Food markets – Le Marché des Enfants Rouges
The quintessential elegance of Paris is directly reflected in its finest restaurants: crisp, white tablecloths and charming waiters welcome relentless gourmets from all over the world in a journey of exquisite taste. Motherland of the greatest chefs, fertile soil for the revolutionary nouvelle cuisine, Paris is unquestionably one of the richest cities for food culture. But far from the shiny world of fancy establishments and even farther from the stereotype of skinny ladies walking in the streets with a basque and a baguette under their armpits, there’s another side of the French capital that is more vibrant, colourful and spicier. It can be found in the contaminations of many ethnic cuisines, merged together in a concoction of food identities. Starting from a backlash of French colonisation in the 20th century, this mix-up of spices and recipes now express the multicultural essence of the city. So tahini find its place alongside the almost infinite row of traditional butter sauces; couscous is as important as bread; baguettes can be dipped in fresh babaganoush.
There’s a place in Paris where to celebrate this great richness. Tucked off the busy Rue de Bretagne, among fancy boutiques, fine apartments and the biggest creative firms in the lively neighbourhood of le Marais, le Marché des Enfants Rouges offers a relaxed and convivial atmosphere in a dense maze of multicultural foods. Founded in the 17th century, le Marché des Enfants Rouges is the oldest covered market in Paris. Its peculiar name (literally: the red children market) refers to the nearby Hospice des Enfants Rouges, an orphanage where children were clothed in red as the color of charity. It was then closed in the late 1990s, but it didn’t take that long for locals to advocate for its reopening.
Today, the market offers a wide range of seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers, freshly baked bread, and a variety of restaurants where visitors can buy cooked meals to enjoy on the spot or on the benches of the nearest square. Curious tourists skulked behind the stalls to take pictures are well-accepted by the vendors as much as elderly locals doing their groceries and young professionals chilling at their lunch break. Food from all over the world blooms in a vibrant cloud of colours and smells, where boundaries are pulled down. When lunchtime approaches, it might be pretty hard to choose from one food stall and another: ranging from from North African to Middle Eastern up to Far Eastern, le Marché des Enfants Rouges offers a tour to the most remote destinations and tastes. You might start calming down your stomach rumbling by sipping some Moroccan mint tea by Le Trateur Marocain. This stall is pretty easy to find: you’d rather look for a shelf full of tajine pots or follow the scent of the rich African spice blend. Indulge some more in the choice among 13 different dishes of couscous, but remember to leave some space for some sticky yet crispy baklava. And if you haven’t had enough yet, take a look at the generous portions of the Italian deli, or the marvellous dishes at the Japanese snack bar. Loose yourself in a labyrinth of taste and people.
But don’t worry, if you’re still craving for a plain baguette, there’s also a baker waiting for you at one of the food stalls.
Author Francesca Mastrovito
39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris