The Pleasures of French Markets Tuesday, Mar 21 2017 

If you’re like me, spending time in France’s open air markets is an endless pleasure. Pyramids of beautiful fruits and vegetables in season, fresh and aged cheeses, breads, whole fowl of every kind, rabbits and other game, charcuterie, seafood, spices, and more are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the smells, and the people all come together to create a festive and unique experience for French and non-French alike. A centuries old tradition, food markets in France are a culinary experience as well as a social one–people from all classes and walks of life rub elbows in the common pursuit of good cooking and good meals.

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When I was a grad student in Paris nearly 30 years ago (!!), the colorful and earthy Rue Mouffetard market in the 5th arrondissement was one I returned to again and again as it was near my university and away from all the tourists. And it seemed to say on every visit, “I am a true Paris marché (market).” It was also where I acquired my first French market basket. Tall and sturdy with a tight weave, the light-colored fiber panier (basket) was my new best friend. With it at my side, I belonged to the French market landscape. No longer did I hike back to my Paris apartment loaded with bulging plastic bags, a sure giveaway of a non-resident. And it was delicious fun to fill my panier artistically with newly-acquired vegetables, fruits, flowers, and bread so it looked like a photo straight out of a gourmet magazine. Wonderfully enough, I still have this basket somewhere.

Still enamored of market baskets today, I have a hard time passing up the vendors that sell them. There is always some new version that tempts me. Staples are rows of traditional light colored baskets with leather handles. Fancier styles come in bright colors of various sizes and shapes. Some have cloth with drawstrings inside – perfect for use as a summer purse. 

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On the other hand, I can always sit at a market café and watch the market basket parade where baskets and their male or female owners walk by. It’s a great way to live various baskets vicariously. For some market shoppers, le panier (basket) or le caddy (basket or bag on wheels) is just a practical tool. For others , they seem to be a stylish accessory. And you’ve got to love the ladies who walk by in heels with their basket or caddy. It’s about being a stylish French woman no matter what you are doing. And I’ll never forget the caddy I saw on a cold February morning in Aix-en-Provence. Perfect for the cold weather, this caddy had a canvas body topped by a faux fur lid and was tugged along by an owner in a leather coat trimmed with fur! I must confess my basket tastes run on the simpler side.

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Market basket in hand, how then does one  enjoy the food pleasures and treasures of French markets? I often get asked about navigating the French market experience – what is the etiquette, what are the unspoken rules, etcetera. In preparation for your next trip to France, here is a quick overview of how French markets work:

1) When: Most French markets operate roughly from 8 or 8:30am to 1pm. You’ll want to get up and go early for the top offerings – and avoid the crowds. A good Provence market in summertime can be a madhouse! Depending on the town or city, markets run once a week – a favorite example is the terrific Sarlat market on Saturday mornings in the Dordogne – or two to three times per week all year long. For example, my other Paris neighborhood market is on the Boulevard Raspail on Paris’s Left Bank which happens every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday morning, with Sunday featuring the completely organic, or biologique, market. In Aix-en-Provence, the main market occurs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with Saturday being the biggest and most festive day of all. In some locales, markets are daily such as the Rue Cler market near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. And more cities and towns are organizing late afternoon or evening markets as well. Interestingly, the market in our nearby shopping town of Milly-la-Fôret holds its weekly Thursday market in the afternoon in the 15th century halle (photo below). Contrary to most markets in France, it’s been an afternoon market for as long as anyone can remember.

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2) Seasons: Take advantage of the intensely seasonal offerings in France. Buy strawberries in May, melons in summer, figs in late summer and early fall, apples and mushrooms in the fall and winter, lettuces in late winter and spring, you get the idea. And be sure to buy local so that the food products are super fresh. French vendors are great about noting where their food is from.

3a) Choosing your purchases: Most vendors will choose food items and bag them for you. Always assume that this is the case and you won’t have any problems when shopping in French markets. Note that many vendors have spent a considerable amount of time on their displays so you don’t want to make a lovely mountain of fruit or vegetables come tumbling down!

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3b) Part 2 of why vendors consider it their job to choose your food items: After all, this is their métier (career) and they have the expertise to pick perfect peaches or a camembert that will be ready for your lunch tomorrow, if that is what you want. In this interaction, the better the rapport you have with the vendor, the better service (and often better products) you will get. Markets are really all about the people. So how to you get a vendor to warm up to you? Compliment him on his products and his know-how—and he’ll give you the world, or almost. I love what Julia child said in her autobiography My Life in France (2004):

“Shopping for food in Paris was a life-changing experience for me. It was through daily excursions to my local marketplace on la Rue de Bourgogne, or to the bigger one on la Rue Cler, or, best of all, into the organized chaos of Les Halles—the famous marketplace in central Paris—that I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: the value of les human relations.”

