Touring and Eating at the Markets of Paris
NOTE: 10/19/2010: Markets of New York is on a bit of a vacation, so we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from the past year! Here’s one from January 28, 2010:
James and I went to Paris last week. Again. People keep asking us why we go back over and over, and for a brief moment we contemplated not returning until next year. The instant melancholy we both felt was enough to convince us that we’ll visit much sooner than that, probably October. That should give our cholesterol time to level out.
We had a particularly wonderful and magical time this trip, probably because we had no real agenda other than finding a daily fix of foie gras and sharing a nightly bottle of Côtes du Rhone. One thing that made this trip special was touring and eating at the glorious Parisian markets with brothers Sebastien and Pascal Bensidoun, fourth generation market owners and managers at Groupe Bensidoun in France and Bensidoun USA. In addition to their markets in Paris, they also run thirteen French-style markets in Illinois, Michigan, and White Plains, New York. In November 2009, they opened the French Market in Chicago to the delight of foodies there.
We rent apartments when we go to Paris, and we love to buy much of our food at the markets. One of our favorite markets is on Boulevard Richard Lenoir, which we first found in an inspirational little book, “Markets of Paris.” We buy fresh vegetables, delicious cheeses that we’ve never heard of before, sometimes shrimp, and always a fragrant roasted chicken, a crunchy baguette and some sort of scrumptious tart. I was introduced to Sebastien and Pascal through my research for “Markets of New York City.” So, a week ago Sunday, our first full day in Paris, the Bensidoun brothers picked us up and whisked us off to the Marché Bio, or the Organic Market at Raspail.
The food markets of Paris have a long and wonderful history, and the organic market is especially remarkable. All the food items are certified “AB,” or “Agriculture Biologique” by the French Ministry of Agriculture. The products looked fresh, flawless, and delicious. The string beans, carrots, Clementine oranges and litchis we ate at home definitely tasted great. There is an immense variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, honey, preserves, meat, seafood, and much more. An impressive number of people were waiting in line for the organic breads. James picked up a tiny heart-shaped piece of goat cheese covered in ash. It was the strongest goat we’ve ever tasted and stuck with us for the rest of the day. My favorite item was the grouping of black truffles under a glass cloche. The vendor lifted the cover, and the musky mushroomy fragrance swam up into the air. We learned that there are truffles and there are truffles. If the price seems too good to be true, they are probably imported from Asia. French truffles never lose their value, unless, of course, they get eaten.
We also visited the market at Auguste Blanqui in the 13th Arrondissement that day and Cours de Vincennes later in the week. Like the Raspail market, Auguste Blanqui sets up on the on the center island of a boulevard, and so it is long and narrow, unlike our sprawling market at Union Square. This market runs almost a kilometer in length, with vendor tables on either side. At the Cours de Vincennes, we had an unexpected and delicious meal of salmon, salsify, and red wine with a Valrhona chocolate for dessert. The French Federation of Amateur Chefs holds food demonstrations at the markets, and Sebastien and Pascal made sure we didn’t miss this one. The salmon melted in my mouth. Despite the rainy day, the market was lively and active.
We didn’t run into Gerard Depardieu or Catherine Deneuve, who both, as we understand, frequent the markets. But we felt like celebrities ourselves as we strolled along with Sebastien and Pascal. They introduced us to the vendors and showed us all of the wonderful things about their markets. Merci beaucoup! We’ll be back soon!
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