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During my tour in Provence I realised that I have visited roughly as many fresh produce le marché in as many days. I am, after all, travelling through the South of France from Toulouse, gorging my way up to Nice.
There are possibly few who visit these parts who aren’t or can’t be charmed by the markets with the jewel-like piles of neatly arranged vegetables and fruit, the saucisson in tight rows and the cheeses both sweet and pungent. Vendors greet familiar faces, some with smiles, others surly as if the morning coffee has yet to kick in. I ogle the goods, elated with a sense of eater’s freedom, but aware of a foreboding gloom setting in. Gloom that this variety of fresh, inexpensive produce so readily available to cooks in France, is not a part of my daily reality. One tug and the rug will be pulled out from under me, back to the land of overpriced smoothies and falafel wraps served by a bearded lad covered in arm tattoos proclaiming to grind the chickpeas by hand in his studio apartment. Good for the lad and his muscles and the youngsters who feel virtuous supporting the local/ethical/slow movement that has spread steadily throughout wealthy cities. The advantages look dim in the light of back-to-your-roots eating, as practicing in these parts. For the moment, I have found a way to enjoy the pleasures of the French markets, of the relatively uncomplicated food politics and the simple joy of buying good food, in season and cheaply.
The vendors are often the farmers themselves, sometimes a middleman who has held a stall for over 30 years. I am introduced to one such man who is renowned for the almost perfect strawberries he keeps, more expensive than others but hand selected himself. I spend nearly an hour one sunny morning in Aix-en-Provence picking out cured sausages, baguette, honey, fresh goat’s cheese, olives, newly-in-season strawberries, and pastries for a lunch picnic, eating the leftovers in the car the next day. Other times I book cooking classes where I know part of the lesson will involve shopping at the local markets for ingredients. I can not feel more envious than I do when spying the locals wheeling little trolleys, filling them up with the day’s shopping and returning to their homes, knowing they can pop out for garlic or lemons or flowers for the table at any time. And for that reason I always buy two of everything at the markets. There are a huge number of markets in the South of France, and you need to know which ones are open on which days, which is why this calendar is useful.
Some of my favourites include:
Fresh Produce Market
Place de Verdun
Best for: local salt, herbs du Provence, honey and Madagascan vanilla.
Place Richelme (daily market)
Best for: Cheeses from goat cheese maker and Marie with best zucchini blossoms when in season.
Best for: cheese, lavender flowers and fresh meat.
Produce market on Sunday.
Garéoult, Provence Verte
Best for: A very small, local market with incredible charcuterie.
Cours Saleya, Nice
Best for: Colourful characters such as Theresa (not her real name) selling socca and the many coffee shops around the market to rest or refuel so you can browse and shop for as long as you wish.