Monday, October 8, 2007

Les Mecs du Marché

Les “Mecs” du Marché*

Housed in a very unassuming, dare I say ugly, 1970s-esqe building is the delightful Marché de Batignolles. The Marché is located about one block (I know that this term is not used in French-speak, but I have yet to find a better descriptive), from our apartment and it is where I met my met my first three friends in Paris: Monsieur vin, Monsieur fromage et Monsieur legumes, aka, “Les Mecs”. The marché is a great addition to the neighborhood. Rather than having to go to several different locations to get food, and/or settling for the Monoprix (well, yes, I love monoprix too, but that is another story), the marché holds a dozen different vendors for cheese, produce, meats, fish as well as Lebanese and Italian food products, all under one roof.

From the beginning, my several-visits a week to the marché were a source of enjoyment and diversion. My boyfriend (who I refer to as M) would offer to come with me, but I almost preferred to go alone. Of course because it is not that big, you have to select your vendors and stick with them. I couldn’t imagine having bought vegetables from one vendor and then the next day going to another. I felt too guilty and like I was cheating on them or something, so since day one, I was committed. I would do my shopping with Monsieurs vin, fromage et legumes and have brief conversations with each of them, not only to practice my French, but because they had suddenly become familiar and friendly faces. Plus, I secretly needed people to talk to besides M.

When I went grocery shopping in New York I would typically have my ipod on as I zoned out down the way-too crowded aisles at the Chelsea Whole Foods Market, but here in France food shopping is an experience in which you can ask opinions and advice about a certain tomato or goat cheese, or ask what is of the season and the answer is not only sincere, but at least five minutes long and containing some reference to origin. I came to love these exchanges and grasped for new vocabulary in order to discuss the ripeness, texture and smell of various food items. Soon Mr. Wine was asking me what I was planning to cook for dinner so he could suggest an appropriate wine. “Spicy Italian” I would say, thinking that the truth, pasta and canned tomato sauce, might be a turn off and sever our new relationship for good. I love talking with the wine guy because in fact one of my objectives while in Paris is to learn about French wines, beyond drinking them. When I first mentioned that I wanted to learn about grape characteristics, le vrai terroire of a certain chateau, etc., he didn’t dismiss me as some silly American with false hopes of understanding the legions of history involved with French wines but rather, he graciously provided relevant and interesting information. And so I slowly began working from one end of the store towards the other (by region), and having a nice little lesson in French to go with it. Granted I only understood about 40% of what was being said at first, either due to my poor French or because I was always trying to think of what I would say at the end of his sentence, but I learned, and I felt for a moment like I was talking with a friend, having a nice, relaxed conversation.

My relationship with Monsieur legumes was typically more formal at first. As he stood holding court behind the large array of fruits and veggies, I would get nervous trying to come up with the proper names of certain produce I didn’t know and which were not within an arms reach. But soon we eased into friendly familiarity too. I would ask about a certain vegetable I had not seen before. “Comment on prepare cette legume?” and he would give a precise description for preparation and other items to go along with it. He would soon indicate that the figs were particularly not-to-be missed right now and probably could leave the peaches to rest. Produce can often be a hard thing to let someone else select. I would not necessarily trust the man at the local Bodega in NYC for instance, but here, if I want an avocado ready in 2 days, he actually selects one that is good to go two days hence.

Monsieur fromage is a tall, thin man with tattoos on his arms. He is utterly professional and courteous, but I have seen him taking breaks around the marché, laughing it up with his friends. Through him we discovered the most amazing cheese that I could literally eat every day. Le Broucarou cheese is a medium hard, white cheese with a nutty, honey-esque flavor and M and I have discussed the idea of moving to Broucarou (if it’s a real place) and becoming cheese makers. His generous tastings, despite the line of people waiting, have allowed my knowledge of cheese to developed exponentially, not only making it a fun process to identify and determine the weeks selection, a good thing, but has also contributed to making my jeans tighter, which is not a good thing.

Thanks to les mecs du marché I was able to establish an immediate sense of place in Paris. There is something comforting for me about food shopping, but when it’s combined with professional, gracious people who give you the best recommendations and think to ask how your trip was to the States, it makes for the feeling of having settled into a bit of familiarity and a sense of home.

Go visit the marché des batignolles, located at 96 bis rue, lemercier, on the corner of rue brochant and rue lemercier. It is open Tuesday-Sunday 8-8, closed between1-4 for lunch.,501.html

** Mecs can be defined in English as “dudes.”

1 comment:

Oliver in Mink said...

I love the description of Monsieur fromage, as well as all of the photos on your sight. Keep posting so that I can live vicariously through you! :-)