“How much more can you say about museums and bridges?” a fellow expat and writer asked me recently, only somewhat rhetorically. Though I didn’t have a response for her, I find it to be a fair question—especially when you live in a city whose main export is its postcard-perfect image.
The bridges and museums of Paris are undoubtedly both impressive and beautiful, but after spending time exploring central Paris you start to feel like the whole city is a museum. After a few days of museum-going, it’s natural to crave a more human, dynamic experience.
Paris is a city that is defined not only by its history, but also by its people. Taking time to watch the locals and adapt to Parisian culture can be both entertaining and rewarding. Nothing is more fulfilling than making a smooth metro transfer or anticipating (and maybe even answering) a question from the boulanger.
History and culture collide at the city’s food markets, making them a great place to participate in Parisian daily life while carrying on the beloved tradition of market shopping. There are over 80 food markets in Paris, some of which date back to as far as the early 1600s. The markets set up regularly throughout the week, all across the capital, keeping the market experience alive and accessible to all.
However, not all markets are made the same. Many farmers have been priced out or simply left the market, to be replaced by wholesale vendors hawking imported produce sourced from large-scale distributors. It is an easy mistake to be taken in by these vendors, as the market context and environment has remained the same; many shoppers don’t notice that the content has drastically changed.
If you want an authentic French market experience—one that combines old-world charm with current foodie criteria—check out these five can’t-miss markets that allow you to discover the city in a whole new way.
(Boulevard des Batignolles, 75017)
This is one of the city’s three all-organic markets (“biologique”, or “bio”, is French for organic). Along with certified organic fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products, this market also overflows with flowers, fresh baked goods, bulk grains and dried fruit, and great people-watching. Grab a hot-off-the-griddle potato pancake or chickpea galette and wander the aisles, observing families, cute couples, and neighborhood chefs in their native habitat. This Saturday morning market is where food lovers come to kick off their weekend, before heading to nearby Le Bal Café or KB Caféshop for some craft roasted coffee.
Before getting your caffeine fix, be sure to pick up freshly laid eggs from La Ferme du Nohain and locally grown veggies from Patricia at Au Val du Coutant. If you’re looking for more greens, grab a fresh-pressed juice from Hermione Boehrer’s stand, where you will also find delicate seasonal herbs and fresh baby greens. Michel Beucher also sells exquisite apple ciders and juices, and will be happy to sing you one of his many original compositions dedicated to the apples of his Normandy orchard.
(Place d’Aligre, 75012)
Marché d’Aligre is like three markets in one. Made up of a covered indoor market that was built in 1779 and an outdoor market that is comprised of stands of fresh produce, it’s also a sprawling flea market where you’ll find everything from used vinyl to second-hand kitchen supplies. The boutiques that line the perimeter of Marché d’Aligre extend the scope of the market and are arguably this market’s greatest draw. La Graineterie du Marché (8 place d’Aligre) is an endearing hodgepodge of dried goods, gardening supplies, and regional French specialties such as Calissons and caramel beurre salé. L’Alpage (15 rue d’Aligre) has a huge selection of artisanal French cheeses and Le Garde Manger (17 rue d’Aligre) specializes in typical products from the Alsace region in France.
(Avenue du Président Wilson, 75016)
Located in the chic 16th arrondissement, Marché Président Wilson would be filed under “perfect people-watching market” if it wasn’t elevated to the status of major foodie destination due to the presence of Joël Thiébault, farmer to the stars. This independent producer is known for his habit of resurrecting forgotten, or heirloom, vegetable varieties—as well as the quality of his produce, grown only a few miles from Paris. Thiébault’s market stand is a who’s-who of VIPs in the Paris food scene. Chefs, restaurateurs, and discerning shoppers flock to his exciting selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
(Boulevard Raspail, 75006)
Another one of the city’s organic markets, Marché Raspail takes place on a cozy street in the charming 6th arrondissement. Here you’ll find many of the same vendors that you will at Marché Batignolles, with the exception of a few additional artisans that you won’t want to miss. A favorite Marché Raspail exclusive, aside from the fabulous oyster vendors who are there throughout oyster season, is O’Regal muffins, where Valérie Debiais sells gorgeous French and Anglo-inspired baked goods, made from locally-milled flour. O’Regal’s signature product is their homemade English muffins, an across-the-pond import that is hard to find in Paris and unparalleled by anything you’d find abroad.
(39 rue de Bretagne, 75003)
Another covered market, Marché des Enfants Rouges is less market and more food court. Around lunchtime this marché gets flooded with locals and visitors from afar, all enjoying a variety of hot lunch options. From fish and chips to sushi to North African cuisine, Marché des Enfants Rouges offers the opportunity to travel through food. Make sure to visit Alain and try his prepared-on-site socca, a chickpea pancake that originates from Nice.
Emily Dilling is the author of “My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes” (September 2015) and the founder of the blog parispaysanne.com, which documents her quest to explore Paris markets and French terroir. Emily’s writing has appeared in Beer Advocate, The Portland Mercury, HiP Paris, and EcoSalon.