Paris: the gastronomic capital of the world. Famous for its world class chefs and Michelin starred restaurants. However, unless you have booked more than a month in advance, and have the spending power of a city banker, the world of haute cuisine is daunting for some and inaccessible to most. But as Parson’s Chef Chloë discovered recently, Paris’ food culture is everywhere and able to be enjoyed by everyone…
One of the best and worst things about being a chef is that you get used to waking up at the break of day, and this habit can be difficult to change even when you’re on holiday. I recently went away to Paris, and, unable to sleep in, I decided to head out for a morning stroll to the local food market. As I walked through the 12ème arrondissement to the Marché d’Aligre, I watched as Paris slowly came to life: a young Chinese girl helped her mother set up chairs on the street outside their restaurant, tourists piled out of a hostel in search of a quick caffeine fix after a late night and everywhere the hum and buzz of traffic flowing throughout the city.
As I turned onto Rue D’Aligre, the relative tranquillity of the main street melted away and I was bombarded by the sights, smells and sounds of a bustling Parisian food market. Stalls lined each side of the pavement, laden with a colourful array of fresh fruit and vegetables. Sellers called out to passers by, “Carrotes! Fraises! Abricots!” and bartered with frumpy old French dames over the price per kilo of borlotti beans.
Behind the stalls, the permanent shops had thrown open their doors, revealing trays of fish on ice beds, their scales shining in the sunlight, or wheels of aged cheese sat proudly on wooden crates, the air around them pungent. There was a different boulangerie at every turn, from the traditional French to a family-run Levantine bakery selling baklava and flatbreads. A coffee bar called Café Aouba opened up onto the street, and the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans permeated the air around it, beckoning me in. I bought a bag of coffee grounds from Costa Rica to take back to the team at Parsons, ordered ‘un café’ (an espresso in France) and knocked it back stood at the little wooden bar overlooking the street.
At the end of Rue D’Aligre there is a Marché Beauvau (covered market) with permanent stalls. Roast suckling pigs rotate slowly on spits next to one butchers stall and rows upon rows of French and Belgium beers line the crates of another. France is renowned for its sensational patisseries and this market does not fail to deliver; the dessert display at a little patisserie called Jojo & Co is a work of art in itself.
I spent a wonderful hour wandering through the market, absorbing everything, imagining dishes to create, and tasting the odd apricot (they were in season when I visited in July and so abundant that every seller was trying to shift their stock). I left the market laden with enough French cheese, fresh vegetables and handmade pastries to feed a small army, and the feeling that I had experienced Paris’ affordable culinary culture from a local’s perspective. Think I’ll save that trip to Le Cinq for next time.