Paris in a Basket: Markets - the food and the people by Nicolle Meyer and Amanda Smith

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Paris in a Basket: Markets - the food and the people by Nicolle Meyer and Amanda Smith
Book - Travel

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

Paris has plenty of great tourist destinations and plenty of guide books to help you navigate them. But if you want to discover Paris through your stomach and get some appreciation of daily life in its 20 arrondissements this book is invaluable.
It's a substantial hard-back book, fit for the best coffee tables, although not quite as large as a classic coffee table tome. Its size is something of a discouragement from taking it with you, which is a pity because we can attest from experience that one of the greatest pleasures is returning from a visit to a market and re-reading its description. The stories of stallholders such as Monique Quillet, "the singing salad-lady" who sells salad greens at the picture postcard Saxe-Breteuil market have more resonance when read immediately after just having just met them at the counter.
Perhaps one way to overcome this problem (apart from our solution, which was to take the book with us), is to identify a couple of markets of particular interest that are near where you will be staying and take copies of the descriptions. That way, your book will remain in good shape too, unlike ours, which is a little worse for wear after a return trip from Australia.
The book devotes a single chapter for most arrondissements and, in a few cases, a group of arrondissements - for example the 1st to the 4th are considered in a single section. It's ironic that in the heart of what was once Paris's most robust market precinct of Les Halles, there are now so few markets that these arrondissements can be treated together. Presumably the price of real estate in the very heart of Paris is just too prohibitive.
In each chapter, the authors describe their favourite market in the area. These lengthy, very readable descriptions are supported by mouth-watering photographs. As well as painting a picture of the market and its precinct including where to have your morning coffee and where to retire for lunch after you've finished shopping, they walk you through the stalls, describing stall holders and their products, and giving you excellent, seasonal information. It's particularly interesting to be made aware of the stallholders that are selling products from their own farms, who often have made a long journey to get to Paris by early morning.
Following the story on the feature market is a section that includes briefer descriptions of other markets in the area that may be worth visiting.
Reading each chapter also provides a strong sense of the extraordinary variety that is Paris and, especially of the impact immigration has had on what people eat.
The stories are supplemented by excellent recipes based on market ingredients, extended profiles of some of the best Paris market stallholders, and interesting historical notes. There are also useful reference sections on market addresses, a market schedule that shows what day each ones is open and also provides a star rating for each market described in the book, and guides to French seafood, and cuts of beef.
For the record, our favourite market of the several we visited was President Wilson in the 16th arrondissement but we haven't been to a few that sound as if they might be competitors, including Richard Lenoir in the 11th and the Sunday Raspail Organic Market in the 6th. Maybe next time.
 
     
   
     


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