3c) NOTE: A few vendors will let you choose your own food items—keep your eyes open for a sign such as the one below so you’ll know it’s ok to serve yourself!

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“Bags – please serve yourself. Merci.”

4) Prices: Market prices on food and the like are usually not negotiable. Sometimes vendors will throw something in for free, however, particularly as they wrap up for the day or occasionally you get a price break for buying multiples of something. Purchases are payable in cash so have some euros on you.

5) Tastings: The French love to offer tastes of their products. You can almost make a meal out of tastings at some markets. If you sample a product a vendor is offering, you are not obligated to buy. Say, “Merci beaucoup” and move on. But usually everything is so good that you’ll end up wanting to buy it anyway.

6) Ready-made foods: Some vendors sell prepared foods such as this paella vendor in Aix-en-Provence. If you want some paella for lunch, be sure and buy it early as he regularly sells out!

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7) Don’t always buy from the first vendor you see: When visiting markets and vendors for the first time, I like to check out the entire market and then come back to the ones that have the best quality and/or price. If in doubt, note which vendors have the longest lines—the French always know good food and good bargains.

8) Lines:  Speaking of lines, it is necessary to faire la queue (stand in line) to be served. When it’s your turn, you can make sure the vendor knows by saying “C’est à moi” (sayt ah mwa), or “It’s my turn.” When it comes to food markets, the French are pretty good about lining up in an orderly fashion. However, it can be a free for all in other venues such as the French post office, so beware!

9) Crowds: Note that weekend and summer markets are the most crowded. This means they are more festive but it can take longer to see what’s on offer and make your purchases.

10) Key phrases for use in the markets: It’s good to have a few French phrases handy to enable smooth market transactions and relations…and also to know how much to buy since the French use the metric system.

“Bonjour Madame / Monsieur!” (Always greet French vendors with a Bonjour and Ma’am or Sir. This goes a long way towards a good shopping experience.)

“Je voudrais un kilo de pommes, s’il vous plaît” (“I would like about 2 pounds of apples, please.” Since a kilo is about 2.2 pounds, you can ask for a pound of some by saying “un demi kilo,” a half kilo, or “400-500 grammes” which is about a pound.)

“Une tranche de pâté, s.v.p.” (A slice of your paté, please.)

“Encore un peu, s.v.p.” or “un peu moins, s.v.p.” (A little more, please, or a little less, please.)

“C’est combien?” (How much is it?)

“C’est parfait, merci.” (That’s great, thanks.)

“Merci beaucoup, Madame. Au revoir.” (Thank you, Madame. Good-bye. Be sure and close your shopping transaction with a nice thank-you and good-bye–it’s required French etiquette.) 

Final tip: After you’ve finished shopping, take a rest at a nearby café with the locals. You’ll overhear the latest gossip and can enjoy people-watching as the market winds up for the day. Have a coffee or do as many French do and celebrate market day with a glass of wine or pastis—even in the morning!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

To find great markets wherever you are in France, consult guidebooks for the towns or cities you’ll be visiting. Markets are always noted there. In addition, you can browse the French tourist office websites “Office du tourisme” which will post market days. For a good tour of Paris or Provence markets, check out these books below. Bonne lecture!

 

 

 

  

The French Cookbook Club Friday, Mar 10 2017 

France and food – what a match! The joys of the French table are legendary and for good reason. France is endowed with a magnificent array of culinary specialties, products and traditions which make sitting down to a French meal one of the finer experiences on earth. Happily, you don’t necessarily have to live in France to enjoy these culinary riches. Cooking and eating French style can be shared anytime, anywhere. And for the seventh year in a row, French Affaires is hosting our unique “The French Cookbook Club” as a special way of cooking, savoring and sharing French cuisine with like-minded gourmet friends on location in both in the U.S. and now also in France.

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Each year, French Affaires’ founder and France expert Elizabeth New Seitz chooses a distinctive focus for our French Cookbook Club season. Our past themes have included Americans cooking in France – think Julia Child and Ina Garten, French chefs, a spotlight on La Varenne’s Anne Willan, French cooking in America, and more.

