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There are about 70 farmers markets scattered throughout Paris, each with its own charms or, in some cases, amusing sideshows that range from wandering street performers to costumed vendors and everything in between. Most Parisians tend to shop in their home neighborhoods; and most visitors choose their market visits based on their travel schedules.
And then there are those markets locals and travelers alike build their itineraries around: the Saxe-Breteuil market just behind the Eiffel Tower is one such market you should explore.
You must go on a Saturday or Thursday morning; arrive at any other time and you’ll find no evidence of its existence. The photo at the side was taken shortly after market closing; they fold up fast!
This is a true open-air farmers market with temporary stalls on avenue Saxe between avenue de Ségur and place de Breteuil. It’s just two blocks long, which is ideal for travelers who will do plenty of walking in Paris even without this little tour. Take the Métro to the Ségur stop and walk a block to the market.
Shutterbugs: it’s a scenic, tree-lined market loaded with photo opportunities.
Preparing for your visit
If you must choose just one day to visit, make it Saturday when larger numbers of farmers arrive with goods toted in from Normandy, Brittany and the surrounding countryside. Still, don’t balk if Thursday is what your travel plans permit. The Thursday pace is a bit slower and vendors have a bit more time to answer questions from curious travelers more accustomed to modern supermarket fare.
If you’re staying an a hotel or apartment, ask if there is a shopping trolley available for your use (more common that you might expect) or pack your own small, portable cart. The market stalls form a row beneath large trees, so if you go after or during a rain shower, things and people will be wet…go prepared. Rain or shine, carry a few empty plastic bags that’ll come in handy even though the merchants will give you bags with your purchaseses.
The Paris 7th arrondissement is a desirable residential area filled with photogenic Haussmannian buildings and locals with pups in tow. Have no worries about throngs of shady characters lurking at the market fringe. A traveler’s biggest worry should be rising early enough to score the best items. And that means arriving by 8am and with euros, not credit cards, if you’re looking for the very nicest items.
Should you arrive when crowds are slim, walk the length of the market and note the best offers and prices before shopping on the shuffle back. Others advise shopping one side, then the other. Whatever works for you, it’s all good.
Friends who live in Paris usually mention the fishmongers from the coast and the Italian deli stands as standouts at this market, but you’ll also find farmers who bring poultry and meat, cheesemongers and dairy farmers, apples and cider from Normandy, honey, olives and antipasti, flowers, bread and beautiful tartes, and so on. This market may not be an official bio (organic) market, but most of the artisanal food growers and producers take distinct pride in selling only the best.
The produce moves with the rhythm of the seasons. In spring look for baby white asparagus and greens. Early summer you want French strawberries and melons; late summer, figs. In autumn and early winter look for mushrooms and Normandy apple farmers with a cider you’ve got to try if you’ve never had it before. In late winter: root vegetables and lemons. Make your last stop the rotisserie chickens and gigantic skillets pans filled with fried potatoes that are impossible to resist.
Be aware that customers permit the vendors to choose and package the items—they want to serve you and share their expertise, yes, but they also don’t want customers messing up the artfully arranged displays. If you see other customers placing produce into baskets provided by the merchant, do the same.
Want to make a good impression? Hold back and don’t interrupt, sigh or gripe if a vendor seems to ignore you while taking care of the French. At this market in particular, chances are very good that those folks are regulars who meet weekly and if you were a regular you’d get the same bonus. Be patient, it’s worth the wait and if time allows you a second visit, you might be recognized and welcomed like a local.
Samples are generous; you’ll figure out how it’s done, but if not, hang back and watch how the locals do it. The person behind the counter likely grew or produced the food, so be generous and be sure to say “merci” to express your gratitude. You aren’t obliged to buy, but . . ..
Food is usually sold by kilos or grammes, in most cases.
Shoppers who enjoy haggling sometimes can score deals when a farmer has a bumper crop or at the end of the market day.
What to buy to stock your rental apartment
If you’re staying in an apartment with a refrigerator larger than a shoebox and a stove with an oven, by all means load up on whatever tempts you. Pay attention to the fish stands that carry large prawns, moules (mussels) generously scooped, shrimp, scallops, all varieties of fresh small and large fish and so on, depending upon the season.
The olive stand has a long counter bearing olives of every color, size and origin—yes, sampling is permitted, just ask nicely. In fact, most of the artisanal vendors at this friendly market are very happy to explain with pride what’s special about their wares.
The fresh, wet pasta you’ll buy from the Italians will be lonely without some cheese from your favorite of the cheesemongers and a bit of sausage from your choice of butchers.
The apple lady from Normandy has more varieties of apples than most travelers know; ask her which are best for eating and which are best to make a simple dessert out of baked apples—any traveler can manage that, right?
Remember that neighborhood boulangeries are commonly closed or open only very briefly early on Sunday mornings, so do grab your daily bread. Let yourself be drawn toward the bread stands and keep your eye open for the fruit breads and chocolate bread. We’re not talking stale Christmas fruitcakes, but moist raisin-nut rye that taste a bit like grandma’s Eastern European “bobkas.”
Say “oui, SVP” to the man with the rotisserie chicken and potatoes and you might choose this as your “stay in and chill” night. The vendor can give you eating utensils and containers for a picnic or for transporting your warm food to your hotel or apartment.
And, yes, of course, you should buy a whole fruit tart or whatever calls to you so you have something nice waiting at your flat after a long day of sightseeing.
After the market, continue walking toward the Eiffel Tower or Invalides in search of a picnic spot, no matter the season.
What to buy for the trip home
Confit de canard and goose foie gras, handmade soap, flower honey, Olives de Lucques oil (winner of countless awards and prestigious distinctions) and anything else sealed in a tin that’s small, portable and approved for legal import.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a foodie, we think you’ll find the Saxe-Breteuil is the ideal stop for travelers with limited time but a big appetite for sampling an abundant Paris market. And when you return, please tell us your favorites at this or any Paris market.
On avenue Saxe between avenue de Ségur and place de Breteuil, Paris 7th
Métro: Line 10, Ségur
Open: Thursdays & Saturdays, 7am—2:30pm
City of Paris info for all Paris markets
©Dali Wiederhoft 2011
Dali Wiederhoft is the executive editor of BonjourParis. Please click on her name to read more of her stories published in BonjourParis.
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