Why are we so in love with French markets?

The sun streams through the window above my bed. I’ve left it ajar to capture some of the sweet summery air of late. Through the gap in the window I can hear the excited chatter of children and the nervous calls of their parents behind them.

I don’t need a calendar to know it is Sunday. My apartment is on the road on the way to the market and the weekly procession by my window is as reliable as the church’s bell tolling every half hour.

The fierce midday rays bear down on me as I open my front door and merge onto the busy sidewalk. I nod to my neighbour, who has just returned home with a baguette tucked firmly under his arm. I wish him a good day. Sunday is family day, and I know that by the time I return, his children and grandchildren will have assembled around his kitchen table for their Sunday family lunch.

This family tradition is the occasion for most people’s Sunday market shopping. By the time I reach the outskirts of my local market, countless baskets have been filled with the ingredients destined for today’s recipes.

Grocery shopping the French way

I pass by the fruit man who is filling a paper bag with cherries for a lady with white wispy hair. He saves one in his hand and passes it on to me, with a smile he has discovered this summer. I thank him and pop the black morsel into my mouth, savouring the way its flesh falls apart sweetly in my mouth.

Next stop is the fromagerie, where I choose something new to sample each weekend. Sometimes, if le monsieur is not too busy, I will elaborately explain my menu for the day and ask for his opinion on which of his charges would best accompany my chosen ingredients.

But if there is a crowd, I simply ask him to cleave off a corner of something interesting – like the one with a black outer, or the one that looks a little green. Invariably I add an order of chevre, which will last me a week of desserts.

Just before the church bell strikes 12, signalling the end of the market, I am drawn to the florist and her comely arrangements. I choose something frilly and burgundy that I’ve not encountered before, all the while studying the little ardoises (blackboards), on which the prices of each flower is written. I vow for the hundredth time to start writing my ‘ones’ the French way. Somehow I always forget come my first cheque on Monday morning.

Leisurely French Sundays

There is no such thing as a one-stop shop here, and I covet my Sunday mornings as a flâneuse between the various stalls. It is the one instance in which I do not mind prolonging the chore of grocery shopping.

Back home I empty the contents of my shopping bag onto the counter and begin chopping endives. The cheese is warming on the windowsill and the Montbazillac is chilling in the fridge, readying itself for l’apéro.

A knock at the door announces the arrival of my guests, just as I lay the last knife at the dining table and my heart hiccups. Perhaps it is the prospect of an afternoon spent with friends, or the realisation of yet another French tradition.

What do you love most about markets in France? Tell us your stories.

Image references:
1. All images by Saint Rémy de Provence Tourisme via Flickr.

About the Contributor

Zoë Bradley

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  1. David Jaggard Aug 7, 2013 at 2:11 AM - Reply

    I too consider French markets, all over the country but especially in the south, to be one of the great pleasures of life. I find most of the merchants to be friendly and able to deal with non-French-speakers, so I always encourage visitors to try at least a picnic lunch purchased in a local market. But I also warn them about the rare scammers who overcharge the unwary (usually cheesemongers who hand out free samples). My advice: always look at the price first. If it seems high, or isn’t posted at all (which BTW is illegal), move on to the next stand.

    • Zoë Bradley Aug 7, 2013 at 2:35 PM - Reply

      Hi David, great advice. I never came across any scammers at the markets I attended, but I’ve no doubt that they exist out there.

  2. Florent Rols Aug 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM - Reply

    Thanks for this article Zoe! It remember me the atmosphere of the sunny French markets, especially in the South

    • Zoë Bradley Aug 7, 2013 at 2:37 PM - Reply

      Hi Florent, I’m glad you enjoyed reading this article. It is lovely to reminisce about such sunny summer days, especially when the sun is somewhat absent from these Australian skies of mine.

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