One of the joys of living France is buying produce from your local market. Nothing makes me happier than strolling past the colourful displays of fruit and veg, interacting with the local marchands and getting inspiration for seasonal recipes that showcase fantastic French produce.
However, navigating your way through the French pricing system and recognising some of the weird and wonderful products on display can be a challenge. On more than one occasion I’ve ended up with half a kilo of paté de campagne costing about 20€ and been too embarrassed to change my order. But I’ve come a long way since these early days of market mistakes and, thanks largely to working behind the counters in a specialist cheese and charcuterie shop, I’ve picked up a few tips that I’d love to share with you.
- Compare and consider the price per kilo
Faced with rows of tiny blackboards adorned with curly French handwriting, it can be easy to ignore the pricing altogether and just dive in. Trying to grasp the pricing system and comparing the cost per kilo at different stalls will give you a more satisfying shopping experience. If you’re not used to the system, try considering how much 100g of the product would be and whether this is good value for money.
- Always shop in season
You’ve got a craving for homemade tarte aux fraises but it’s January. In England we tend to buy produce year-round that’s been imported to our supermarkets from polytunnels in the warmer southern climes. Something I love about shopping from French markets is rediscovering fruit and vegetables as they appear on stallholders’ displays with each new season. That tarte aux fraises will taste so much better when you’ve waited for the first strawberries of the year.
- Talk to the stall holders
Shopping at a market is a far more human experience than supermarket shopping. There are no self-checkouts here and no technological advances for the last 30 years. In fact, most fruit and veg markets still only accept cash. Take the opportunity to get face to face with these experts and ask them for tips on what tastes best or how to prepare the produce.
- If you’re buying charcuterie,specify how you want it sliced.
The norm in France is to cut to a medium thickness so if you like your charcuterie thinly sliced then it’s best to say “Très fine”. When buying charcuterie, it’s useful to specify how many slices you would like and the thickness rather than the amount in grams. This makes it easier for the server to prepare your order.
- Most cheese stands let you try before you buy
If you’re not sure which cheese to go for or whether it will be to your taste, remember that most market stands allow you to try before you buy. Get your French language skills in gear by asking questions about the different varieties, their flavours and origins.
Toulouse is blessed with numerous markets selling all sorts of produce. In my opinion there are a few particularly special ones that are worth a trip even if you don’t live in the centre.
This sprawling market surrounds Saint Aubin church and is my favourite way to start a sunny Sunday in Toulouse. It’s the perfect place to source artisan products direct from the producer such as honey, cheese and vegetables. There are also some great street food vendors selling their creations such as mouth-watering empanadas and spicy Indian pakoras. The flower and herb section of the market is bursting with beautiful plants at great prices. This market is buzzing with music, delicious aromas vibrant colours and people of all ages and walks of life. The terraces of the surrounding cafés that spill out onto the street are the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and people watch.
Don’t miss: chunky sourdough bread, delicious rounds of artisan goats’ cheese from La Ferme de Saint Périole, 5€ bunches of flowers wrapped in newspaper.
When: every Sunday from 7h – 14h
- Marché Victor Hugo
Hidden beneath a towering car park this Toulouse institution has been lining food lovers’ baskets with jambon de bayonne for over 120 years. A trip to marché Victor Hugo is a wonderful experience. The meticulous displays of fruits de mer, charcuterie, cheese and fresh meat are a feast for the eyes. The friendly cafés dotted around the outer perimeter of the market allow you to buy a small picnic of gastronomic treats and enjoy it standing up at their counter with a glass of wine. Victor Hugo is the perfect place to bring visitors who want to experience a true taste of France. You can stock up on jars of cassoulet and marvel at the strange-but-true meat on display at the tripe stand. After you’ve filled your basket with baguettes and foie gras head up to the first floor for lunch at one of the delightful restaurants serving reasonably priced formule de midi. Or If you’re feeling like a light option you can grab a plateau of oysters from the one of the seafood stands.
Don’t miss: paté basque from Maison Garcia, pistachio choux buns from Eléonore and serano ham from La Tortilla.
Nocturnes: Victor Hugo hosts regular night markets called ‘Les Nocturnes’. The streets surrounding the market are lined with long tables and tempting platters of aperitif nibbles are on offer at the stalls. You can buy wine by the bottle here and join the crowds of Toulousains who flock to experience this foody celebration.
When: Market – Tuesday – Sunday 7.30h – 14h
Nocturnes: No fixed date, follow the Marché Victor Hugo facebook page for updates
- Marché des Carmes
Another car-park/covered market mash-up. Marché des Carmes sits in pride of place in the centre of Place des Carmes. Start with a leisurely coffee at le bistrot du matin and watch the busy customers coming in and out of the market. Inside you’ll find delicious pastries and bread, epiceries and expertly matured cheeses.
Don’t miss: Rocamadour from Chez Betty
When: Tuesday – Sunday 7.30 – 14h
- Marché Cristal
Vibrant stalls line the Boulevard de Strasbourg every Tuesday to Sunday. This large market specialising in fruit and vegetables is the perfect place to get your weekly shop for the right price. The produce here is great quality, reasonably priced and incredibly diverse. You can’t wander up this bustling market without spending all your cash on a glut of delicious seasonal produce. It’s a great place to buy in bulk if you’re planning on making jam. At the Arcole end of the market you will find a small collection of fromagers, butchers and other vendors which is handy if you want to pick up something speedy for lunch.
Don’t miss: Juicy jarret de porc from the rotisserie stand, fresh cepes from the specialist mushroom stand, ripe and juicy tomatoes from the specialist tomato lady.
When: Tuesday – Sunday 7.30 – 13.30
You will need…
10g capers, rinsed
50g black or green olives
A pinch of chilli flakes
100g cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
Half a courgette, stripped into ribbons or “courgetti”
1 small clove of garlic, minced
Half a ball of Mozarella – torn into chunks
4 tbsp of ricotta cheese
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Handful of basil leaves
Once you have prepped all your ingredients, put a medium pan on high for the spaghetti. Once it is boiling pop in your pasta.
In a large pan combine your courgetti, garlic, capers, olives, mozzarella, chilli, tomatoes and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Keep this to one side until the pasta is nearly cooked.
A few minutes before the pasta is ready, bring the vegetable the pan up to a very low heat for 2- 3 minutes, just enough to warm the ingredients through. Drain the spaghetti and toss it into the pan with the other ingredients. Season to taste and serve dotted with dollops of fresh ricotta and torn fresh basil.