My Saturday tradition is to do my shopping for the week in the open-air market in one of Renne’s largest squares, the Place de Lices. I’ve gone every Saturday since I moved here, unless I was out of town. It’s my favorite day of the week, not only because I don’t have to wake up early for work, but also because I get to smell, see and taste the best of what Brittany has to offer.
There are many farmer’s markets throughout the week here. I am very lucky to be able to get farm-fresh produce almost any day of the week. But I am particularly fortunate to have access to this market at the Place de Lices as it is one of the largest and most-reknowned open-air markets in France.
There really is no way to describe the vastness and the vibrancy of it. The Place de Lices itself is a huge, lively rectangular area, surrounded by bars, restaurants and posh estate agencies. It butts up against the beautfiul old cathedral, and is located one block away from the historic center of Rennes (built in the 15th century). But the best aspect of the Place is the huge glass, copper and brick buildings in the center of it.
These normally empty buildings are used for cultural events such as trade fairs and fundraisers. Every Saturday, however, is when they truly spring to life: they fill with vendors from across Brittany who sell everything from local honey, fresh-made cheese, sausages and pastries to Chinese food and discount wine. The building is so tightly packed that it is always a tricky operation to weave in and out of all the other shoppers whie holding bags full of produce and fragile eggs and goat cheese. And that is just one of the buildings: the other is completely full of butchers (and these are big buildings – so that’s a lot of butchers!).
But before you even reach the glass and copper buildings, you must negotiate your way through the stalls surrounding them. I’ll take you through my normal route: I meet my friends at Place St. Anne, and we find our way to the market. We enter at the far end where all the flower vendors are gathered.
We then make our way down the many rows of produce vendors, winding our way past old men on bikes, old ladies with straw bags bigger than themselves, and musicians bellowing so as to be heard above the din of the crowd .
There are hundreds of different vendors, some selling olives and tapenades, or else spices and dried fruit, or farm-fresh produce. I was so overwhelmed the first time I went to this market, wondering how I would ever choose what vendors to buy from. Now that I’ve been going for four months, I finally have it narrowed down to about 6 vendors. I have my garlic and onion guy, my apple guy, and then about 4 different vegetable vendors that I bounce between: one who has the best radishes and the other who has the best mache and leeks.
Once we have all of our produce, we brave the crazy interior of the glass and copper building. If my claustrophobia ever threatens to engulf me, I just take a deep breath and look up at this:
Or else this…
Hey, nothing calms me down like goat cheese! And this goat cheese is EPIC. I get some every week, to enjoy on salads and toasted baguette. I think you all know from last week’s post how I feel about goat cheese salads. In addition to the goat cheese, typical purchases include a half dozen eggs, a chicken to roast, some honey, and usually some sort of treat to snack on like some homemade macarons or a mini kouign-amann (the Breton delicacy that I posted about once before).
And arguably the best part of the market lies between the two glass buildings, where all of the pre-made food vendors are. There are vendors sporting huge drums of paella, North-African and Burmese food, and there are too many galette stands to count.
Every week, without fail, my friends and I turn to each other, galette in hand, and sigh, “what will we do when we don’t live in France anymore and can’t come to markets like this every week!?” Because yes, while it is true that farmer’s markets are growing more and more popular every day in the States with the whole eco-friendly craze that has engulfed us, there is one big difference: in France, this food is affordable. If I buy all of my produce at the open-air markets, it is much cheaper than if I buy it at the supermarket. And, it is local and sustainably grown. This is not the case in the States, where farmer’s market fare is often much pricier than their supermarket counterparts. So, please US, get your act together or I’ll never move back!
But, if we’re being honest here, I may never move back anyways….not when I can eat goat cheese and kouign-amann everyday!