I am trying to come to terms with how one buys local in a city like Paris. I have always had this romantic notion about French produce markets. But I realize I am looking at them with a new eye this visit.
I have gotten used to knowing the growers when I go to a produce market. Whether it is in Arlington or West Tisbury it is a farmer with a face…. The apple man from Ortanna, PA…the strawberry guy from Westmoreland County … Andrew Woodruff’s tomatoes from Whipporwill Farm. So now when I go to a market I EXPECT that. What I see here in Paris is a middle man. It is someone who went to the train yard early in the morning and bought trays of melons, tomatoes and cucumbers and put them outdoors for me to buy. How is that different from the supermarche?
I have a produce market in my neighborhood. It is all middleman. I went yesterday to the Aligre Market over near Bastille which is written about as one of the most authentic markets in Paris and it seemed the same, though I will say they had a greater variety of melons. Last Saturday I went to my favorite market on the rue Moufftard and realized it too was all middlemen.
Now I did meet a woman at the Sunday Market at Place Monge who knew her tomatoes. She sells for a guy in Gibily, France down near Toulouse and advertises as biovalot (organic). They were what a tomato should look like this time of year … large, irregular and full of flavor. She threw in some “sauce tomatoes”, seconds that were going bad for free. I will visit her again.
Now you contrast this general middleman approach to produce with the connection to product that you find in nearly every corner bakery, charcuterie and boucherie in Paris and it feels a little incongruent. You choose a charcuterie because you like Madame’s quiche or Monsieur’s pate de campagne. You get your baguette at one boulangerie and your brioche at another. You develop a relationship with the guy at the fromagerie who can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the goats that provide your cheese.
I hear that there is an organic produce market on Sundays on rue de Raspail. I shall drop by and see.