Paris Markets on Display and Under Cover

Rows of ripe tomatoes,

IMG_2723pink radishes, ginger and chanterelles beckon hungry shoppers.  IMG_2265

Dungeness crabs occasionally move,

IMG_2542alluding to the freshness of the nearby turbot.

IMG_2365Or as you stroll through the market,

IMG_2271perhaps a fresh chicken

IMG_2272or pig’s head

IMG_2543or feet for dinner?

IMG_2273And to start, there’s a myriad of terrines and pates to choose from, from foie gras to head cheese.

IMG_2367And, of course, don’t forget the actual cheese.

IMG_2270And the fruits

IMG_2547IMG_2536and flowers.

IMG_2452But as I’ve noted, you’ll usually have to go elsewhere for your bread.  On almost any given day, all of this can be found among the covered and roving street markets of Paris and in the supermarkets too.

IMG_2361But as you move from arrondissement to arrondissement, you’ll notice the impeccable presentation is mostly the same but the price varies.  Sure there may be an occasional difference here and there, such as a rotisserie chicken dripping over crispy frites at the Marche Raspail in the 6th.

IMG_2370But don’t assume that because you’re not buying your potatoes in a supermarket, you’re buying local.

IMG_2532Gone are the days when country farmers sold their provisions at Les Halles, the central marketplace of Paris since the 1100s.  As the city grew and corruption moved in, space was a premium and pricing was an issue.  Unsuccessful at attempts to regulate the market, the government decided in 1962 to relocate it to Rungis, on the outskirts of Paris.  The new market opened on a limited scale in 1969, and Les Halles was dismantled in 1971.  The former location currently consists of an underground shopping mall (a bit horrifying) and will eventually hold an exhibition space, already under construction.

IMG_2660Virtually all of the food that is sold in the street and covered markets of every neighborhood, the supermarkets and the restaurants of Paris comes from Rungis.  This compound operates 24 hours a day, although the 1,200 wholesalers tend to sell their goods in the early morning and finish well before noon.  The multi-billion euros in commerce occurs through food halls, 10 of which are for fruits and vegetables alone,

IMG_2719

The obsession with NY continues…

IMG_2713

Crates of chanterelles

IMG_2729 IMG_2726 IMG_2725 IMG_2722 IMG_2721 IMG_2720 IMG_2717 IMG_2715 IMG_2709 IMG_2707 IMG_2701plus flowers,

IMG_2734cheese, poultry, game, meats and even a hall dedicated to foie gras (which I didn’t get to see).

This “city within a city” is larger than Monaco, and even has on-site restaurants, might be intimidating as a place to shop, but corruption is better controlled, and the quality of the products more easily monitored, especially after an outbreak of Mad Cow disease.

IMG_2672

Entrance to the meat hall

Beef is inventoried electronically on a daily basis. Here are some photos from the meat hall:

IMG_2669

A specialty meat distributor

IMG_2671 IMG_2668 IMG_2667 IMG_2664 IMG_2663 IMG_2739And all the cheeses, including the 42 AOC varieties, are inspected.  Here are some photos from the cheese hall:

IMG_2698

One of the premier cheese wholesalers

IMG_2675 IMG_2699 IMG_2685 IMG_2683 IMG_2681 IMG_2680 IMG_2677 IMG_2676After a trip to Rungis, hopefully you’ll come away with a respect for how the food is handled and packaged, even if shatters some illusions.  When you visit the street markets, specialty shops or dine at the trendiest restaurants, you’ll realize that it all seems a bit similar because it is.  The pricey, impeccably displayed Camembert in Laurent Dubois has the same label you saw at the covered market in St. Denis and at the Carrefour as on the crates of cheese at Rungis.

IMG_3049

Carrefour Brie aisle

Since it’s all the same, you might want to be extra-vigilant at price comparisons when you shop.  Or look for the differences in freshness or a few bumps and bruises on fruits and vegetables.

But don’t despair entirely.  Although much of the fruit even in the summer comes from Costa Rica and Africa, there’s still an emphasis on local foods in Paris, both at Rungis and in all the markets.  Signs display the country of origin, which does seem to matter to consumers.

IMG_2534A few local purveyors who sell within Rungis are known for the quality of their specialty produce, and beef and cheese, as noted in the captions above.

Local lettuce

And of course, you can find those oysters from Normandy at the markets just down from pre-cooked, packaged beets (that was new to me, but apparently the Parisians are too busy to spend hours prepping beets).  IMG_2300There’s also renewed interest in where food comes from and how food animals are treated.  At a market near the Sorbonne, a few young women were handing out info on egg production, advocating for free-range chickens.  You might also see protesting against the practice of force-feeding geese and ducks to fatten their livers.  Much of this may go unnoticed by the shoppers, including a few food studies students.  But with organic food stores popping up all over the city, and an organic street market at the Marche Raspail on Sundays, there’s clearly a demand and a growing trend toward eating local and healthy.

IMG_2549The next time you go shopping, pay attention to how the food is packaged and how much the same items costs where you live from store to store.  Is the asparagus for $2 on the street in the middle of winter any different from the $5/lb version in the fancy market?  Probably not.  Both are from Peru.  Marketing plays on our perceptions and ideals.  It doesn’t hurt to question exactly where your food comes from no matter where you are in the world.

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