Market Day…Part One
France is famous for its weekly markets and most locals would do at least part of their grocery shopping (particularly for fresh produce) at a market near them.
In my area of the Dordogne, we have several good markets and one of the most popular is in the bastide town of Eymet. Bastide towns are fortress settlements inhabited by the English during the One Hundred Year War with France. Today, these villages are still popular with the English, many of whom have holiday homes there. In Eymet in particular, it is said that it’s more likely you’ll hear English spoken than French.
The market has an excellent selection of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, flowers and shopping baskets, as well as a few English-operated stalls selling products that the English clientele miss from home - including bacon, which is not sold in France (lardons, the French word for bacon, are just bits of pork fat).
Usually, I just buy flowers and perhaps a baguette at the market but occasionally I buy a few extras such as tapenades and bacon. However, it’s very easy to be persuaded into buying things that you didn’t intend to and sometimes my basket would come home with a lot of extras.
Last week was an example of this. I went for the sole purpose of treating myself to some peonies, which I was hoping had come into season. I parked my car and decided I didn’t need to take my basket as I was only buying flowers and they have to be carried. I walked past my favourite vendor (the olive and tapenade man) who is a real charmer (missing several front teeth, but a real charmer) and he usually gives me lots of samples to taste because in his words he’s “a ladies’ man”. I told him I needed to get some money out before I could buy anything. I then walked past a flower stall (where I never buy my flowers) and saw they had some beautiful bunches of lilacs and only for €3 a bunch! I carried on walking to the ATM and came back past my usual flower seller. He only had one bunch of peonies and they were already in full bloom so no good to buy but I knew the lilacs at the other place would look amazing on my dining room mantelpiece. To get to the flower guy I had to pass the cheese van (where I never buy anything) and a nice round of Normandy camembert (where camembert was invented!) was looking me in the eye. I did some rough estimations - not on the financial value of the items I’d seen - but on how I could carry them back to the car and determined that I would need to buy a basket.
So…first stop was to the basket stall. The basket man who was speaking to me in Spanish with a bit of French thrown in, was trying to upsell me to the grande size but I only bought a medium, so the damage wasn’t large. I then went to the tapenade man, where I selected a few tapenades, as well as a few baby semi-dried tomatoes stuffed with mozzarella. He told me I was a “real lady” as I’d kept my promise and returned. For that, I was given a free portion of hummus. I then stopped at the cheese van and bought the camembert, then thought I should buy a baguette, otherwise what was I going to have the tapenade on? Next stop was for the flowers and just as I thought I was safe and was leaving the market, I passed one of the veggie stands which had ‘steak’ tomatoes, so I bought two of those (they go amazingly with soft goat’s cheese, basil and balsamic dressing with a bit of baguette on the side). I’m not sure whether the motto of the story is ‘be prepared’ (like the Brownies) or whether I need to exercise more self-control.
On another note, last year was incredibly exciting for the area, as one leg of the Tour de France finished in Bergerac and the next started at Eymet. All the towns and villages in the region decked the streets, squares and bridges with yellow and green bunting, and totally got behind the festivities and entertainment. People were so proud of the event coming to our area, the bunting stayed up for months afterwards.
So, if you love fresh produce and love travelling, village life (or in fact, city life as well) in France is a great experience!