Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Bio marche, Boulevard des Batignolles, Paris

Oh, Paris, Paris - who could have thought that after all the blogging and eating only now that I have visited what many would have said had to be the first - a Parisian market.

Me and my significant other did last weekend what we rarely choose to do (at least not in public or whilst admitting to ourselves) - have a fly-away sugary romantic weekend in Paris. The meal we chose to celebrate the event was not at a classy, white table-linen and candlelight restaurant, but a bustling organic market in the centre of the city. Not that unpredictable really.

God, when I'm at a market like this I want to pack up my bags and come and live in France - colours, sounds, variety! This bio marche is solely organic - that in itself is a miracle by British standards (there is only one fully organic farmers' market in London as far as I know, in Stoke Newington), but it's the sheer volume and diversity of produce on offer that makes this market so remarkably different from its London counterparts (even the biggest and most successful ones, such as the Borough market, 'suffer' in my view from over-indulging in selling 'fine' foods and take-away snacks - all very respectable and of the highest quality admittedly, but not so fruitful - excuse the pun - for weekly shopping).

Boulevard de Batignolles is a wide and spacious road leading up to Montmartre (the view of Sacre Coeur makes the area particularly romantic). The market is stretched for about 200 meters on an island in the middle of the street, not far from metro Villiers. You hear the soothing sounds of frenchified live jazz playing long before you hit the smells, bicycles and berets of the market. There you have at least six large fruit and veg stalls (enormous, overflowing tables laden with all sorts of vegetable, all in season, all from the vicinity), a handful of meat sellers (not the usual neatly packed lonely boxes for two for a rare Saturday breakfast, but torses of everything from veiny pigens to gorged ducks and big happy chickens) and numerous producers of bread (of course), jams and saussison. And, apart from a little man making galettes in a corner (hearty, wholesome rounds of buckwheat flour, carrots, and an egg), very few stalls selling food already prepared. No, this place is all about touching, squeezing, putting your nose into things affair - take with you and spend long leasury afternoon cooking...

I know I'm totally over-romanticising the French eating habits, but no matter how much you know the reasons for such differences between the 'market' culture in the neighbouring countries*, it never ceases to amaze.

I am going to follow a cliche path of thought tonight - apologies to my readers, accustomed to a more high brow (or simply 'purple' as the significant other calls it) prose, and so the picture above represents snugly the Frenchies' attitude to food. The wholesome seller of plump birds has just cut off the black and blue head of the chicken and giggley gave it to a daughter of a customer. Just imagine this scenario in the UK... can you?? I just loved the expression on the girl's face - there is a bit of squeamishness there, but she is hugely amused and curious about the creature. Difficult not to make a sweeping, country-wide generalisations based on this sole observation - if we all knew from early days what food actually looked like and that it is not just amorphous blobs of pink in plastic, we would perhaps pose for a moment when buying that 2 for £2 chickens or wafer thin sheets of ham reconstituted from the parts of an animal that are not actually meat.

I don't mean to sound righteous - apologies - back to the beautiful market.

Peruvian cucumbers, grown locally - prickly, soft to a touch, creatures that apparently have a texture of an ordinary cucumber and are brilliant as crudite, especially in summer because of their fresh lime-y taste. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try the little monster, so let me know if you have?

We have finished the tour of the market with a proper feast: whole half of a roasted chicken - slightly charred, smoky, nothing but just meat, not even salt, two bulbs of tomatoes, all sugar and juice, and a baguette. Vive la France (les marches, bien sure)!

* post-war rationing and strongly industrialised agriculture in Britain is said to be, at least, party responsible for the difference in the food cultures of the two countries, and the UK's subsequent lack of vibrant farmers' markets. Psychologically and socially French place an enormous role on food, so we are told - terroir is everything. I suppose it is, again at least partly, a self-perpetuating prophecy: when for the last two centuries the French and the rest of the (Western) world have been saying how sophisticated and complex the French cuisine is, it is literally impossible not to grow up internalising this view and be proud of what it represents. I am tempted to compare the French mild fixation on food to the Russian patriotism when it comes to their 'otechestvo' or home land. Occasionally such feelings result in snobbism, social problems and a vicious sense of pride, but it also creates a very strong national identity that protects its bearers from the hash foreigner or a shallow 'rostbif':)

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