I arrived at the market bubbling with energy. I’m not talking supermarket à la Ralphs. I’m talking open air market. And no, it isn’t really like our American farmers markets either. There’s something just more authentic about the market here. It’s not a luxury, or the in and hip thing to do. It’s a staple of life, a necessity. It’s just very simple and straightforward – that is, after you find a place to park and have dodged the flood of small cars pointing in every single direction possible, half on the curb, half off, etc. But that’s a whole other post.
It may be the strange foodie gene in me, but whereas others might dread the market as a chore, I get energized by it. The colors are beautifully striking – a canvas of food in its most basic form. The characters are a hoot to watch and listen to. And the merchants intrigue me as I contemplate their entire existence being based on this weekly rhythm of growing, harvesting and selling. Oh, and then of course there’s the accordion player belting out his tunes for all who head toward the open stalls. Who in their right mind doesn’t feel energized by some good old accordion music filling the air?
The market here in Trégastel takes place every Monday. If you happen to miss that one, you can go to the surrounding “communes” and hit their markets as well. I try to limit myself to the Monday market here and then the Friday market in Perros Guirec.
The “protocol” of the market is quite interesting to me. At most stalls, you don’t simply grab your bag and fill it with whatever fruit or veggie might be on your mind. You wait patiently in line. When it’s your turn, you proceed to name off the items you want, and as you name them, the merchant gathers them for you. Something like this: You: “Radishes, please.” Merchant: “How about this one. It’s a pretty bunch, isn’t it?” You: OK. You: “Six white nectarines, please.” Merchant: “Are these ones good?” You: “They are perfect.”
Then there was the question that stopped me in my tracks. I had heard it at another stand when asked of the person in front of me, and I found it curious. This time, when asked of me, it clicked and I “got it”. I had asked for a melon. The merchant replied by asking me, “When is it for, Madame?” Earlier, I had thought the merchant was just tossing around some small talk – maybe trying to get the inside track on the customer’s weekend, what she was planning, and who she was having over for dinner. But then, when I answered, “It’s for tonight” and he carefully perused his melons and pulled out a perfect looking one declaring, “This one will be just right for tonight”, I got it. The merchant had chosen the perfect melon according to when I was planning to eat it. How amazingly wonderful is that?! And yes, maybe I’m a little thick that I didn’t get it sooner, but when was the last time that your grocer took a moment to synchronize selection with consumption? They not only grow the food, schlep it to market, and sell it, but here they are making expert decisions on optimal ripeness. Now that is a talent and a gift.
Fresh food. Real food. Food that goes bad. Food that has its perfectly delicious sweet spot. It’s how we were intended to eat. If you’ve looked at my food blog at all, you may know that I’m a big fan of Michael Pollen. In some of his work he provides “food rules” that can help us all be better food (as opposed to chemical imitations of the same) consumers. I think that asking yourself, “When is it for, Madame / Monsieur?” could be a great addition to Pollen’s existing set of rules. If the answer is, “It’s for 2 months from now” or “It’s for whenever I’m not feeling up to making anything else”, chances are you should pass. Chances are it’s not real. Of course there are real foods that come in packages (rice, quinoa, bulgur, etc.), but many packaged items are just thinly veiled replacements of good old fruits and veggies. It may be comforting to have that package / box / bag / envelope / can of “stuff” sitting in your pantry as a back up plan, but it can’t compare in taste or nutritional value to that original work of art harvested from the earth.
Overall, I find that the French (or rather, the people of this small village) roll on a time continuum that I’m not at all used to. They seem slower in everything they do. Their working hours are . . . shall we say, minimal by certain American standards . They’re not hustling for the next deal or the next euro. They take time to really BE. Time just seems more fluid here. And yet, when it comes to their meals, their tables, – – – and yes, even their melons – – – they are precise and particular, with a penchant for what is real, delicious, & perfectly suited for not just “eating” but absolutely “enjoying”.