Oh how I love the “marché alimentaire,” the farmers’ market. In Paris, in Louviers, in anywhere I can find one! The market is the theater of life, brought together in all its variety both in the vendors who hawk their wares, and the customers of every ilk who stroll through, rush with purpose, cluster in groups to share news of the day, stand in line with their eyes on the prize, knowing the wait is worth their while.
A Bit Unusual
Markets in Paris are a bit unusual now, though. Oh, August is always a fraught month as the city people flock to the country, and suddenly there are fewer customers. Normally, that’s when markets thin out. But they’re thin already in this weird new-normal world. It’s as though markets and vendors are suffering an identity crisis due to flip flopping rules. Here is an example. Markets have fortunately been held consistently throughout this crisis (except the other-worldly first three months when nothing happened anywhere). I think I speak for many when I say that I became accustomed to a market with wide alleys, fewer vendors, less chaos than usual. Then suddenly about two weeks ago, as though a switch had been flipped, the market was back to its normal self. It was dramatic. Aisles were once again narrow; vendors were back in their pre-covid places, market fashion was again on full display, and the scents, sounds, and sights we love so much were all present. And then this week, vendors announced to their customers that they’d be taking a month and a half hiatus.
As we the clients heard this, I imagine many felt the way I did. “Whaat?!” Did we not just get back to normal? But as Morice Philippe, a grower who farms just outside Paris said, “We need to replant, get our farm back into shape.”
Ok, Ok, Weird Weather Dictates
It’s true, we’ve had weather to echo the weirdness of this time. Late and severe freezes, then hotter than hot, and now torrential downpours. Fortunately humans are an adaptable species but plants still need stability. And farmers are hunkering down. Besides, as the olive salesman, whose stand is an Ali Baba’s cave of riches from fruits to nuts, said this morning “There aren’t any clients. I’m taking a month and a half off.”
We will Prevail!
Of course we will all survive and prevail as we accustom ourselves to all of these changes. And these changes do not mean that there are no markets, far from it. It just means they are abbreviated. After all, plants don’t stop producing and all that produce has to go somewhere!
A lot of it is going to restaurants which are open and, honestly, better than ever. It’s as though chefs deprived of work stored up their skills, talents, creativity to let it loose once the doors opened. Here are a few favorites: Sauvage, 55 rue Cherche Midi, is a favorite, where Sebastien Leroy exercises his skills which make me think he’s channeling a gifted farm cook who knows exactly which simple and pure flavors go together; QueduBon, 22 rue du Plateau in the 20th, is a bistro of epic charm and delight, where the food is inventive, the wine list massive, the welcome relaxed and friendly; Mercerie Mulot, 19 rue Brea is a perennial favorite for it’s warm and witty welcome, and the absolute purity of everything that comes from chef Benoit Reix’ hands. Now if you’re in the mood for a simple café meal, you will love the Café de la Place at 23 rue Odessa, on the leafy place Edgar Quinet where you drop by, sip a cocktail or enjoy a simple café meal of croque monsieur, a variety of salads, a wonderful omelette, and the same goes for Le Select, 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, where the omelette is unparalleled, and the ghosts of writers and artists are alive and well .
These are a few of my personal favorites. You will find your own! Reservations are essential everywhere except at the Café de la Place.