Going to an outdoor Paris market is on most people’s itineraries when traveling to Paris. But why? I mean, we have markets in North America. Right?
The atmosphere at a French market is a mixture of plaisir (“pleasure”), social connection, and gastronomy. The French glow when it comes to gastronomic pleasure and creating a meal to share with family and friends. They come to the market and fill their baskets and their carts on wheels, known as le caddy, while they stop to chat to a neighbour or vendor.
There is something exotic about a French market. Produce never seen before hailing from Africa or Israel is intriguing and poses the conundrum of whether or not to purchase. Saffron butter wrapped in waxed paper and labelled by hand — hmm — what gastronomic pleasure will that yield? In season, you’ll find white asparagus, a selection of different types of strawberries, loose eggs, dozens of French cheeses, and a dizzying amount of greens.
Stalls bring regional specialties to certain markets in Paris. Whether it be honey from Corsica, lavender products from Provence, pork rillettes from Le Mans, or foie gras from Sarlat-la Canéda. Depending on the season, you may find delectable Kintoa dry-cured ham from the Basque Country or even discover a stand filled with maple syrup products. That always makes a Canadian smile.
Parisian outdoor markets are the perfect place to flaner. To flaner is the art of roaming around and just observing life. Bring your curious spirit to a Parisian outdoor market. Roam. Observe. Purchase high quality delicious products, but whatever you do, don’t do these five things!
1. Don’t Be In A Rush
Part of the experience of visiting a Paris market is the ambiance, the flow, and the delight of observing Parisians in their daily life. Take time to watch the interactions between the vendor and the buyer, neighbors having a friendly exchange, and the facial expressions and body language of those in a long line. Observe what Parisians are purchasing. I like to imagine who is coming for dinner and what will be served.
Put your senses in full gear. Watch for the dogs. Sometimes peeking out from le caddy, others tucked under an arm. Listen for the vendors shouting out their best prices. Smell the crepes sizzling, chickens roasting, paella simmering, or huge pans of tartiflette (melted Reblochon cheese and bacon served with potatoes) just waiting to be devoured. It’s all part of market day in Paris.
If you’re staying in Paris for a while, return to the same market. You’ll see familiar faces at the same stands. I’ve returned over and over to the Marché Raspail and come to know my fish vendor, produce vendor, and the surprising shaman who chants and plays her Tibetan bowls. If you invite her to, she stands a few inches before you and moves the bowl up and down the length of your body. The vibration is real! You just never know what will transpire at a Parisian outdoor market.
Pro Tip: Arrive at the market and do a grand loop, or two. Watch for what is in season, where the longest lines are, where the European clothing stands are, and where on earth you will begin!
2. Don’t Touch The Produce
The number one rule in all French markets, Parisian or otherwise: Don’t touch the produce. Peruse. Observe. But don’t touch. Some vendors will hand you a little brown bag to select your own produce, but most of the time, when you ask for a handful of green beans or three avocados, the vendor will choose them for you.
You’ll be sure to hear your vendor say, “Avec ceci?” which means “With this?” Carry on and order something else or simply say “Ce sera tout.” “That will be everything.” Always finish with “Bonne journee. Au revoir!”
3. Don’t Budge The Line Up
Don’t budge. Find the vendor you want. Size up the queue. Find the end of it. Join the queue.
Standing in line is the perfect time to peruse what is to offer. Make a mental note of what and how much you want and think of how you are going to ask the vendor for it.
If you are brave enough, you could strike up a conversation with someone in the queue. Once faced with three types of strawberries des Gariguettes, des Mariguettes, and des Mara des Bois, I tapped the lady’s arm in front of me asking for a little guidance. The French women was happy to chat about strawberries and suggested des Gariguettes, the season’s early arrivals that are elongated and sweet. This marked the beginning of my love affair with this type of strawberry.
But why are the queues so long? It’s customer service. You’ll notice that the vendor helps one person at a time. No matter how much time they take, be patient. Observe the relationship between the vendor and buyer. And, when it is finally your turn, don’t feel hurried.
When my turn comes, I used to feel rushed. Perhaps it was speaking French or being in the middle of a very French experience surrounded by Parisians. I’ve learned to take my time. I love having the vendor completely focused on me, selecting exactly what I ask for.
4. Don’t Haggle For A Better Price
An outdoor market in Paris is just not the place to haggle for a better price. Trust your vendor. You’re getting the same price and quality as everyone else.
Sometimes the entire process happens very quickly. A few years ago, I bought a cantaloupe and when it was weighed it cost $8. Before I knew it, I had paid my sum and was on my way but I couldn’t believe the total cost of my purchases. It was soon evident that I had paid a king’s ransom for my cantaloupe. I savoured every juicy bite of that cantaloupe, though! It was an innocent mistake not realizing the melon would be weighed.
Don’t forget that the vendors are happy to help. At the poissonnerie (fish monger) they will be happy to clean, scale, and gut a fish for you. And, if you’re not sure how to cook it, they will happily share a recipe or at least give you a few tips.
5. Don’t Arrive With A Full Stomach
The thing about a Parisian market is that there are usually stalls selling food to eat. One of my favorites is the Marche Bastille where galettes (buckwheat crepes), a traditional food from Brittany, are made before your eyes. There is always a queue and I can attest to how delicious they are.
On a Sunday morning in December, the Marche Bastille also had a few high tables and stools set out and Parisians gathered around sharing platters of oysters.
You’ll be happy you arrived hungry, standing at a stall savouring something delicious or walking away with a hot chicken, a serving of tartiflette (available in the winter months), fresh hummus, falafel, or succulent fresh dates from Israel.
If there is no stand selling something to eat, take your purchases and find the closest café facing the market where you can continue to soak up the market vibe!
Best Paris Market Tips For Success
- Start every encounter with “Bonjour!”
- You can pay at most markets with cash and also with your debit or credit card. Having a little change purse or loose change in your pocket is super handy.
- Bring your own bags or ,if you are planning to stay in Paris for a while, invest in a caddy. What better way to feel like a true Parisian than to stroll through a market, a few baguettes poking out of your caddy.
- When is the best time to go to a Paris market? Shortly after the market opens you will find the best selection of items. If I go too late to my poissonnerie, they will have run out of cabillaud (cod). If you go towards closing time, there are always great bargains to be had. Vendors would rather sell for less than pack it up.
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