I started today by rushing out the door to catch the metro to a cafe in the 12th arrondissement to meet my market guide, Aurelie (of Succulent Paris). We spent two hours perusing the goods at the Marche d'Aligre. Most of the outdoor portion of the market contained vendor after vendor of beautiful fruits and veggies. In the covered market space, cheeses, meats, seafood, and specialty foods abounded. I took home a sampling of chevre including Rigotte de Condrieu and Rocamadour Fermier (they seemed to both be earthier and more flavorful than the milder tasting goat cheeses that I've had in the states, though this could be a function of my choices) and a beautiful, stinky roquefort that paired nicely with a tart green apple from the market...which I'm eating right now.
We spent some time at Les Chocolats d'Aligre and learned about artisan chocolate making. I tried a dried cacao bean, which tasted like a cross between a coffee bean and chocolate (so my tour guide observed) - it's when the cocoa butter and sugar are added that it becomes the chocolate that most of us know and love. I took some of the finished variety home with me: sesame praline, honey ganache, and one called simply 'Parisian' that I'm looking forward to enjoying.
Fresh markets like the Marche d'Aligre take place in most neighborhoods within Paris, typically six days per week. I would venture to guess that this must mean Parisans eat more fresh fruits and veggies than in America, where Farmers' markets, though ever more popular, are still clearly second to the grocery store where the offerings are several steps further removed from their origin. Though somewhat startling at first, one thing I really appreciated about the Parisian market was that the meat still looked like the animal it came from. This might sound like a strange observation, but most meat I've encountered in America is in the grocery store, all packaged up with no reminders of the source. It makes it much easier to become detached from the food you're eating and where it came from than seems possible when the chicken you buy still has a head on it (for example).
After the market tour, I embarked on a self-guided foodie tour (put together by Robin of My Melange). It started at the popular Le Baron Rouge, where I picked out salty oysters that were shucked in front of me, to be enjoyed with a chilly glass of sauvignon blanc on the street. I made a visit to Laduree, a patisserie that has been a staple in Paris since 1862 and came away with an assortment of beautiful macarons. They were dense without being heavy, with intensely bright flavors like green apple and violet.
At the Cafe de la Mairie, I had my first truly French croque madam. It was a provencal version with tomatoes and it was heavenly, consumed at a relaxed pace along with a glass of rose from Provence as I people-watched in front of Saint Sulpice.
All in all, I experienced an amazing food adventure today in the city of lights. Tomorrow, intensive French lessons begin. That should offer a good break from my semi-constant eating, which will probably be a good thing. It will also bring me to a part of the city that I haven't explored yet; more adventure is likely to ensue. A bientot!