The Paris metro was busy as we pushed through throngs of people, seemingly more locals than tourists.
“What was the stop again?” I asked as we whizzed through the noisy tunnels.
My friend Taylor repeated the name to me for about the tenth time that morning and I still didn’t recognize it, despite the fact that this was my third visit to the capital of France and I was more than used to using the metro to navigate my way around the city. Proof, in my mind, that the Paris food market tour we were taking was definitely going to be an authentic local experience.
Finally, we ended up where we were meant to be and followed the directions to a small café with colourful green, orange, and yellow chairs outside. It was there that we were to meet our guide for the day, a local chef who for the next couple of hours would lead us around her favourite food markets in this unexplored part of the city.
Our guide, Anna, was in her late twenties but explained that she had been cooking professionally since she was fifteen years old. A Paris native who had gone to the USA for her university education, Anna’s English was clear and perfect and her enthusiasm about the places she was going to take us was infectious.
I listened with interest as she gave us a quick rundown of the morning’s plans, but I couldn’t help but eye the small bakery that our small group was standing in front of, displaying beautiful pastries and fresh breads. I clearly wasn’t the only one who was somewhat distracted by the delicious looking treats inside.
“Ah yes” Anna smiled noticing our eyes darting to the showcases inside. “This bakery, Blé Sucré, is famous. But I’m going to take you to my favourite bakery. It has the best bread.”
I didn’t even bother looking back as she led us away towards the first stop on our Paris food market tour.
The bakery Anna led us to was cuter than the first, a salmon pink and green exterior with small tables and chairs set just outside. Breads were the main focus here and although they didn’t have her favourite during our visit, some of our group indulged in the flaky croissants. While they definitely looked enticing, I held off after Anna told us we were going to be visiting a cheese vendor and would be back for some bread later.
Our second stop was an indoor market, Marché d’Aligre, which has existed since the 1800s. It wasn’t huge, but there were several vendors; pasta makers, a butcher, a fish market, and a cheese vendor to name a few. Anna led us through the aisles pointing out the different cuts of meat, the mastery of the butchers, and how to tell a fresh healthy fish from one that has been sitting out too long (if the gills are pink- you are good to go! If they are brownish, avoid!). The vendors, clearly experts in their respectful industries and proud of their fares, were happy to show us and explain, with translation through Anna, about the different things we saw. From a special breed of chicken to snapping, live crabs, they seemed to have it all.
Our indoor market tour ended at the cheese vendor where Anna bought two different types of cheeses for us to try. With our cheese in hand, we made our way back across the street to the bakery for our second breakfast of the day. I’m no cheese expert, but she purchased a harder cheese with a flowery crust that I couldn’t get enough of, especially paired with the delicious fresh brown bread from the bakery.
Once finished our snack we made our way outside to the outdoor market. It was here that we learned that Paris has no actual farmer’s markets. The vendors are all just vendors; the actual farmers in the area being too far away and too busy to make their way into town. The vendors receive their products from a massive intermediary company called Rungis which also supplies the restaurants around the city. Interestingly, because Rungis is closed on Sunday there are no Monday markets. The markets also cannot always be found in the same spot, but move around during the week.
As we strolled through stalls of melons, berries, and more Anna would occasionally purchase something for us to try. A basket of sweet raspberries and, my favourite, fresh figs. I’d never tried a fresh fig before and loved the burst of flavor. She was also quick to point out the difference in quality between the vendors; some had fruit and vegetables that were clearly turning bad while others were fresh as if they had just been picked.
As we ducked through the stalls tasting and sampling the different fares Anna explained more about her experience as a chef and about the Paris food scene. While I’m not the dedicated foodie that many others on the tour were, I loved hearing her input and recommendations and her passion for the subject made everything seem that much more interesting. Many people on out tour were staying in self hosted apartments and took advantage of Anna’s tips and advice and did a bit of grocery shopping themselves at the market and at another cheese shop.
Our final stop on the tour was a Middle Eastern shop which Anna loved; claiming they had some of the best spices and olives, many of which you could only get in this specific shop. She got some olives for us to try along with candied fruit and nuts. I’m not normally an olive person but I found myself reaching into the bag several times to sample these ones. The dried fruit and candied nuts were equally delicious and, by the end of the tour, I also wished I was staying in a spot where I too could take advantage of Anna’s tips and shop to cook for myself.
As a third time visitor to Paris, being able to see a local side of the city was a great new way to explore. Anna was fantastic; easy to understand, interesting to listen to, and full of helpful tips and advice. For anyone heading to Paris with even the slightest interest in food or in having a more local experience, I absolutely recommend the Paris Market Tour with Context Travel.
I was a guest of Context Travel for this experience, however, as always, all opinions are my own.