I think anyone even vaguely interested in food is enthralled by the European food markets! It is even more so for us, as South African shopping habits for fresh produce differ from the Europeans. They shop once or twice weekly at markets and only ‘top up’ if really necessary at supermarkets. Most Supermarkets have really average fresh produce sections compared to those that we are accustomed to in South Africa. Supermarkets seem to concentrate on a few seasonal items and the basics, which are often only packed in bulk packs e.g. garlic, onions potatoes, with little or no ‘loose sell’ goods. This is rather frustrating when you have missed the market day and would like potatoes for 2 people for just one meal, or just one head of garlic for the week!
In supermarkets bunches of asparagus, endive green beans and leafy vegetables such as lettuce are not generally refrigerated. Only the pre-packed ‘gas flushed’ loose leaves will be refrigerated. So if you buy a head of lettuce from the Supermarket the shelf-life will only be a few days or maybe a few hours as apposed to the unrefrigerated, but farm fresh ones you buy at the village market.
Very little produce is pre-packed. You don’t see huge fridges containing a wide range of semi-prepared or ‘value added’ packs as we are accustomed to in our supermarkets. You also see no fresh herbs in the Supermarkets, as you are expected to buy this fresh from the market!
Seasonal fruit and vegetables come from all over the world. Both in the markets and supermarkets the source is usually clearly marked. In May it’s spring / early summer and too early for ripe summer fruit in France and Northern Italy so all the delicious peaches, apricots, grapes and plums are from Spain, Portugal and Morocco. When a product is locally or internationally sourced the country, region or district is mentioned. The consumer is obviously aware, informed and interested in the provenance of the produce.
Emphasis is placed on what is seasonal and available locally.
In one village we came across a huge strawberry festival!
It was also the start of the summer thanksgiving harvest festival. All the local agricultural producers paraded through the crowds towards the church where a thanksgiving church service was conducted. It was so festive, and also highlighted how the producer is valued.
It is the fresh produce market in every city, suburb, town or village that fascinates me. It is where every local family or chef shops and it is where the local and specialist producers present their products.
Our markets sadly often disappoint as they usually do not emphasise fresh produce and often have more emphasis on pop-up restaurants, cheap imported clothing and crafts. In France there are markets that have non-food goods, including the goods made in PRC (Peoples Republic of China!), but they are usually separate from the food markets.
The food markets focus on really fresh and local artisanal foods and a few crafts. In some villages they may be part of or alongside an occasional antique or flea market.
You see individuals or families seriously shopping for the week’s meals. They know what they want and are very particular about quality.
The French love their dogs, so many have their well behaved dogs with them. Most market stalls provide a doggie water bowl. Often the stall owner’s dog is also present, enjoying the market day!
Markets are also social occasions and time for a quick village gossip! By midday or early afternoon the market is over. At this time you see many locals drifting towards pavement cafe’s and ordering a beer or a glass of rosé!
If its lunch time and the market is still busy, the market workers will bring out their picnic and beer or vino! You cannot possibly deny a Frenchman his meal!
I simply cannot stop looking at the beautiful fresh produce and photographing it…… let me share some of it with you!
You sometimes see products that you would probably not choose to eat!
When in France or Italy we try to stay in self-catering accommodation, allowing me to be ‘a little French’ for just a couple of weeks. I love enjoying what is seasonal and fresh and also indulging in local delicacies.