Anyone who has never visited Europe often makes the very common misconception that everyone in France spends at least a portion of their day wandering around a farmer’s market. The sun is shining; no matter what time of year, every second stall sells homemade cheeses, someone has bought their chickens which are laying eggs right in front of your eyes, you shout slightly over the clucking while bartering over a bunch of earthy carrots, you take your change from the farmer’s wife’s rough hands before running home to chop up the carrots and throw them into your boeuf bourguignon.
Don’t get me wrong; French famer’s markets are exquisite, and while there are some that are open every day, most happen once a week and most people; the city folk in particular, get their produce from the supermarché.
When I first arrived in France, I too was under the impression that I would be able to buy vegetables that still smelt like soil right outside my front door, but sadly the closest I got was an open-air garage sale selling secondhand skirts and tacky jewellery around the corner from my apartment disturbing the peace on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Being an expanse of green pastures, New Zealand has its fair share of pretty remarkable farmer’s markets so I have made it my mission to visit as many markets as I can around Europe looking for something comparable that I can add to my list of foodie must-sees. After getting off to a bit of a rough start, I would soon find something not too far from my front door.
Le grand marché in Aix-en-Provence is every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, people come from all around to shop, eat and absorb the atmosphere; especially on Saturdays, which are by far the busiest. Aix-en-Provence is a picturesque rural town in the Bouche-du-Rhône region of Southern France and its geological placing makes for a sensually overwhelming variety of fresh, artisanal products. The city itself is a mere stone’s throw from the banks of the Rhône river, just 30km from Marseille, you can count that any fish at the market will be freshly caught, and the olives, grapes and vegetables are grown on the sun soaked plains that surround the city.
The Aix-en-Provence markets are not something you just pop down to to pick up a few things, it really is a whole day event! Roads are closed, squares are packed with as many stalls as they can fit and everyone wanders at their leisure. The warm Mediterranean air mingles with the pollen of the bright flower bouquets, fresh bread and cured meats, creating an intoxicating aroma almost too good to imagine.
We began the day early. Walking out of an ancient stone corridor, we were greeted by mounds of exotic spices, all different shades of an autumnal rainbow piled in neat little rows. Past stalls of old records and paperback novels, we found what we had come for: food! And what a variety of food there was; four of the main squares were condoned off and filled with row upon row of vendors. We wandered for the rest of the morning, our eyes as big as our stomachs as we tried any sample we were offered; bread, salami, cheese, fresh fruit, sundried tomatoes, stuffed olives and roasted nuts. By the time we had tried everything, fearful of missing any morsel, we were faced with the challenge of choosing what we wanted to buy for lunch, only to realise that we were so full that we didn’t need lunch.
After a bit of sightseeing- the cathedral is dauntingly beautiful and constantly filled with the sound of the organ echoing off the dimly lit stone walls- we settled on a capsicum relish, a crunchy loaf of bread and a chunk of gooey cheese. It is fair to say that we had a well-deserved nap on the train home.