Marché du Mois: Marché Charonne

Markets, and pretty much everything else, are hit and miss during August in Paris. The city's shops, restaurants, and bars systematically shut down throughout the summer, but especially in août - when iron shutters descend on storefronts for anywhere from a week to the entire month. 

Chefs, bartenders, and baristas aren't the only ones who enjoy a congé annuel, or yearly break. Farmers also often take a leave of absence from their market stands. At my local market, Marché Ornano, I've had to get used to having Ile-de-France farmer Jean-Michel Delahaye set up his stand only twice a week, instead of his usual tri-weekly appearances. Staying in Paris during the month of August truly makes you appreciate the people who make the city feel like home the other 11 months of the year

But life goes on, you get used to scanning shopfronts from afar, looking for signs of whether or not their open, holding your breath to see if you can step into your favorite bar or boulangerie. People band together and create resources to keep each other informed of closures, sometimes through word of mouth, other times through Paris by Mouth which puts together an invaluable list every year of What's Open in August. No such list exists for Paris's outdoor markets. 

You never know what you're going to find at any given neighborhood market in late summer Paris. It was with this in mind that I made a recent trip to Marché Charonne with Sarah Mouchot co-owner and head chef at Holybelly.

Sarah lived near Marché Charonne for a few years with her partner Nico after they got back from a three year stay in Australia. She told me she had fond memories of this corner of the 11th arrondissement, where her and Nico hatched the plan that would make Holybelly a reality. Marché Charonne, Sarah recalled, was a lovely market with a farmer that came regularly to sell local produce

This being August, our market rendez-vous on boulevard de Charonne was amidst a scattering of market stalls, proving the market population drastically decreased. Sarah's farmer wasn't in attendance, but we did find another independent producer at the Fruits de la Tour stand, which featured fresh fruits and vegetables from the Drôme region, about 500 kilometers south of Paris

In addition to about a half dozen different tomato varieties, the stand had a huge selection of seasonal fruits. If the downside of August in the city is annual closures, ubiquitous street and building construction, and the occasional sense of being alone in a post apocalyptic Paris, the relief comes in the form of summer fruit.

Melons, apricots, mirabelles, and peaches were bright and tempting. While we decided what to buy, Sarah told me stories of making jam with her parents and how their family had perfected the recipe. She had just come back from a visit with her family, bringing with her batches of homemade jams that will be served at Holybelly. When it was our turn with the farmer we filled our bags with fruits and tomatoes, excited about all the possibilities they offered. 

"You really only need one farmer at a market" Sarah told me, as we spoke about the importance of fresh, seasonal produce. Sarah's right, even if it isn't the farmer you were looking for, one will do. One farmer can give you peach cobbler, tomato salads, and, of course, the perfect homemade jam

Sarah's Homemade Jam

Ingredients

500 grams sugar

1 kg fruit of your choice

Lemon

Half vanilla bean

3 grams agar agar

Preparation

In a large pot, combine sugar and fruit. Add a squeeze of lemon to brighten up the flavor and half a vanilla bean to add depth and complexity. Bring to a simmer then add the agar agar and boil until your fruit is just cooked so you keep the taste of the fresh fruit (3min for raspberries, 20min for strawberries or apricots). Fill up your resealable jars (that you boiled in water for one minute to sterilize them, along with their lids), close tightly with the lid and turn them upside down until they are cooled down, in order to make your jar air tight! 

Marché Charonne

Boulevard de Charonne, 75011

M° Alexandre Dumas (line 2)

Open Wednesday and Saturday, 7h-14h30

Marché du Mois: Marché Couvert St. Germain

Chances are, unless you've taken a guided tour of the 6th arrondissement, you probably haven't wandered into Marché couvert St. Germain. A regular stop off point to show tourists what French cheese and charcuterie looks like, this small market is emblematic of most covered marchés in Paris, which is to say farmerless markets with a focus on specialty products.

With the exception of Marché des Enfants Rouges, which occasionally has a local producer selling seasonal produce, the covered markets of Paris are largely outlets for refined products, from cheeses to meats to regional specialties of all kinds.

Certain markets excel at offering a wide variety of quality products- such as the Italian and artisanal counters at Marché couvert Beauvau or the fabulous fish and cheese vendors at Marché couvert de Passy. Others are a bit less exciting, Marché couvert St Martin comes to mind...

The advantage of Paris's covered markets is that they figure amongst some of the few of the city's food markets that fit your work schedule. Which is why, even though I prefer the outdoor markets of Paris with their potential for farmers and fresh produce, I also visit the covered markets from time to time to see if they hold any surprises. 

Marché couvert St Germain straddles the line between interesting and industrial. The organic shop is very proud of itself, but mostly sells pre-packaged gluten-free crackers and a few rather sad looking vegetables. Another disappointment is the  choice of hot lunch options, including a Thai takeaway counter and several small restaurants that line the perimeter of the market, which do little to inspire one's appetite. In this regard, Marché St Germain would do well to follow the example of Marché des Enfants Rouges

The most interesting aspect of the market is, as it happens, exactly what flocks of guided tourists gather around when entering the market: the cheese counters with a wide variety of fromage from around the country and other Franco-centric specialty shops.  

