Obsessed with images of gracefully-attired Parisian women, clutching baskets filled with seasonal produce, I couldn’t wait to experience a proper French market. My first Sunday saw me armed with an old tote bag, surveying the sprawling Marché Bastille. It wasn’t long until my lack of Gallic savoir-faire became apparent. Between vendors huffing at me for using a bank card, to elderly French women ramming my ankles with their caddies (it felt intentional), I found myself in front of a questionable looking food truck guzzling a fromage et jambon crêpe, trying to soothe the trauma. With a tote bag full of squashed, leaky peaches, and a grumbling Italian boyfriend attesting he would ‘never go back to a French market’, I knew I’d made (several) faux pas. I promised myself I would be better prepared next time. Here are my tips for navigating the Parisian markets.
No. 1 Have a routine and stick to it
Strolling aimlessly around a Parisian market may sound romantic, but it’s a recipe for disaster (and tired legs). Write a list of what you need and follow it. Regular visits let you discover your favorite, most reliable vendors. Shopping will begin to feel much more relaxed. Start with the heavy produce, so that eggs and fruit won’t get bashed. Oh, and make sure you eat before you go — marché-ing on an empty stomach means you will end up over-spending and hangry!
No. 2 Take cash
Though some vendors accept cards, cash is preferred. When I presented the vegetable vendor a handful of change, I think it was the first time I witnessed a Frenchman grin (grin might be a stretch, but he certainly lowered his raised eyebrow). Also, be prepared to do some (quick) mental math before you agree to buy. On that first market visit, my partner almost purchased three tomatoes for eight euros, and I spent the afternoon reassuring myself that thirteen euros for twenty grams of olives was, in fact, a steal…
No. 3 Timing is everything
Most people tell you to arrive early. True, you’ll be rewarded with the most bountiful produce. However, to bag a bargain (and prevent food waste!), the last hour is where it’s at. Vendors often sell items for less than half price. Last week I bought six free-range eggs, and the lovely gentleman gave me fifteen as they had a fairly short use-by date. My boyfriend may not see the gastronomical potential of a kilogram of apricots (for only one euro!), but I certainly do. A word of caution: the middle of service, around 11.30, is often crowded – prime caddy-to-the-ankle time. Avoid at all costs.
No. 4 Buy a caddy
Speaking of caddies, (or food shopping carts) — buy yourself a good one! The bags from vendors break easily. Scrabbling on the market floor for runaway tomatoes isn’t a good look (and trust me, I would know). It’s also great to avoid single-use plastic. I recommend one that folds up, ideal if you live in a small apartment like me. As a minimum, take at least three sturdy bags. You might think one’s enough, but imagine saying no to a freshly baked gâteau!
No. 5 Trust the vendors
I might think I know a thing or two about food, but the people working at marchés have dedicated most of their lives to it. Arrive in May looking to buy strawberries and you’ll likely be disappointed. French markets and seasonality go hand-in-hand and vendors will be reluctant to sell you them. Prepare to be questioned about your intentions. If you’re buying apples to make a tarte tatin, they’ll want to sell you the appropriate variety. If apples are for snacking, they’ll suggest something very different. This may feel slightly intrusive at first, but roll with it. You’ll leave with the best tasting produce imaginable (and maybe even some tips to perfect that tarte tatin…)
- Follow the prequel to this! Moving to Paris: Diary of a Would-Be Parisian
- More marché-vaganza: Paris’ Best Neighborhood Markets
- The 17 Best Markets in Paris according to TimeOut
Written by Rachel Naismith for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.