The Fall Market in Paris

Fruits, vegetables...and more! #france

When I lived in San Francisco, the joke was that you only could tell what season it was because of what you saw at the market. Living in a city where the temperature doesn’t waver much during the year, Paris is a different story. Summers can be very hot and winters can be very cold (neither of while I was told about before I moved here…), but fall and spring are ideal for being outside. We’ve had a few chilly nights this week that have tempted me to unearth my winter comforter, but I’m trying not to go *there* just yet.

The upside is that the markets are transitioning nicely, from summer to fall, with a few stragglers like Reine Claude plums and black figs. One sure sign of autumn are wild mushrooms, which will get more plentiful as the weather changes and it gets damper.

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Above are girolles that Romain insisted we buy. (They were €8, so it was hard to disagree.) But I go back and forth trying to figure out why in France they’re girolles, and in the US they’re chanterelles. Kind of like why first courses are called entrees in America, when in France, the entré is served at the beginning of the meal, which makes sense since entré means “enter.”

Nowadays I embrace differences in cultures, which is a nicer way to live and saves a lot of time trying to figure all those things out. One thing we do agree on, at least in our household, is that we both love wild mushrooms. The girolles/chanterelles got sautéed by Romain with some garlic, parsley, and thyme. Another cultural difference (sorry!) is that Parisians aren’t all that fond of garlic. They don’t mind it, but don’t want to taste it. Happily Romain loves l’ail and cooks with it as much as I do.

Okay…another difference are table grapes. Seedless grapes have become almost de facto in America whereas grapes avec pepins (with seeds, in the muscat grapes below) are the standard in France. Since Romain discovered raisins* sans pépins in the States, he’s not that interested in going back to picking out pépins.

*I said I wasn’t going to talk about differences anymore, but raisins in French is the word for fresh grapes and raisins secs are…raisins. Just another fyi.

Since I promised not to talk about differences anymore, I won’t mention how beets in France are sold already cooked. That goes back to the days during wartime when farmers got extra rations for energy so they cooked the beets for customers, which makes sense. I see people nowadays at the market buying 1 (one) turnip and I wonder if they turn their ovens on for an hour to roast a lone turnip? So it’s not surprising they still carry on that tradition with beets, to save energy.

I was on team ‘pro-precooked beets’ for a while until I started buying raw beets and roasting them myself, which were better-tasting. When you find fresh ones, market sellers will ask if you want to keep the greens on they’ll hack them off for you. Not everyone wants to bring the greens home, so a resourceful friend of mine always asks for them from vendors when she seems them heading toward the waste bin at the market stalls…and cooks them up.

My favorite way to serve cooked beets is to make a simple vinaigrette and cut the beets in cubes, and toss ‘em in the dressing. Walnut oil with salt and pepper is another favorite, and goat cheese is the ideal accompaniment. The former San Francisco restaurant critic, it was rumored, was so fond of beets and goat cheese together that restaurants made sure the combination was on the menu at all times in case he came in. Heck, if the combination was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

And that’s a big nope…those above aren’t beets. They’re radishes. People are familiar with French ‘breakfast’ radishes, which I hate to break it to you, but no one in France eats radishes for breakfast. At least not in my orbit, which admittedly is usually just Romain. The classic way to eat radishes in France is with a swipe of butter and some sea salt, so perhaps someone out there is replacing their morning toast with radishes? I clearly need to wake up with some other people (but I’d better run that by Romain first…)

You don’t easily find radishes like the ones above, but in the last 5 years, the selection of produce in Paris has become vastly more varied. Fifteen years ago I bought a knob of fresh ginger at the supermarket and none of the cashiers knew what it was.

The producteurs at my market, the Popincourt Market, surprised me the other day with this big basket of chiles at their stand. Those ones are the left are - yes, jalapeños - and I did a public service to my fellow North (and Central) Americans, and let people know on Instagram to come and get ‘em.

Contrary to popular belief, you can find chiles - the hot kind - in Paris, in multicultural neighborhoods like Belleville and the quartier Asiatique in the 13th. They go by the name piments antillais, which the internet tells me are habaneros. But chef Robert Mendoza at Vivant sent me a big remercie/gracias for heading him towards those jalapeños and they still have them by the basketful.

A must-stop stand are the cheese ladies, as we call them. There are two women at the Popincourt Market that always have a vast selection of cheese, piled one on top of the other, which they accompany by signs that say “Genial!” or “Super agréable!” That, coupled with their well-priced cheeses - and their efficiency at making the long lines move quickly, makes them the most popular stand at the market.

