Antiques, Organics, and French Pate: Diving into the Markets of Paris

Antiques, Organics, and French Pate: Diving into the Markets of Paris

The Markets of Paris guidebook navigates the City of Light not through its monuments or art galleries, but by relating the history and charms of its neighborhood marketplaces.

For the updated second edition (released May 15)—which includes new photos and restaurant listings, plus sidebars on bakers, oysters, cooking classes, and more—original co-author Dixon Long collaborated with writer-photographer Marjorie R. Williams, who spent six months last year exploring 124 different food, crafts, and antiques marchés, all organized by arrondissement in the book.

Williams became enamored with Paris’s produce and flea markets when she first visited in 1995: “I was staying in Fontainebleau, and these stalls seemed to spring up magically overnight.”

Along with the mountains of organic produce, books, and bargain-priced antiques, there was also a sense of intimacy that she recalled from her childhood visits to farmers’ markets in rural Pennsylvania.

“Americans carry a lot of misconceptions about Parisians—that they’re unfriendly or cold. At the markets, you see the person-to-person interactions that wipe all of that away,” she says.

“It’s very social. Whether you’re the only shopper, or there are five people waiting behind you, everyone gets their chitchat with the vendor.”

Neighborhood markets, she says, are true reflections of their residents, so while the open-air Saxe-Breteuil in the 7th arrondissement might be relatively chic and high-end, the North African markets, like the Barbès open-air food market in the 18th arrondissement, are more diverse, bustling scenes.

They’re also some of the writer’s favorites, but she may not have discovered them were it not for the book. “I’ve been lucky enough to see Paris a few times, but being focused on markets allowed me to experience it differently, leading me to interesting places like Rue d’Aligre, which is virtually unknown to tourists,” she says.

Increasingly, stalls are serving up ethnic dishes like paella and manoushe, and French delicacies like the family-made pâté Williams sampled at Marché Raspail: “There I was in Paris, feasting on a platter of duck and goose pâté while this lovely man sat there explaining the differences to me.”

“It’s so easy to weave going to markets with whatever else you’re doing; there’s always one nearby,” she says. And if you’d like to do more than observe quietly, the writer recommends diving in—just remember where you are.

“After I switched off that little button in my head that was demanding American-style service, I really enjoyed it,” she says.

“You don’t have to be fluent in French, but there are three magic words you should always use: bonjour, merci, and au revoir,” Williams advises.

“Very basic words, but even if you butcher them, vendors appreciate it—and you’ll be treated more like a neighbor than a stranger when you inevitably return.”