Via specially selected cookbooks, our French Cookbook Club explores the best of French culinary traditions. Typically each quarter, we read and cook our way through a superlative French cookbook. We gather for a seated multi-course dinner to taste our recipes and enjoy an evening of great French cuisine, wines and conversation. It is a unique chance to really get to know French cookbooks already in your culinary library or add to your cookbook collection as the French Cookbook Club continues. We also have added an annual French Cookbook Club trip to France to experience French cuisine in its authentic home environment and to actually cook and dine in France together. And of course, our French Cookbook Club dinners and trips are festive occasions to make friends with others interested in French cuisine and l’art de vivre!

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This year, with Elizabeth on the ground in at her home in the French countryside, our French Cookbook Club 2017-18 theme will highlight this wonderful French connection: “From Elizabeth’s French Kitchen ~ Cooking & Dining French-Style”

Along with the dinners and annual France culinary journey, our French Cookbook Club is expanding to include a quarterly French culinary experience sent directly to you from France. Elizabeth has specially chosen topics for French spring, summer, fall and winter – for each of the four seasons, you’ll receive a gift of goodies directly from her French kitchen in the village of Courances. Your culinary goodie box will feature a beautiful compilation of French recipes, food stories about cooks and food producers in France, cooking quotes, dining table ideas, food market happenings, cookbook suggestions, online French cooking resources, France culinary travel ideas, Paris restaurant and food shop updates, French terms in the kitchen, and more  – the very latest from Elizabeth’s kitchen and from being out and about in France. In addition, the culinary box will include several gifts you can use and put in your own ‘French kitchen’! It will be like receiving a delicious ‘taste of France’ in your mailbox every season. Our French Cookbook Club 2017-18 quarterly goodie box topics will feature “French Kitchen Gardens” for spring, “A French Cook’s Tools” for summer, “Cooking with the Seasons in France” for fall, and lastly for winter, “French Holiday Dishes from Throughout the Year.”  

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Our French Affaires’ French Cookbook Club 2017-18 Schedule

Part One) French Culinary Goodie Boxes from France 

SPRING 2017 – “French Kitchen Gardens”

I n France, kitchen gardens and herb gardens are a way of life. This quarter’s culinary treat box from Elizabeth’s kitchen will showcase everything about the French potager and how the French incorporate fresh, simple, colorful and flavorful garden bounty into their French cooking. Elizabeth will include recipes using what’s fresh from her garden and from local market produce as well as from her neighbor the nearby Château de Courances huge potager. We’ll take a tour of the 7-acre Courances kitchen gardens and see what their indefatigable gardeners are up to. We’ll also see how French restaurants change their menus according to garden and food market offerings. We’ll get ideas on how to grow something – whether or not you have a green thumb. Even if you don’t have a kitchen garden, the goodies and recipe features of our spring French culinary goodie box will make you want to celebrate vegetables and herbs French-style in your kitchen and cooking.

SUMMER 2017 – “A French Cook’s Tools”

This season’s culinary goodies will focus on cooking tools and techniques essential to a French kitchen. What are the top 10 tools for a French home kitchen? For a French chef? How do some specific French utensils transform your cooking experience? Which French antique and vintage culinary cookware, tools and accessories make your kitchen as fun to look at as to cook in? What’s the story behind Dehillerin in Paris, Julia Child’s go-to shop for everything cooking tool related? We’ll also highlight French recipes and dishes that use mainstream and specialized utensils. Not to be missed will be the resources for new and antique culinary pieces both online and in France. Of course, Elizabeth will send you her all-time favorite French cooking tool so you’ll have one in your own kitchen. And cooking tool stories and easy tips from French friends and cooks will make this a special culinary goodie experience!

FALL 2017 – “Cooking with the Seasons in France”

Fall is a great time to think about the seasonal food calendar in France. French cooks look forward to each season with delight and allow the time of year to influence their culinary efforts. And seasonal doesn’t just mean fruits and vegetables in France – cheeses, meats, wines, and more all have their moment in the French culinary calendar. In our French goodie package this quarter, Elizabeth will share a host of season-oriented culinary ideas including vintage and modern points of view on French seasonal cooking, a top easy-to-make French recipe for every month of the year so you can try your hand at a French foodie calendar, and more. We’ll also cover the great French foodie festivals that take place in France all year long to showcase France’s specialty food items. In addition, Elizabeth will share her list of favorite French seasonal products and producers so you can order in the U.S. or pick up some in France whenever you’re here. With this culinary goodie connection, you’ll get a great feel for the rhythms of the French cooking year and how it makes eating and dining very meaningful in France.

