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 d'Aligre

Market baskets on sale at La Graineterie du Marché

Market baskets on sale at La Graineterie du Marché

The Marché d'Aligre is a favorite among Parisians, so much so that it has almost a cult following of loyal shoppers. Despite its renown and reputation, I never really got what it was that charmed people so much about this market. 

Since I judge markets mainly on the amount of farmers present- of which Marché d'Aligre has none-it seems normal that this market never made it into my list of favorites. Still, with so many friends and food writers singing the praises of this celebrated market in the 12th arrondissement, I couldn't help but think that I was missing out on something.

Wild Asparagus on sale at Marché d'Aligre

Wild Asparagus on sale at Marché d'Aligre

Inspired to understand the lure of Marché d'Aligre, I asked my friend Terresa to make me on a tour of the market, which is in her neighborhood and also a spot she knows quite well, often taking students there to stock up for the vegetarian cooking classes she gives in her home.

Teresa graciously accepted to be my guide, and we started our visits with warm croissants devoured on the doorstep of the covered market. These delicious croissants from a nearby bakery were to be the first of many snacks involved in our grazing tour of both the covered and open air market, along with the lovely shops lining the Place d'Aligre.

Lemon bars at Jojo & co

Lemon bars at Jojo & co

Once inside the Marché Couvert Beauvau we were offered spoonfuls of olive oil at the organic and artisanal ingredients shop Sur les Quais and then moved on to lemon tarts at the market's newest addition, a charming bakery called Jojo & co.

After chatting with the friendly vendor at the specialty Italian stand, it occurred to me that the success of a market isn't necessarily based on the sum of its producers, but also depends on the commitment of vendors to curating quality products.

We then wandered the outdoor market which vies for space with an all-day, everyday, flea market on the square. Terresa agreed that not much of the produce here is worth buying- although there is one vendor that she trusts- Gilles Flahaut, who brings excellent seasonal produce, mostly from France, to the market.

Mini Poivrons at Gilles Flahaut's stand

Mini Poivrons at Gilles Flahaut's stand

And then we came to my new favorite Paris shop- La Graineterie du Marché (8 place Aligre). This tiny shop is lined with bin upon bin of dried grains, beans, flours and fruit. Bulk herbs and spices complete this cabinet of curiosities, where hard-to-locate fèves and farines find a home.

In addition to the exciting food selection, La Graineterie also sells a wide range of products for the home. From practical accessories- sponges, soaps, and dishtowels- to unique finds such as vintage cookware and eclectic collections of flatware to handy - and handcrafted- market baskets and bags.

Stores like La Graineterie, kept by friendly shop owners who offer a unique service to the community, are reasons why Parisians get so attached to their neighborhoods. I could imagine the simple joy that would be coming home from work on a cold winter day and popping into La Graineterie du Marché for a handful of dried peaches- just the right out-of-season treat to warm you up and encourage you to get through those dark, dreary Paris nights.

La Graineterie du Marché, 8 place Aligre 75012

La Graineterie du Marché, 8 place Aligre 75012

More stops to nearby shops further confirmed the charm of the Marché d'Aligre neighborhood. We enjoyed a pastéis de nata and bought amazing olive oil at the Portuguese specialty shop Ma Petite Epicerie  (18 rue d'Aligre) which was followed by an impassioned cheese chat at the fromagerie L'Alpage (15 rue d'Aligre). We couldn't help but stop at Les Chocolats d'Aligre (13 rue d'Aligre) which is stocked with chocolates made by some of the most celebrated chocolatiers in France.

Selection of artisanal cheeses at L'Alpage, 15 rue d'Aligre 75012

Selection of artisanal cheeses at L'Alpage, 15 rue d'Aligre 75012

After our market visit, while enjoying glasses of natural wine at Le Siffleur des Ballons, I thought about me and Terresa's gourmet day and how happy a great Paris neighborhood makes me.

Something about neighbors working and shopping together, taking time to share their passions for their country's greatest products, or specialty ingredients assembled as a means of sharing culture- this is what makes markets the precious gems of a community.

Happy and well-fed, I felt satisfied in finally understanding what makes the Marché d'Aligre so special.

Marché d'Aligre

Place d'Aligre, 75012

m° Ledru Rollin (line 8)

Open: Tues-Sun 7:30-2:30 pm

Marché du Mois: Marché Vincennes

cabbage This month's marché takes us a step or two outside of Paris to the neighboring town of Vincennes. This quiet suburb, which visitors might be drawn to for its wooded Bois de Vincennes or enchanting Parc Floral (which hosts an excellent jazz festival every summer), is easily arrived at using the Parisian metro or bus system, making it practically a part of the capitol.

Every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday morning in Vincennes the main drag of rue de Fontenay fills with market stalls that sprawl and flood its sidewalks and squares.

seb veggies 2

Marché Vincennes brings a wide variety of not only vegetables, meat, fish, and cheeses, but also specialty items including an Italian deli counter, cakes and other baked goods, and a selection of organic produce stands.

The city embraces "bio", or organic, products so much that it has even created its own label that organic producers proudly display at their market stands (the city also provides a list of organic vendors at the market that you can download here).

The city of Vincennes has created its own label for organic vendors at the market (pictured here)

Be sure to visit the crowded stand that is Chez Sébastien, which is manned by one of the market's most vibrant vendors, Sébastian. The day of my visit, I was fortunate enough to stop by his stand accompanied by the charming Jessie Kanelos Weiner of fame.

Jessie happens to be one of Sébastien's favorites, so upon arrival we received the royal treatment- welcomed with gifts of horseradish root and cabbage and encouraged to take our time shopping.

seb veggies

As family farmer Sébastien chatted up the morning's line, joking and sharing the intimate details of his life, we browsed the fruits and veggies- all seasonal and absolutely beautiful.

Sébastien's farm is in the Mayenne region west of Paris, a corner of France that I know rather intimately, having spent 8 months there as an English assistant ten years ago. Knowing what I know about the taciturn nature of the inhabitants of this region, it is no surprise that Sébastien is eager to chat when he gets to Marché Vincennes. So stop by, say hi, and if you figure out what to do with a kilo of horseradish root, let me know!

chez sebastien

 Marché Vincennes

rue de Fontenay, Vincennes

m° Bérault (line 1)

Open Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday 8h-13h