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I’ll admit, when it’s my turn, it’s hard not to buy a lot of cheese; I always include a slab of Comté, above, and a goat cheese wrapped in a chestnut leaf called Mothais sur feuille. I often feel like a dope when I post pics of cheeses I buy on social media because I never remember the names when people ask me (heck, I hardly remember what I had for lunch an hour ago…), but also sometimes the cheeses are just called something like “La Tomme Blanche” which basically means “White cheese,” and doesn’t sound as enticing in English.

Things are definitely revving up for winter vegs, including savoy cabbages (below) and squash. Frankly, I’m not sure what people in France do with cabbages. In spite of all the Instagrammable photos of charred cabbage with turmeric-kefir reduction and fermented chai butter emanating from the US, I prefer cabbage raw, thinly sliced, with shredded carrots and a sharp dressing that’s heavy on the Dijon mustard and vinegar and perhaps chives of chervil tossed in for good measure.

Winter also means it’s oyster season again - yay! For those of you learning French, oysters come in a wooden box called a bourriche. We eat a lot of oysters, sometimes by the bourriche, and while I’m shy about asking, Romain isn’t and asks for a taste before buying a dozen. He’s either a lot more charming than I am, or more French. (Which basically is the same thing.) Either way, he always gets one to taste…and makes sure I get one, too.

There are a lot of different oysters from a lot of different places and it’s best to ask the person at the stand which ones meet your parameters of pleasure. As you can see, they usually offer up several white wines that pair well with oysters, and if you’re charming, they’ll often throw a few lemons, which even I get when I’m not with Romain, making their stands a one-stop-shop for a perfect winter dinner of les huitres, which I see more of in our future, especially around the holidays when the frenzy for les huitres hit its peak.

Not to brag, but I sometimes am surprised to know more about regional French cuisine than those born in France simply because many don’t look outside their region. That’s not a criticism, just something of interest, and explains why (to visitors) you can’t get bouillabaisse, cassoulet, or socca readily in Paris. And if you do, you might be disappointed.

In Bordeaux, raw oysters are sometimes served with grilled sausages, which is a fantastic combination, but draws disbelieving looks when I mention the combo to Parisian friends. Romain’s mother was from Brittany and she didn’t believe me when I said you could cook oysters. She was shocked! (She was also shocked when I made mousse au chocolat and did the usual warning about raw eggs. She was perplexed, and said “How else would be you making chocolate mousse?”) I know about oysters and weenies from my days cooking at Chez Panisse, which may have been from Jean-Pierre Moullé, the chef who was from Bordeaux.

We’re also on the cusp of scallop season. French coquilles Saint-Jacques are sold and often served in their shells. For those learning French (me included), if they’re not in their shells, they're called noix Saint-Jacques. Noix means walnut, which likely refers to their size, just like a café noisette (hazelnut) refers to a hazelnut-sized dollop of steamed milk on top, or…the color of the coffee when the milk is added, depending on who you ask.

The internet loathes absolutes but I’ll risk its wrath by saying that I dislike cooked fennel, but will do a 180º and say that I love raw fennel. Go figure. I enjoy the slight anise taste and the pleasing crunch. Adding a handful of thinly sliced fennel to a green salad perks it up like there’s no tomorrow. On the same track, I I generally dislike anise…except anise seeds when they are whole in cookies and biscotti.

Figs seem to be on the wane, but apples and pears and quince are ramping up. Food writer Ed Behr noted in his highly enjoyable and informative book, The Food and Wine of France, that French apples are great for baking but aren’t great eating apples, which I never thought about, but after reading his observation, I tend to agree. I like sharp, acidic apples, and French apples are incredible for baking as they’re full-flavored, especially the ones at the markets which are à l’ancienne, or heirloom varieties, and are hard to beat in tarts, including the classic tarte fine aux pommes and French apple cake.

We’ve almost had to say goodbye to questches (above), which I’ve held on to as long as possible by roasting them…

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…but I’m happy to say hello to pears!

France has some excellent pears, from wine-like Comice pears that need to be handled gently, to aromatic Williams pear, which famously get distilled into Pear William eau-de-vie, and are also excellent for baking and eating, as well as Conference pears, which are related to Bosc pears and are perfect for poaching. I’ve got a bunch ripening now in my kitchen, to do just that.

Market Info

Pictures were taken at the Popincourt Market.

A list of outdoor markets in Paris, provided by the city of Paris, are here. There are markets every day across Paris, except on Monday.

Some favorite markets are the Bastille market (Thursday and Sunday, although Sunday can be very crowded after 10am) and the Marche d’Aligre, which is open Tuesday through Sunday and there’s also an interesting flea market in the center of the market. The Barbès market is not for the timid but if you want to dive in and see another side of life in Paris (watch your belongings!), that market is quite the scene.

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