Les Jardins du J'GO sell a large variety of preserved items, including homemade jams, soups, sauces, and dried goods. The "meat market" may have been pandering to these very tourists, but their selection of French origin meat looked legit and was presented with care and professionalism. 

If you happen to be guiding a tour through the 6th arrondissement, or in need of some last minute cheese for a picnic, pop into Marché couvert St Germain. Otherwise I suggest you wait for the neighborhood to celebrate the weekly apparition of Marché bio de Raspail to do your market shopping. 

Marché couvert St Germain

4/6 rue Lobineau, 75006

m° Mabillon (line 10)

Open: Tues-Sat 8-20h, Sun 8-13h30

Marché du Mois: Marché Barbès

Last night, after a long day and a stressful week, I decided the perfect way to wind down would be to watch Back to the Future II. I'm not sure why that seemed like the right thing to do, but it just did. The next day, I was reminded of a scene from that classic film of my childhood while visiting the newly opened Brasserie Barbès that took over the space left behind by an abandoned building under the Barbès-Rochechouart metro station. 

The reason my encounter with this mini-mansion of a "brasserie" (brasserie is the French word for "brewery" which, upon the disappearance of actual breweries in France, came to be used in reference to any place you can get beer and food- the fact that there is now a growing number of real breweries in Paris- not to mention one just down the road from "Brasserie" Barbès makes the name seem like at least an ignorant oversight and a most a slap in the face) reminded me of the previous evenings cinematic séance was because it made me feel much like Marty McFly, who is gobsmacked upon entering an 80's themed restaurant that mimics the era he just flux capacitored out of. Unlike Marty, however, I wasn't seeing a decade of my youth mimed back to me 30 years later, but rather I was seeing a 2015-themed restaurant in 2015

Brasserie Barbès has everything a young, white, gainfully employed urbanite expects to find in this day and age; white walls, high ceilings, meticulously placed draping green house plants, and an over-priced menu that includes dishes elaborated by adjectives about the ingredients rather than their origins, uninspired organic (not natural)  wines and (besides Deck & Donohue) a list of borderline or not at all craft beers. The latter is possibly the most scandalous given that the Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or  , brewer of iconic made-in-the-18th-arrondissement beersis less than a ten minute walk away. 

The fact that this establishment straddles the line between priding themselves on transforming a neighborhood that many are wary of by creating a banal space that residents can't afford and profiting off, and poorly replicating, a food movement that is already alive and authentic in that very vicinity is annoying. The fact that it's happening down the road from me is infuriating. Because I love this neighborhood. So much.

 photo courtesy of Ben Nerot

photo courtesy of Ben Nerot

I love the combination of cultures and languages and the fact that here people sit on benches in the streets and remember your name in stores. That they'll pick up your wallet and call you to come get it after it fell out of your bag while walking through the Chateau Rouge neighborhood (true story). 

I love that the 18th is home to new addresses that respect the neighborhood they call home. Café Lomi has gently introduced craft coffee into French culture and been host to many community events. Le Supercoin, with its exclusively French craft beers and total dedication to showing all PSG matches and holding regular Belote tournements. Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or with each beer lovingly named after a street that makes up this diverse and animated part of Paris

And that's just to name a few. There's so much to discover and enjoy around Barbès.  And maybe I'm just being grumpy, but Brasserie Barbès doesn't make that list

The anecdote to seeing your adopted 'hood turn into a theme park for tourists and Parisians who wouldn't come here otherwise is crossing the street (preferably from the Tati side of Barbès, because even that horrible store and its Made-in-China stock has a soft spot in my heart- its bright fluorescent sign announcing that you've made it home after a chilly night's bike ride) and going to Marché Barbès.

Marché Barbès is a mash up of sounds and shopping caddies and slaps on the back as neighbors run into each other. It's a mess and it's kind of a stressful shopping experience, but that's Barbès

Piles of fresh herbs stacked on boards over milk crates are scattered throughout the market. I dare you to get a whiff of fresh mint or cilantro and keep walking. You won't, because the temptation is too strong to stop and pick up a bunch for 30 centimes before going on your way. 

The fish at Marché Barbès, for reasons unknown to me, is amazing. Rascasse on ice inspires a Soupe de Poisson or, in summer, a market fresh Bouillabaisse. As the metro crashes overhead like the soundtrack from a line for a rollercoaster, you weave your way through an international crowd, ogling North African pastries, dried figs, fallen-from-the-truck goods, and stands full of produce that s priced for the neighborhood

There aren't any farmers at Marche Barbès (though some of the vendors sell locally grown produce) but for the price of a pint at Brasserie Barbès you can buy enough to make a homemade meal to share with family, friends, and neighbors and have a totally unco-optable evening.  

 photo courtesy of Ben Nerot

photo courtesy of Ben Nerot

Marché Barbès

m° Barbès-Rochechouart (line 2 &4)

Open: Wednesday (8:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m)  and Saturday (7:00 a.m - 3:00 p.m)