Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Visit a French Market

My family and I were fortunate enough to host a French exchange student in my last year of high school... and I've been fortunate enough to keep in touch with her, getting to know her sweet family in the process. During my mom and sister's visit, the six of us escaped the crowds of Paris for Fontainebleau. This charming Parisian suburb is known for its scenic forest--formally a favorite hunting ground of French kings and now a popular weekend getaway for all city-dwellers. I especially love it for its market though. It was my mom and sister's first visit to a French one.
Crowds were bustling, vendors were shouting (occasionally), and English was nowhere to be heard on that Sunday morning. As it would be most others, I assume. In these way, markets are very much unlike museums. Very few of the products are preserved (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables), there are no suggestions as to which route to take, and interaction with others is necessary. It occured to me then that "the market" I've come to appreciate might be an intimidating environment for my mom and sister, and any newcomer for that matter. I tried to guide them through with the best of my non-expert tips I've developed in the past few months...

1. Bring more than one reusable tote, preferably a strong one. I've visited markets with "a list" but  always end up getting more than I bargained for (no pun intended). There's always a more diverse selection than expected.
2. Have cash! (Perhaps this should have been my first tip.) Very few merchants accept credit cards. Thankfully, I've found most markets are close to at least one bank. Fontainebleau's, for instance, is in the city's center square.

3. Arriving early provides the best selection. Arriving late provides the best prices. In other words, there's no wrong time to go to the market :).

4. Ask questions. Market-vendors and -goers are probably part of the same community and I've found them to be both friendly and helpful when I thoughtfully practice my French. I doubt I'd be able to navigate my way through a cheese selection without, "Excusez-moi, comment est-ce le goût?"
5. Do a lap before making any purchases. There is undoubtedly going to be more than one flower stand as well as one for every other kind of product so its nice to scope out quality and selection first. Lines are indicative of both.
6. Enjoy samples if you can. Although pain d'épices is not my favorite, I was thrilled that myself, my mom, and my sister were able to try it the weekend before last. How festive.

7. Observe the transactions. I've found that handling items, including fruits and vegetables, before purchase isn't often done in France... even if the baskets are within reach. Follow the example of the customers in front of you.
8. Expect seasonal. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables are the most readily available (and cheapest) so it'll be obvious what is in season in that sense. You may be surprised to find, however, that particular game, foul, fish, breads, pastries, and wine are only available at specific times of the year. The same goes for holiday treats; of course! Enjoy them while you can.

Le Place du Marché de Fontainbleau
Où? Le Place du Marché, 77305 Fontainebleau
Quand? Tuesday, Friday, Sunday, 9am-1pm
Comment? RER/TGV

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