My shopping list was simple:
Salad Greens and a
Cheeky Bottle of Rose.
It was our last day of a week spent living a Francophile’s fantasy in a rented apartment in Aix en Provence and it blissfully coincided with the Saturday morning fresh food market at Place des Prêcheurs. We had decided to ‘dine in’ for lunch and prepare a shared plate of all the remaining morsels in our fridge – but we needed a few salad items.
Market bags in hand, we descended the dimly lit stairwell from our third floor rental. At each floor the air temperature was much cooler than the preceding; reminding us that it was high Autumn and the leaves of the plane trees on the other side of the egress were turning amber. Reaching the bottom, we rearranged our scarves and entered the cobblestone street.
We stood still on the footpath for a few moments, taking in the early morning setting and inviting the sun to warm our faces. It was postcard perfect.
The locals were busy running Saturday errands – shopping jeeps trailing in tow. We walked and chatted about how there is a real art to packing a jeep so as to avoid crushing the ripe figs or delicate rounds of fresh goat cheese with the newspaper wrapped whole fish caught overnight off the cost of Cassis. Children weaved in and around their parents’ legs; dodging the stall tables and market goers. Occasionally, a small dog’s head emerged from a well-stocked jeep, panting alongside the pointy end of a crunchy baguette faced skyward like a lone head of asparagus seeking the sun.
Our mission was essentially straightforward. But he knew me too well. It was never going to be a quick lap of the market to grab the salad essentials and take a few foodie snaps for Instagram.
We began with a stop at my favourite saucisson stall. Every imaginable flavour was available – even l’âne – that’s French for donkey! I passed over the equine and reached for the cèpe mushroom variety.
“I think you still have one in the fridge,” he said knowingly.
I bought one anyway.
“It will go well with pre-dinner drinks tonight– don’t you think?”
Next stop was one of several cheese stalls where I paused to photograph the delightful golden mountain of Comté, Chèvre and Camembert. Among these favourites were so many unfamiliar varieties I needed to introduce myself to. I sneaked a tiny St Marcellin into my market bag to go with the cèpe saucisson.
I also collected some jars of artichoke dip and Provençale herbs to take back home as gifts. At each purchase he rolled his eyes. I remembered the tomatoes and salad greens and crossed these off the list. I’d get the rosé from the supermarket next to the apartment.
We lingered a little longer; sampled some homemade confiture and eavesdropped on some French tête-à-têtes. One customer and a trader were having an animated discussion about olive varieties. It seems that every French person is an expert on food, or at least everyone has an opinion. Food quality and provenance are so important to the French.
“One last stop,” I said, as I deliberately navigated toward the rotisserie stall.
He stood in front of the stall mesmerised by the engineering feat of the revolving oven as it roasted succulent ducks, chickens and rabbits to a crispy skin in the top part and basted crunchy roast potatoes beneath. The golden glow from the oven’s element had him hypnotised.
“It’s ingenious,” he said as he stepped towards the light, wallet in hand, and asked the trader for one last sample of rôti poulet (roast chicken).
“I think you still have some in the fridge.” I said knowingly.
He bought some anyway.
“It’s go with the saucsisson,” he said.
There are several different markets in the old village of Aix-en-Provence but the Place des Prêcheurs would be my absolute favourite.
PLACE DES PRÊCHEURS
Fruit and Vegetable Market: Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays
Flower Market: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays
There are other markets too:
PLACE DE VERDUN
Antiques, crafts, and new and second-hand clothes: Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays
A smaller Farmers’ Market selling local produce: Daily
PLACE DE L’HOTEL DE VILLE
Flowers: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
Antique and second-hand books: the first Sunday of each month
Clothes and Textiles: Tuesdays and Thursdays