It’s typical to visit castles and chateaus while in France, but give me a food market any day. Blois had one of the best. So first thing Saturday morning, we went there to figure out our menus for the next five days. This was the biggest market I have ever seen anywhere. The 120 vendors (!) are set up in the streets along multiple blocks. It was a wonderful opportunity to stroll and mix with locals doing their usual Saturday shopping and visiting with their friends.
Of course we saw the usual fruit and veggie vendors. We planned to eat in, so we bought broccoli, cauliflower, the long milder radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, two kinds of mushrooms and two fat carrots. By this time in our journey, we were carbed out with too many batards and croissants and were craving salad. Interestingly, we never saw celery our whole time in France, though the Blois Market did have root celery.
As for fruit, that’s a great France food story. On the way to Blois, we were searching for an orchard, Les Vergers de Fontenay. Unfortunately, they were closed. However, there, in the middle of the countryside was a hut with several large vending machines.
Looking closer, we saw thin split-wood baskets of apples, pears, plums and peaches for sale! I haven’t seen split-wood packaging baskets in years. The units also had juices, melons, even eggs. We unloaded all of our heavy euro change and bought pears, peaches and different mixtures of juice. So no fruit needed at the Blois market.
We looked at the poultry vendor (too hot to roast a chicken), and the beef, veal and pork people, but what caught my eye was the fish guy’s offerings. I love preparing fish, so we bought two beautiful chunks of tuna.
Of course, there were ‘fromages de France,’ (cheeses) but our frig was already stocked with goat and sheep cheese from Saumur; we had to have something to snack on during the trips between cities. I wonder what those special cheeses were in the back case.
Actually, all the food at the market was a product of France or grown in France as far as we could tell. This was true in every food market and grocery store we saw during our trip. Admittedly, we only visited smaller towns, but people here appear to buy local and eat what is in season.
We also saw minimal local food packaging especially outer wraps, and very little of what existed was plastic or plastic wraps. Examples: the yogurt we bought in Cancale near San Malo came in glass jars. Salt came in cloth bags and glass jars, and I never saw eggs in Styrofoam cartons. In fact in one store, I had to transfer the eggs (complete with feathers) from a large container into the small six-pack carton that I bought. Vendors wrapped sandwiches and pastries in paper. In another market we saw freshly cooked beets with no pre-packaging at all. The veggie vendor in Blois did provide plastic bags, but we had to pay for them and they were sturdy enough to allow reuse, apparently expected.
We saw a couple of sausage and ham vendors. The canard (duck) sausages must be something special because they were already gone. They even had paper cones with chunks of sausage to eat on the go – more of that minimal packaging.
This market also had an olive guy who patiently posed dropping olives into a bag while we took photos (crazy American tourists), a vendor that sold only onions, and another that sold garlics – so many kinds. An elderly couple was selling their home-made pickles in recycled glass jars, and others sold fruit juices and jams.
The non-food front was also well stocked, with baskets, shoes, clothes, dish towels, and kitchen utensils. I bought an olive oil dispenser top, and a dress that I tried on over my other dress. There was even a vendor with mattresses set up for people to try out! Who buys a mattress at a farmer’s market?
Then we saw the most drool-inducing sight yet: rotisserie chickens with potatoes underneath, soaking up all the drippings, and two giant pans of paella! We bought all of it – a plump whole chicken roasted to perfection, a container of potatoes with an extra ladle of chicken drippings added, and a container of paella. Oh my. Never shop for groceries while you’re hungry.
So much for making the tuna when we got back to the flat. It was clear we’d be eating the chicken, potatoes and paella first. We left the market with enough food to last the five days we’d be here, and then some. I have no regrets. Experiencing the food is a huge part of the adventure.
For other essays on our rural France journey, see:
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