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WINTER 2017 – “French Holiday Dishes from Throughout the Year”

We’ll round out the year of our French cooking goodie boxes with a focus on holidays in France. Of course, Christmas and New Year’s are when the French pull out all the stops for their holiday meals. So we’ll have a treasure trove of recipes, dishes and desserts from this celebratory time of year. But there are a host of other fêtes and celebrations with their signature dishes and traditions as well, including the yummy galette des rois for Epiphany, crêpes for Chandeleur, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter, Bastille Day cookouts, and more. We’ll even touch on regional variations for some of these holidays including Les Treize Desserts (Thirteen Desserts) from Provence – a wonderful Christmas custom going back centuries. As always, Elizabeth will handpick the gift goodies plus the compilation of recipes, stories, travel recommendations, and resources all inspired from her cooking and dining adventures in France!

 Part Two) French Cookbook Club Dinner(s) in Dallas – To Be Announced  

Part Three) FRENCH COOKBOOK CLUB Cooking Trip in France

~ Spring/Summer 2018 (Specific dates to be announced)

We’ll be scheduling our cookbook club dinners and France trip as our travel calendar permits – stay tuned!

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Here’s how the French Affaires’ French Cookbook Club works:

Part One) French Culinary Goodie Boxes from France – Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter 2017

-       Sign up for the 4 French Cookbook Club goodie boxes. The cost for the full year – spring, summer, fall and winter – including packaging, shipping and postage to your home is $195. To subscribe, send us an email at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com, and be sure to provide your current U.S. mailing address. Payment may be made by check (made out to ‘French Affaires’ and sent to PO Box 25536, Dallas, TX 75225) or online at http://www.frenchaffaires.com/registration_information.htm .

-       As each goodie box is hand created and assembled by Elizabeth, we have a limited number of subscriptions available. You’ll want to sign up early to reserve your spot!

Part Two) French Cookbook Club Dinners in Dallas (Dates TBA)

-       Sign up for the French Cookbook Club dinner online (will be posted when dates announced). Make sure to get our cookbook selection.

-       Read through our cookbook selection and choose a recipe that you would like to make. Each cookbook club guest is asked to choose one recipe from the following categories: appetizer, starter / salad, soup, main dish, vegetable, dessert.

-       Prepare your recipe and bring it to our French Cookbook Club evening along with your comments on the recipe-making process—was it easy? was it challenging? what aspect of French cooking did you appreciate in this recipe? would you make this recipe again?

-       Attend the French Cookbook Club evening and enjoy a brief overview of the French cookbook and its author by French Affaires host Elizabeth New Seitz. Our cookbook introduction will be followed by a four-course seated dinner of the various dishes prepared by fellow French Cookbook Club guests. Our French meal will be accompanied by specially selected French wines.

Part Three) French Cookbook Club Culinary Journey to France ~ Spring / Summer 2018 (Dates TBA)

-       Our unique France cooking adventure dates and itinerary will be finalized as soon as possible. Preference for trip spaces will be given to those who have participated in our French cookbook club dinners, trips and/or French culinary box subscriptions. The 2018 trip registration form and deposit will confirm your space in this extra-special France travel experience.

-       French Affaires’ can help you with travel arrangements before or after our culinary journey dates for a seamless trip to la belle France!

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Bordeaux is the New Paris Friday, Mar 3 2017 

The French sleeping beauty has woken up. Bordeaux has become the modern, hot, hip place to be in France. Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, you can’t help but feel the vibe every time you step out into the city streets. Named for the ancient Roman site of Burdigala, Bordeaux has it all – history, architecture, art, music, nightlife, cuisine, wine, shops, parks, gardens, modern transport, good employment, and much more. And it’s located smack in the middle of the best wine country in the world. In fact, Bordeaux is so noteworthy that the city of approximately one million inhabitants was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007. And this year,  the travel guide Lonely Planet named Bordeaux the number one metropolis to visit in the entire world!

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Bordeaux has been a favorite of mine for years with its impressive medieval gates, elegant 18th and 19th century architecture, terrific cuisine, and superb situation along the Garonne River. And it’s been fascinating to see its urban renovation in progress. In 1995, Mayor Alain Juppé began a program of renewal, and Bordeaux has never looked back. First off, to combat its shabby, run-down exterior, the city incented residents and property owners to clean the facades of their buildings. Most residents responded and the beautiful blond stone shines bright once more. However, you can see below where a few Bordelais (residents of Bordeaux) have held out against the clean-up project and black soot remains on their building (or even their PART of the building) – and paid fines as a result!

