Friday, April 6, 2012

PARIS! Tuesday Street Market on rue Saint Charles in the 15th arrondissement: it's not your momma's COSTCO.

On one of those early spring days when you tell yourself that it just can't get any better than this, we decided to kill a little extra time by taking a stroll down rue Saint Charles before meeting a friend for lunch and a visit to the Musée du Quai Branly.  The sky was crystal clear, and the air was just right!

With Easter and Passover ahead at the end of the week, Paris's cooks were on the prowl for the BEST provisions for their family feasts, and the chances are very good that they found everything on their list right there on rue Saint Charles. 

There are 20 arrondissements (in effect, little municipalities) in Paris, and the 15th is neither chic nor very special for tourists, but it's certainly not shabby. It abuts the chic 7th on the Left Bank and the chi-chi 16th across the Seine.  Regardless of its social standing, the market here is as good as the next one, and better than a lot of them.  We didn't buy a thing but were still delighted by the visit.
Everything is brought in for the market by local vendors in time for the opening of the market early in the morning.  By mid-afternoon all will have been cleared away; the streets and sidewalks will have been cleaned, and the neighborhood returned to normal.

An artful display of Bar (bass) that are shiny and fresh, as can be determined by their clear eyes and plump flesh.

 A wide variety of seafood is offered.  This is not a big season for oysters, that time having just passed although they are still served in the restaurants.  If this were end-of-year just before Christmas and New Year's, there would be mounds of oysters because they are ALWAYS served  with the hours-long meals celebrating those holidays.


I loved seeing the flounder (Carrelet) in the photo, right.  The red spots reminded me of a hand-colored 18th-Century engraving  of a flounder by Mark Catesby that we bought in Savannah several decades ago.

Stuffed pasta from a well-known shop are offered in many tempting variations.

Dressed rabbits are sold with certain organs intact - my guess would be the liver, perhaps the heart.  If you know, please make a comment at the bottom of this post.  I would like to be informed.

One thing that you don't see here is the furry foot attached.  That tradition was mandated by law after the Franco-Prussian War (1870/1871) when Paris was under siege and other animals when skinned and dressed could be passed off as rabbit.  The law by now has probably been changed, but I can recall seeing rabbit in France displayed with the foot intact. 
And then there were the vegetables!  Root vegetables of all sorts along with garlic and lemons.

I can assure you that the French cook knows exactly which kind of potato he/she wants for the chosen menu - and they all seem to be available.  Actually, I don't recall seeing any blue ones like those you see at Trader Joe's, but I prefer mine in the more "natural" shades anyway.  Actually, I did see some dark ones (not shown in this photo) that made me think of the blue ones, and I wondered what they were.

There were, of course, so many varieties of other vegetables to choose from.  I noticed a vendor showing a shopper a long piece of CARDOON that had been trimmed - it looks like an enormous celery but has spikes along the sides of the ribs.  I haven't tasted it yet but have been curious about it since discovering it at a street market in the south last January. 

Fava beans, shown below beside the tomatoes, are traditionally served with lamb, the also-traditional meat served this time of year. 

Beautiful bunches of white asparagus tempted this man whose chubby fingers I rushed my shutter to include in this photograph.  More on the asparagus in the TMI section at the bottom. 

Oh, my gosh - OLIVES! Cured in a myriad of ways, every single one of them so appealing to me.  I resisted buying this time, as I still have a small hoarding of those that I bought in January, but I'll remember the Tuesday market as a place to replenish the supply. 
Nuts and dried fruits in plenitude and, as expected, in a wide variety of types.

As the market takes place in a residential neighborhood, there are also many permanent food shops.  We visited a few, and I could not resist taking photographs there as well.  The displays are always artfully constructed, and the products are generally quite beautiful - worthy of being photographed in my opinion.  Right, boiled beets are displayed with rows of haricots verts (green beans) and a kind of courgette (zucchini) that was new to me - it reminds me of a small bomb.

Asparagus, both green and white, together with something that looks like miniature bananas in the plastic bags, are displayed next to beautiful strawberries, fraises gariguettes, from the southwest of France.

Pale green courgettes nestle between the dark zucchini that we see most often and beautiful red peppers along with some green ones.  The opportunity to make striking color contrasts is never ignored, and I never tire of seeing these displays, both in the outdoor markets as well as in the food shops.

Besides needing to fill some time before meeting our friend, Carolyn wanted to visit this cheese shop that she'd discovered on a recent Monday, the day that it is closed each week.  If you like cheeses, a visit is worth it just for the aromas, and the displays compete admirably with those of the vegetables elsewhere for thoughtful planning and marketing skills.

The last stop before going on to lunch was the MONOPRIX (pronounced mono-pree), a large department store that has a food store on the ground floor and dry goods on the second.  It is one of France's large chain stores, and its food offerings are top quality, which quite frankly is the least that most of the French will accept.

The tomatoes, reminding me of Heirloom ones by shape, are a little over $3/pound.

The displays continue to amaze the eye - the fishes turned in opposite directions give the impression of jumping from the sea.  I think back on the days when we lived in Savannah and shopped for fish at Mathews Seafood Market - the fish were fresh and wonderful, but the primary factor determining how they were displayed was economy of space.

After our visit to le Musée du Quai Branly not far from where we'd spent time at the market but on rue de l'Université in the 7th arrondissement, we dined outside at Les Deux Abeilles (The Two Bees).  I had a pumpkin gratin with a little salad that sated an appetite that was on red-alert after our visits to the market and food stores (left photo).  Our friend had a little chicken stuffed with avocado, wrapped in bacon and served with more avocado and sides.

TMI:  1. Paris and its arrondissements
Starting at the 1st, the arrondissements of Paris spiral outward like the cells of a nautilus shell.  The River Seine is the blue arc on the map, the area below it being known as the "Left Bank".  Besides Paris, Marseilles and Lyon are also divided into arrondissements.  Postal codes incorporate these numbers; thus, an address in the 15th would have 75015 as its "zip", the 75 designating Paris. Codes for suburbs of Paris start with 9; e.g., Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside the 16th & 17th has the code 92200. 

 2.  White asparagus are not white as a genetic feature but rather because as they grow, the earth is mounded around the sprouts, depriving them of sunlight.  Where they are grown in the South, you can see long rows of earth mounds in the fields that identify them as asparagus farms.

1 comment:

  1. Funny, the last time I was in Paris, the first thing I did was to go back to the market where I used to shop when I was living near the Bastille. For anyone who loves food, the markets of Paris are everyday life turned into an art form!


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