Saturday, August 10, 2013

European markets

Seasonal, Fresh Produce

Narbonne marketplace
That is what the European markets are about. Buying food direct from the producer, in season, fresh and very tasty. You also get the opportunity to speak directly with the producer and get a feeling for the love they put into growing and producing their foods. These markets are varied - small open air markets in villages and hamlets sprawling through the streets or under cover in larger towns in designated market places. Some run every day, others in smaller towns once or twice a week. But wherever you are, you can always gain access to a market in a 20 km radius of your position usually any day of the week.
fresh seafood in Narbonne
The smells and aromas are tantalising and stimulating. The smell of freshly baked baguettes or of poultry being rotisseried in the market place. The pungent aroma of cheese, the exotic smell of spices and preserved sausages and meats.  The hustle and bustle of the markets all add to the atmosphere. You see the locals catching up on their weekly gossip or just having a friendly chat with a local producer or rival stall holder.
Knowing that the cherries were freshly picked from the tree this morning or that the strawberries or tomatoes actually taste as good as they look all add to the appeal of the market. When we were in France this time stone fruit were in season. The peaches and nectarines looked absolutely amazing and the smell was incredible - and they tasted as good as they looked - plump, juicy and mouthwateringly sweet. It's amazing how much better everything tastes when it is that fresh. The soils in Europe must be laden with nutrients - the foods aren't forced to size by being watered excessively. They are grown at their own pace with a concentration of flavour rarely experienced in food bought from supermarkets in Australia, although I have to admit that many fruit and vegetables brought from French supermarkets are still full of flavour and juiciness.
Fresh peaches in Nice
Not only are fruit, vegetables and small goods sold at markets but local craftspeople and artisans use this as an opportunity to showcase their talents. Flower markets also proliferate in the larger cities such as Paris and Nice. There are even special markets for "attic sales" which can divulge a treasure trove of goodies that have been hiding in peoples attics for years - maybe even centuries!!
During this holiday we visited markets in the Dordogne at St Cyprien and Sarlat. The Sarlat market is quite big and runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays, whereas St Cyprien holds it market on Sunday. As we were staying in St Cyprien it was fantastic to just be able to wander from our accommodation into the market and buy fresh fruit and vegetables and freshly cooked produce for our lunch and dinner.
Flower market Nice
In Narbonne, the market runs 4 days a week usually in Les Halles near the canal. There is a large range of fresh produce including seafood (see above) and several butcher's stalls as well. Nice old town has the market in Cours Saleya where it sells flowers, fruit and vegetables during the morning and then the area becomes a lively restaurant district for lunch and dinner. If you wander through the side streets of old Nice you come across shops that sell spices, cheeses etc. The aroma is amazing and the colour of the spices lends a real exotic feel to this part of Nice.
There are streets in Paris which are known as market streets. Living near one of these streets means you can go every day and cook and eat with only the freshest, tastiest  ingredients. Rue Cler in the 7th arrondissement and Rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement are two examples. During the day dedicated boulangiers, patissiers, bouchiers, epiciers, chocolatiers ply their trade while in the evening the streets come alive with bars, bistros, brasseries, street entertainers. Just wandering down these streets in the evening you can absorb the atmosphere, knowing that for hundreds of years Paris locals have been coming here to purchase their culinary needs and to socialise.
Wherever you are in continental Europe, markets add that touch of authenticity that enlivens all the senses and tantalises the taste buds. If you don't do anything else while travelling make sure you at least sample fresh food in the markets.

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