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Roadside shopping in the French tropics

Rachelle B - Roadside shopping 1The discovery of sweet roadside stalls throughout the French territory of New Caledonia can transform a route panoramique into an enjoyable and productive sortie.

Having lived the expat life in New Caledonia for several months, I’ve discovered that the style of ‘shopping’ in this little French territory is far removed from that of my former life in Australia. Rural Nouvelle-Calédonie may have bountiful supply of coconuts, beaches and mud crabs, but the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables can be mixed. Often the offering of fresh produce, much of it imported, can be expensive and… well… underwhelming.

But a good way to buy fresh seasonal produce throughout New Caledonia is to take a drive – and take in the stunning views of the Grande Terre and postcard-pretty east coast while you’re at it.

Rachelle B - Roadside shopping 2
Today we’re taking a half-day trip from our ville of Pouembout on the west coast to the town of Poindimie on the east coast for lunch. Normally this beautifully scenic route takes a little over an hour’s driving each way across the Grande Terre. Today it takes a lot longer as we stop by many of the roadside stalls dotting the bord de la route to do a little stocking up of fresh produce and tropical plants.

Throughout the steep and densely-forested Grande Terre and east coast are many quirky little stalls selling home-grown produce, plants and sometimes shells and woven baskets. Commonly they are roughly built from tree trunks with tin or thatched roofs and a timber platform for displaying wares.

Rachelle B - Roadside shopping 3

Always there is a tin for earnings – usually a powdered milk or biscuit tin – as the business of running a roadside stall here is not one of hanging about waiting for customers, but of honesty and trust. All items are priced and payment is placed in the tin by the customer. It’s New Caledonia’s version of drive-through convenience, but with healthier food and no queues.

Rachelle B - Roadside shopping 4

The variety of stalls is intriguing. Many are festooned with bright fabric fringes and tablecloths. Others are draped in exotic flower stalks. A few have small advertising posters for instant coffee or powdered milk for decoration. In some places the stalls appear so frequently that our drive becomes more of a dawdle.

Today there is a wide variety of fare. Pumpkin grows nearly all year round and varies greatly. Papaya, choko, bananas, coconuts, pineapple, asian greens and varieties of igname are commonly on offer.

Right now we are in the thick of litchi season, many stalls laden with plastic bags of the rough-skinned, sunset-red fruit, priced at about 500F a kilo. Soon it will be mango season and I can’t wait to over-indulge in a simple bowl of mangue et glace.

Rachelle B - Roadside shopping 5

The selection of plants is equally fresh. Skinny saplings of heliconia, their roots tied into plastic bags and their brilliantly coloured flowers nodding, are lined in rows like soldiers across the front of many stalls. Begonias, adenium and gingers are among the selection crowding one stall devoted entirely to plants.

We soon have several specimens jostling for space in the boot of our car, keeping a modestly-sized pumpkin and large bag of lychees company as we navigate the twisting roads over the mountains.

Rachelle B - Roadside shopping 6Finally, in the early afternoon, we arrive home. We’ve had a glorious day enjoying beautiful tropical forest and idyllic coastline, while lunching and shopping.

Provincial New Caledonia may be a little behind other parts of France when it comes to retail, but perhaps it’s just a matter of opening your mind to a different kind of shopping? For today, our petite sortie across the French tropics is quite, might I say… fruitful!

Do you have a French tropical experience you would like to share?



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