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Choked Up at the Marché Bastille

Even though the Bastille Market is only a short walk away, I hadn’t been there in perhaps years. Once cooking became a thing of the past (I used to be a rather formidable cook), I stopped marketing for virtually anything edible and stop at a supper market only for toiletries, cleaning products and important potables such as wine, juice and milk.

Yes, the fridge, which is tiny by U.S. standards, is pathetic, but very very pristine. Yes, it’s a shame really, because marketing for french produce can be one of the most wonderfully delightful pastimes in France…something I miss as a result.

I went Sunday morning with a friend who had never been there for a very special reason. Once a year on February 2nd and for the last 18 years, I celebrate a particular anniversary of the heart by cooking up artichokes. With it goes a long story, but that’s not what’s important — it’s just that artichokes are particularly significant to the tale…and particularly when they are very large and have big soft hearts.

A small group of friends have come to be regulars at the artichoke dinner, some who are traveling from very far away just to be at the table. So, just this one time a year, I venture to a market to purchase artichokes and fixings for the rest of the meal. It can either be a chore or an adventure, depending on where and how the resources are chosen with which to gather the necessary ingredients.

Last year I shopped along rue de Bretagne without too much pre-thought and ended up spending a small fortune on 10 artichokes — at about 5€ each. They were delicious, but too pricey for a repeat performance. Friends advised that the stalls closest to Place de la Bastille at the market are less expensive than those at the northern end. This information was corroborated by various bloggers about the market. One might think that since the Bastille Métro station gives direct access to the market, which has three lines running through it (1, 5 and 8), it has the ability to produce most of the traffic at the beginning of the market and those vendors prefer to operate on ‘volume’ and catch their customers early on before they move further on.

So, that’s where the hunt for artichokes began. The Marché Bastille runs along Boulevard Richard Lenoir in the 11th arrondissement beginning at Place de la Bastille and going northward ending at the Bréguet-Sabin Métro station. It is thought to be the largest market in France, with three aisles and hundreds of stands on both sides of those three aisles, running for several city blocks. It’s only open on Thursdays and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

It is missing nothing — everything from clothing and household goods to every sort of fresh produce, seafood and meats, wines, cheeses, cooked pre-prepared specialities, flowers…you name it, someone there sells it. It’s busy, bustling with shoppers towing their carts. Just winding your way through is like managing an obstacle course and taking your life into your hands for fear of being run over by the wheels of the carts. If you suffer from agoraphobia (fear of being in crowded, public places), don’t go. But if you love the sights, sounds and smells of a market, then don’t miss it…even if just once a year (or less in my case).

The marketplace can be overwhelming for many. There is a cornucopia of everything and simply too many choices. The trick is knowing which are the best vendors. This is an art perfected by those who regularly shop there. Friends who make a habit of going every Sunday for fresh oysters for their Sunday lunch know just where to buy the best oysters. By chance they were just opposite me doing just that at their favorite oyster vendor while I was buying artichokes. Coincidentally this particular friend, Geraldine Kaylor, happens to write a blog called the “Travel Oyster.” How apropos is that, right?

The artichokes were not easy to find this time around. Very few “primeurs” (greengrocers) had them and those that were there were either not the right kind (small and purple) or were too brown and bruised. These, on the other hand, were large, round and healthy. I ordered up nine to the surprise of the vendor and at less than 4€ a kilo, they cost one-third as much as last year’s bundle. Scored!

A little later on, just as I was ferreting out a good poultry stand, I bumped into another friend  — a woman who is a quite a good chef and author who writes a food blog called the Everyday French Chef. Meg Bortin was buying quail at her favorite “bucherie” (butcher) and was very quick to recommend them. Without further ado I ordered up two yellow-skinned “poulets fermiers” (free range chickens),  “Without the heads or feet, please.” According to the vendor, who didn’t seem minding to provide counsel, explained that there is no different in taste between the yellow-skinned and the white-skinned chickens, but either way, they seemed a lot more palatable without their heads or feet!

Doing a little research on my own, it turns out that it all has to do with diet. The yellow-skinned chickens are fed a more expensive food, and the yellower the skin, the more nutrients the chicken has absorbed. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time, but opted for the yellow-skinned chicken simply for the fun of the color of it, even though the price per pound was the same for both — a little less than 9€ per kilo. That makes free range chickens pretty pricey, but anyone in France will tell you it’s well worth it to pay more for their great taste.

The vendor asked if I wanted the giblets for the stuffing and while I agreed to taking them, explained to her that they were to be stuffed with lemons. “Quelle surprise!” “Citrons?” She had never heard of such a thing. “Yes,” I explained. “You pierce two ripe lemons and stuff a well seasoned chicken with no oil or butter and roast them half the time breast down.” It’s a recipe by Marcella Hazan from her book, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (Knopf) that has been one of my standbys for about 30 years. See www.nytimes.com/2013/ or cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/ for the full recipe. It’s simple, fast, easy and incredibly delicious.

The artichokes are an old family recipe, thanks to my mother and the Italian influence on New Orleans. Yesterday when I phoned my sister to say “Happy Artichoke Day,” she laughed and said, “I’m making them, too!” Wednesday I’ll run a photo of the final artichokes, as I do every year, but for a glimpse, have a look at last year’s Nouvellettre® from February 3rd. It has a bit more of the ‘tale,’ a lot of information about artichokes and of course, the recipe if you are curious and want to give them a go.

It didn’t take long at the market once finding the best vendors to fill the marketing cart to the brim. It was heavy wheeling it home and then the six-wheeled Rolser (the best cart made — I discovered them in Venice, Italy, jumping the steps of the hundreds of bridges with ease!) clinked up the stairs. The noise it makes in the stairwell luckily only happens once a year. Once, a neighbor remarked, “Adrian, la bruit est insupportable” (“the noise is unbearable”), to which I responded, “Oui, c’est vrai!” (“Yes, it’s true.”)

Thursday I’m headed to Nice for a long weekend, a little bit of sunshine and some time with my buddy “Henri le Cactus” and the newest addition, “Henrietta” — a tiny version of Henri so named by some recent guests of “Le Matisse.” Book now for Le Matisse and our other luxury Niçois apartments (La Côte du Paradis and La Petite Niçoise) because the Carnaval de Nice (February 13-March 1) and busy Summer seasons are getting booked up fast. Visit Parler Nice Apartments to make your reservations now.

And if you’re in the Nice area this coming weekend and would like to meet with me to discuss the pros and cons of property investment in France, please contact me at [email protected].

A la prochaine,

Adrian Leeds

The Adrian Leeds Group

(with her Rolser)

Respond to Adrian

P.S. For those of you in the New York City area, who would like to know more about investing in France, I will be available for private consultations on March 13th through 18th. Consultations are typically two hours, and I will be offering my usual euro fee at the same fee in U.S. dollars. Email me personally to make your appointment: [email protected]

P.P.S. Have you recently purchased or rented a property in France and might be interested in STARRING in an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters International? Plus earn money while having fun filming? Contact me with your story and why you’d like to participate in a national TV show by emailing me at [email protected]

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