My first advice to people planning a trip to Paris is to find out where their local market is. Paris markets are a hub of activity and exchange, a place where locals and visitors can not only shop but also take part in a ritual that supports local farms and seasonal produce. More than a museum or a bus trip, markets can teach you about the value that a city puts on shopping for, preparing and enjoying food.
Paris markets remain lively points of sale for produce, meat, cheese and flowers, but increasingly the farmers have been edged out by wholesale stands that are stocked with foods from all over Europe—and sometimes the world. However, a handful of local farmers remain in the city’s open-air markets. While these farmers may not be certified organic (the certification is very expensive, and many farmers don’t want to pay for it), they do not use pesticides and can practice natural agricultural methods when growing their crops, which are diverse, seasonal, and suited to the region. Here are two of my favorite markets where locavores can delight in the freshest fruits and vegetables that Paris markets have to offer.
Thursday and Sunday, 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Boulevard Richard Lenoir, in the 11th Arrondissement
Metro: Richard Lenoir (line 5), Bastille (lines 1, 8, 5)
The friendly rapport that vendors have with shoppers makes one feel instantly at home at this charming market. There is a wide variety of fresh produce available, with two independent producers selling fruits and vegetables from their farms.
The marché Bastille is one of the markets attended by M. Martinet, a farmer from the Ile-de-France, who excels at growing spinach, lettuce, cabbage and all things leafy. Tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs also make an appearance in the summer months.
Another vendor to visit at the marché Bastille comes from the Eure region in Normandy. This stand, located on the corner of rue Sedaine and boulevard Richard Lenoir, sells heirloom varieties of all sorts, including multicolored carrots, black and purple radishes, and bright yellow and purple cabbages. You can also buy farm-raised duck, chicken and quail at the stand.
Marché Président Wilson
Wednesday and Saturday, 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Avenue du Président Wilson, in the 16th Arrondissement
Metro: Iéna (line 9)
The pristine 16th is not an arrondissement that is visited often by the wayward traveler, but a few points of interest—museums, shopping and a great view of the Eiffel Tower—are enough to get people over to this posh quartier from time to time. What may be most interesting about this arrondissement is its markets, one being the marché Président Wilson, a favorite among foodies, as it is home to superstar veggie cultivator Joël Thiébault. Thiébault’s family has been selling vegetables at Paris markets since 1873, and his respect for his family and the region’s history is clear in his commitment to ensuring a place for heirloom varieties of locally grown vegetables at the market.
Legumes de Joël Thiébault.
Early morning visits offer insight into what the choosiest chefs in Paris restaurants will be serving with their plat du jour. Arriving early might also afford you some time to chat with this rock star of the vegetable world, as well as get descriptions of the truly magical heirloom vegetables on display.
Thiébault grows these variétés anciennes on his farm in Carrières-sur-Seine, just 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside Paris. In autumn M. Thiébault will have uncommonly colored carrots, all sorts of potatoes, beets, turnips, a wide range of herbs and salads, cabbage and, if you’re lucky, bunches of kale—a much sought-after and rare commodity in Paris.