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Bordeaux also has been cleaning up its dull and dilapidated industrial riverfront, tearing down old warehouses and creating new outdoor spaces and view-friendly development. To my mind, the stunning Place de la Bourse overlooking the river is the city’s centerpiece with its wonderfully symmetrical architecture set off by mirror fountains. 

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Also critical to breathing new life into the city was the installation of a modern tramway system which crisscrosses the town making it very easy to get around. Bikes are another great way to travel, thanks to kilometers of good bike paths and trails. And Bordeaux also decided to make large parts of the historic city center pedestrian only. Bustling shops and restaurants attract patrons day and night, particularly on the Rue Sainte Catherine the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.

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Getting all the buzz these days, however, is smashing new Cité du Vin on the Garonne River north of the center city. Hailed as Bordeaux’s version of the ’Guggenheim Bilbao’ or Paris’s ‘Fondation Louis Vuitton’, the museum and cultural center focuses on everything about wine including the design of the building. The daring architectural curves of the upper portion are meant to resemble wine swirling in a glass and also the eddies of the Garonne outside. The lower part takes on the form of ship which recalls the centuries old shipping and wine trade of Bordeaux. The Cité du Vin offers exhibits, events, tastings, restaurants, shops and other activities all year round – click here for more details. It is the latest must-see for anyone interested in wines and their cultural significance in France. 

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We could go on and on about all the other things to see and do in Bordeaux. A few of the most important include the Esplanade des Quinconces – the largest square in France and one of the largest in Europe, the historic St. Pierre district, the Aquitaine Museum covering prehistory to modern times in Bordeaux and southwest France, the Bordeaux Fine Arts Museum, many churches in the center city, the Grand Théâtre – Bordeaux’s gorgeous opera house second only to the Palais Garnier in Paris, the antiques district, and Bordeaux’s lovely Botanical Garden and Public Gardens. And of course the shopping. You can find top designers and brands as well as local specialty boutiques. My favorite French scarf designer has their headquarters in Bordeaux and their design atelier in a chateau about 40 minutes outside the city – great article to come on their fabulous scarves, shawls and accessories!

And then there’s the food. Bordeaux has loads of super bistrots, classic brasseries, trendy restaurants, haute gastronomie (think top chefs Gordon Ramsay, Philippe Etchebest, Joel Robuchon), tapas bars, wine bars, fusion cuisine, and more. With the Atlantic not far away, seafood is a great culinary option as well. And all this can be paired with local wines coming from thousands of different Bordeaux vineyards, wineries and chateaux. Last but not least are two Bordeaux sweet treats that you can’t miss on a visit to this jewelbox of a city. The first is the divine cannelé bordelais – a delicious little fluted cake with a light custard-like interior and dark caramel-like exterior that fits in the palm of your hand. Culinary legend has it that the recipe was invented around 300 years ago by convent nuns eager to use up the egg yolks given to them by local vintners; the yolks were left over from the wine-making process when stiff egg whites were used to filter wines. Whatever the recipe’s origin, you’ll want to taste cannelés from a good shop such as Baillardran (see below) which makes them the old-fashioned way.

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Finally, Bordeaux has a specialty for chocolate lovers too – its version of the truffle. As soon as you arrive, be sure and head to the historic chocolate shop Cadiot-Badie for a box of ‘diamants noirs’. These ‘black diamonds’ feature a chocolate ganache interior flavored with crushed grapes soaked in Bordeaux wine and are enrobed in dark chocolate and then rolled in fine sugar crystals for a little culinary sparkle.

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To sum up, Bordeaux is now a true destination and not just a side trip. If you haven’t been, be sure and add it to your France visit list ASAP. And if you haven’t been in a while, it’s definitely worth coming back to see the city in its revitalized glory. As for me, it’s on my visit-as-often-as-possible list - I discover something new every time I’m there. Fun, dynamic, modern, historic, interesting, elegant, profound, Bordeaux might just be the new Paris.

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Photo courtesy of the city’s convention bureau

How to Get There

Bordeaux is accessible by plane, train or automobile. Air France has multiple flights a day from both Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports. This summer, a new super-fast TGV line will make it possible to get from Paris to Bordeaux two hours and four minutes, down from three hours and fourteen minutes. (With such a short journey now from la Capitale, the Bordelais are bracing for all the Parisians who will be zooming down from Paris for the weekend!)

Join French Affaires in Bordeaux This Fall!

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Our ‘Fall in Southwest France Trip’ this October includes several days tasting the pleasures of Bordeaux plus experiencing the delights of the Bordeaux and Dordogne countryside. For the full trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at French.culture (at) frenchaffaires.com. A bientôt!

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