Going to the French market has taken my interest in food to an entirely new level.
Don’t get me wrong, the Aquidneck Grower’s Farmer’s Market in Newport still has a very special place in my heart, but the concept of shopping at the French market for an American is an incredible sensory experience.
I’m fortunate enough to live steps away from the square where the market is held every few days—I never thought I could be seduced by the smell of hot rotisserie chicken or romanced by a piles of white, red and pink peonies.
A Brief Comparison of the French Market vs. U.S. Farmer’s Market
Farmer’s markets in the United States share some similarities with the French market, but the ritual is viewed more as a tradition in France. Going to the farmer’s market in the United States can signify privilege, because it can still be expensive for some populations, despite welfare programs like Rhode Island’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The interest in farmer’s markets is stronger in urban-metro areas, but farmer’s markets are not necessarily available or affordable where food deserts exist. American supermarkets are slowly making local and organic options more affordable, but it’s still viewed as a privilege to be able to shop at Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck). Different arrondisements have different market days, but I feel like the French market is available to everyone, despite income level or background.
Keep in mind that less pesticides are allowed in the EU, so although nothing may be branded as organic, you can trust that most of the produce is more fresh. I’ve found that I’ve eaten more fruit and vegetables in France that I wouldn’t normally buy in the United States because I didn’t trust the freshness.
It’s only been a month since I’ve moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine, but I’ve been to the market quite a few times already. Here’s a quick guide on how to shop the French market without looking painfully American:
Make a list of ingredients
I’m the type of person who could easily any self-control when it comes to shopping in the market, so I need to strategically plan meals through the week (or at least until the next market day). I’ve had great luck looking for easy, healthy recipes on Delish and flipping through Saveurs magazine. Translate any vocabulary words for ingredients you’ll need.
Bring reusable canvas totes
It’s more practical to carrying all of your fresh market finds in durable totes instead of flimsy plastic bags, not to mention being environmentally responsible is very chic.
Some vendors do accept debit cards, but cash is much easier for everyone.
Get your pick of the best selection before it gets overwhelmingly busy later in the afternoon or during weekends. Be sure to walk around and explore the market to see what different stands have to offer.
Make an effort to speak French
As an American in France, it’s only fair that you speak French. Depending on the day, I can get by speaking to vendors with little trouble…or there’s a lot of pointing and fixing of pronunciation. I’ve definitely been flustered on a handful of occasions, but take it with humor—that’s the joy of living in another country!
Listen to the vendors
I had a particularly positive experience at a fromagerie stand when the vendors rightfully pinned me as an American in Paris—I ordered my boyfriend’s favorite cheese, which encouraged the woman next to me to order the same cheese and up-sell her order. When I wanted to order one type of cheese, the vendors encouraged me to try another cheese that was considered more French. They cut me a slice to taste—of course I loved it and bought it. Sure, the vendors
probably definitely did an up-sell, but it was definitely worth the cultural experience of learning more about the cheese.
Look for key entrees or pre-made meals
Who doesn’t love a good shortcut? I’ve had phenomenal luck buying fresh rotisserie chicken and homemade pasta, even Vietnamese noodles and spring rolls. Cooking everything at home is fun, but sometimes it’s nice to give yourself a break.
Explore the market and have fun!
It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment—especially on your first visits to the market—and finish your grocery shopping without fully looking around. There’s much more to the market than food, there are also stands for clothing, accessories and some small kitchen ware. Watch what the other Parisians are doing, how they’re interacting and what they’re buying, because that’s the best way to learn how to navigate the French market!