One of the reasons I love France, and particularly the smaller towns, is the local market. Not only is it amazing for fresh, local produce but it also serves a very important social goal. Since time immemorial, markets have been where business is done, surely. But it’s also the place where friends catch up on gossip, meet new people and simply share time with loved ones.

There are a few in Montpellier, but I particularly like the one that’s located under the aqueduct that winds its way out of the city to the north. In Uzès, there are two, both are in Place aux Herbes – a smaller market on Wednesday mornings and another larger, busier one on Saturday mornings.

The usually quiet, narrow streets surrounding the Place are teeming with people and more patience than normal is required as I attempt to wind my way through the throngs of people. They’re leisurely wandering from stall to stall, checking out the herbs, kitchenware and the soaps. And they are also completely oblivious to my desperate need to get to “La Fougasse d’Uzès” – the patisserie – for the first pain au chocolat of the day. I mean REALLY!!! Get. Out. Of. My. Way. Already.

Once my system has been kick-started with the combination of delicious dark chocolate and yummy flaky pastry I’m free to enjoy the shopping experience that is market day. It’s an amazing opportunity to buy farm-fresh products ranging from mushrooms and sausage to honey and wine. And let’s not forget cheese and bread!

And I have to say the people watching is fabulous. You might hear more traditional French from the older patrons, slang from the younger generation and various bad French accents (or lots of pointing and shaking of heads) from tourists who are also enjoying the experience. Some market goers are like me – avidly drinking in the atmosphere. But others are grumpy, curt and somber. This business is a means to avoid starvation and that is all.

There are few things as delightful as spending time in in the market. Most of the vendors are established; the longest-serving ones, like the fishmonger, gets the prize location, closest to the entrance. Lively banter can be heard amongst them and between them and their clients. Many people cluster around the boucherie, waiting their turn to get meat for dinner. I don’t recognize a lot of it (how can so many different pâtés made from pork, liver and duck all look the same?)

Today, I’m in search of olives stuffed with garlic. I bought some at a market in Spain a few weeks ago and they were delicious. Unfortunately, it might have been a Spanish thing. The olives I’m finding are marinated in persil (parsley), Herbes de Provence or chilies. There are no less than four different kiosks selling olives, tapenade and nuts. But I can find nothing as simple as olives stuffed with garlic. I did pick up a few yummy medjoul dates for the low price of 7 euros!

Maybe my fascination is because we’re outdoors and I’m very happy because little happens outdoors this late in the season at home. Or perhaps it’s the sheer (semi-organized) chaos in the street. They’re speaking, and I’m understanding, a different language and it makes me feel more like I belong. Whatever the reason, I simply love everything about the market. Next time you’re in Europe, find out if there is a local market and go – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

A few of my best market finds:

  1. The cow drawing I found in Paris for my friend Mars in London. I’m not sure why we were discussing it but he said he loved these simple, pastural cow pictures that had been popular at the turn of the century. A week later, I was at a market/ flea market in Paris, and I found the perfect cow. His wonderful wife Liz had it framed and now I get to see it on the wall every time I visit them.
  2. Local cantaloupe grown around Montpellier in the spring. I’d never had a cantaloupe that fresh and delicious! I can still remember how amazingly sweet and juicy they were. I bought as many as I could eat for the few weeks they were in season!
  3. A summer skirt in a market in Songkhla, Thailand. It’s funny I can’t remember why I needed the skirt so badly. I recall having just arrived after a 24-hour trip from Calgary and having to go to the market to find something to wear. And I still wear it!

Market day musings

Many baskets of olives for sale

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