22.50 Euros per kilo
Dorade (medium-sized): 16:95 Euros per kilo
Wild St. Pierre: 22.50 Euros per kilo
Sole: 24.50 Euros per kilo
Crabs small and large, and in increasing size crevettes, shrimps, prawns, langoustines, and some rather to my Maine-mind puny looking lobsters from the Atlantic coast. Sardines and mackerel looked wonderful, and I found a whole side table of fish heads large and small – delicacies for the West and North African clientele.
Only in France will you find stalls with the descriptions “Triperie” or “Chevaline.” Only here can buy scoops of celerie remoulade and potatoes slow roasted in the drippings of herbed rotisserie chickens – a whole chicken, flattened for 10.60 Euros.
I join the longest line for fruit and briefly contemplate purchasing two French canteloupes for 5 Euros, but they would take up too much space proportionally in my tiny hotel room, so I settle for a bag of near ripe nectarines.
Among the bulk produce you can find some delicate treats: heart of beef heirloom tomatoes, tender radishes oblong rather than round, perfect haricots verts for just 1.90 per kg, baby green asparagus, flat peaches, fresh almonds still in their soft green shells, mountains of apricots, ready to be made into tartes, jams, and purées, and small firm artichokes for an excellent barigoule…
This is my favorite way to prepare small artichokes. It’s not an inexpensive dish and it takes some patience in preparation, but resulting flavor is deliciously rewarding.
Count on at least 2- 3 small artichokes per person.
Fill a bowl with water acidulated with the juice of a lemon.
Using a sharp knife, cut off the top of an artichoke just above its base. Pare down all the outer leaves and use a melon baller or measuring teaspoon to scoop out the inner choke. Cut off a bit of the stem and peel it down some, but leave the stem on (it is delicious). Rub all over with ½ a lemon and place in the bowl of water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
Heat a few spoons of olive oil in a large low saucepan and add some slivers of garlic, slices of lemon and sprigs of mint to your taste. Some thyme is nice, too and parsley if you don’t have mint. Place the artichokes hearts down. If the stems are too long, cut them off and lay them down in the pan. Sprinkle generously with freshly ground pepper and a bit of sea salt. Add some white wine, cover, and gently braise the artichokes until they are cooked through, not mushy. Remove the artichokes and reduce the sauce by ½ or more and adjust salt/pepper/lemon to taste. Serve room temperature with sauce. I think even my favorite non-artichoke eater will like them!