5 things I learned from a french chef on shopping at french food markets

Tomatos at a french market

This summer I took a half day cooking class in Paris. It was a great experience and you can read more about it here, here and here. Part of the cooking class was to join the chef for a tour to one of the many food markets in Paris to select the food we were going to cook. Such a great way to start a cooking class! Here are some of the tips I took away during that trip.

1. First do a tour

It doesn’t matter if you already have the menu set or you haven’t decided what it is you want to cook yet. You always start with a tour of the market to get an overview of what is available and to check the quality. And note that this is not just walking around and looking at the produce at a distance. No, you should taste, touch and talk to the stall owners to get an understanding of where you’ll find the best ingredients for your dish.

2. Taste!

I’ve always been hesitant to taste samples at markets. The reason is that once I’ve tasted something I would feel obligated to buy it, especially if it was really tasty or the stall owner was friendly. But I’ve learned to appreciate that tasting is part of the market culture and no-one expects you to buy from them just because you took a taste sample. So, don’t be afraid to taste the produce so you’re able to make the right decision.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk to the people behind the stall

If you see something new, don’t be afraid to ask the stall owner what you can do with that produce. You’ll learn a lot of new things this way!

And it can be a good idea to tell them what it is you’re going to cook and when you plan to do it. That way they can find the best produce suited for you. Let’s say you want to have melon as part of the dessert for tomorrows dinner. If you let the stall owner know he/she will be able to find the perfect melon for you, the one that will be perfectly ripe for tomorrows dinner.

I know it can be intimidating if you’re not fluent in french but just start of with the mandatory ”bonjour” and take it from there. You’ll realize most of them are quite friendly and will try to help you the best they can.

4. Bring your own basket or fabric bags

You will be able to get whatever you buy in small plastic bags, but if you’re buying more than just a few apples it will be a lot easier to carry if you have a bigger bag. Either go with the traditional woven baskets or fabric bags that you can easily fold together when not using and keep in your handbag until you need it.

5. Respect the produce

So most produce needs to be touched to be able to tell if it’s ripe or fresh or not. Normally that’s ok but be respectful and make sure you won’t damage the produce. E.g. don’t press too hard on fruits and vegetables and so on.

These were just some of the things I got from that market tour. If you’d like to read about more tips like this let me know in the comments below. I’d also love to know what tips you might have when it comes to going to the food markets.