by Dorie Greenspan
Before I ever set foot in Paris, I imagined shopping in the open-air markets. I could see myself walking beside the stalls with a string bag or one of those wicker baskets, the kind that look so beautiful, but
turn out to be unwieldy and uncomfortably heavy the instant you
drop in the first potato. In my dreams, I spoke fluent French and
was always getting secret recipes from the vendors.
I did visit markets on my first trip
to Paris, but all I bought was a
basket of mirabelles, small plums
with a fleeting season. I didn’t
have a kitchen where I could
cook those gorgeous eggplants
or any of the glistening fish that
stared at me with clear, jewellike eyes. I went to markets on
every trip I ever made to France,
but it wasn’t until 20 years ago,
when we signed the lease on our
first Paris apartment, that I could
really shop at them. And no, my
French wasn’t as fluent then as
it had been in my dreams, but it
progressed and I even got recipes
from the sellers.
I live in Paris’s sixth arrondissement, equidistant from two
outdoor markets – Boulevard Raspail and Place Maubert –
and just a 5-minute walk from one of the city’s few remaining
covered markets, Marché Saint-Germain des Prés. It’s an ideal
location for a cook and I take advantage of it.
The Raspail market is on Tuesdays and Fridays and it’s organic on
Sunday; the Maubert is up Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays;
and the covered market is open every day but Monday – if you
need anything on Mondays, you must shop at supermarkets or
convenience stores, not a hardship, of course, but so much less
fun and with many fewer rituals.
When I first moved to Paris, a friend,
a veteran marketgoer, showed me the
proper (that is the French) way to shop.
“Don’t buy even so much as an apple,”
she admonished, “until you’ve seen
You’ll probably end up buying from
your favorite vendors, but until you’ve
walked the length of the market and
seen what everyone’s brought that day,
well … how can you be sure you’re not
missing something wonderful?
And so I always scope out the market
before I shop, making a note of what
looks particularly good or unusual. The
walk also gives me the opportunity to change my cooking plans.
It drives my husband, Michael, completely cuckoo that I head
for the market with a list and return with plenty of stuff, little
of it from any list. But then, he’s not a cook. If he were, he’d