Markets in the South of France
By the 7th day I realise that I have visited about as many fresh produce markets in as many days. I am, after all travelling through the South of France from Toulouse, gorging my way to Nice. There are possibly few who visit these parts who aren’t or can’t be charmed by the markets with its piles of neatly arranged vegetables and fruit in season, the saucisson in rows and the cheeses both sweet and pungent. Vendors greet familiar faces, some with smiles, others surly as if the morning coffee has yet to kick in.
I ogle the goods, elated with a sense of eater’s freedom, but aware of a foreboding sense of gloom too. Gloom that this variety of fresh, inexpensive produce so readily available to cooks in France, is not a part of my daily reality. One tug and the rug would be pulled out from under me, back to the land of overpriced smoothies and falafel wraps served by a bearded boy covered in arm tattoos proclaiming to grind the chickpeas by hand in his studio apartment. Good for the boy and his muscles and the youngsters who feel virtuous supporting the local/ethical/slow movement that has spread throughout wealthy cities.
For the moment, I have found a way to enjoy the pleasures of the French markets, of the simplicity and the utter joy of buying good food, cheaply. The vendors are often the farmers themselves, sometimes a middleman who has held a stall for over 30 years.
I spent at least an hour one sunny morning in Aix-en-Provence picking out newly-in-season strawberries, cured sausages, baguette, honey, fresh goat’s cheese, olives and pastries for a lunch picnic, eating the leftovers in the car the next day. Other times I booked cooking classes where I knew part of the lesson would involve shopping at the local markets for ingredients.
I could not have felt more envious than I did spying the locals wheeling little trolleys, filling them up with the day’s shopping and returning to their homes, knowing they could pop out for garlic or lemons or flowers for the table at any time. And for that reason I always bought two of everything at the markets.
There are so many markets in the South of France, and you need to know which ones are open on which days, which is why this calendar is useful: http://provence.angloinfo.com/information/lifestyle/shopping/local-markets/
Some of my favourites include:
1. Aix en Provence: Fresh Produce Market
Place de Verdun
Best for: local salt, honey and Madagascan vanilla
2. Aix en Provence: Local Market
Place Richelme (daily market)
Best for: Cheeses from goat cheese maker and Marie with best zucchini blossoms when in season.
3. Garéoult in Provence Verte
Best for: Small, local market with really good charcuterie, traditional and local styles.
4. Nice: Cours Saleya
Best for: cheese, lavender flowers and fresh meat.
Produce market on Sunday.