Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shopping for Supper, the Way the French Do

We thought we were prepared for our stay in France. We had translator apps all set up in our phones,  we had special European coverage so that we would be able to use them, we arranged to have Euros on hand, and we had a wonderful navigator thingy in our rented diesel Peugeot. 

However, I'm afraid that as novice European travelers, we simply didn't know what we didn't know. Out in the French countryside, very few folks spoke any English. No problem: We turned to our phones for some handy phrases. Oops, no coverage as promised: Phones didn't work. 

Then came the problem of finding something to eat. Okay, we had plenty of Euros but we simply could not find a supermarket, or anything resembling one. We found the occasional small village store, but they were never open when we were hungry. It seems that family mealtime is very important to the French and they all go home for hours in the middle of the day. When we were finally able to get into one of the little stores, they had what we would consider emergency supplies only. Obviously, the French were well fed and fond of their food, but where the heck were they finding any?

We eventually worked it out. We knew that there were occasional open air markets held here and there and the thoughtful folks who rented the house to us had left a schedule of which town hosted the market on which day. We were picturing American-style farmers markets, which we use to supplement the big weekly shopping we do at the supermarket. Apparently, the French buy the bulk of their food at these outdoor markets. 

And is it ever fresh!  If you will scroll back up to the top photo, you will see a gentleman carrying a cardboard box back to his car. We had no idea at the time that it contained his monthly supply of poultry, still on the hoof! A kindly vendor explained to us--he had a little broken English and we had less and far-more-fractured French, but we worked it out. He told us that those in the know arrive early at this monthly market, famous for its poultry, held in the ancient town of Lencloitre. Thousands of chickens, geese, guineas, doves, quails, and ducks are sold out in the first hour or so. People carry their boxes of live poultry back to their cars, then return to finish the rest of their shopping in a more leisurely fashion. 

I guess those little feathered guys provide fresh meals for the family until the next monthly market. No plucked and cut-up and sanitarily packaged chicken for these folks!

I liked the way the greens were hung so the ducklings (goslings?)
had to reach for their food, giving them a little exercise in those crowded cages

The chicken guys were able to handle six to ten chickens at a time by grabbing their legs

You got the sense that these weren't like the coddled backyard chickens of America--I'm talking about the ones that get names like Peckatina (to mention a girl we all know and love)

After the family's poultry supply had been squared away, people had time to look over the bedding plants...

... and saddles, clothing, shoes, fresh fish (dead, but fresh), oysters, eels, lovely cheeses, all kinds of charcuterie (as we learned, these are bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit), eggs of every sort, breads and all kinds of pastries, vegetables, fruits, and wine.

Oh, yes. We mustn't forget the mandoline man. He demonstrated his slicer with a deftness that had to be seen to be believed. He chopped, he minced, he julienned, and he grated. He made dangly earring-shaped decorations from zucchinis (of course he called them courgettes). He was charming. He knew he had a sucker with this American tourist (who was thinking nostalgically of the Deerfield Fair in New Hampshire). I couldn't tear myself away until I bought the miracle-working slicer and all its accompanying attachments ("only" 20€). Of course, it came in a sealed box with no instructions. We haven't managed to make it slice a thing yet but, on a positive note, we haven't chopped off our fingers, either. 

He minced, he charmed
Although we didn't buy anything that was still alive, we were so proud that we had finally figured out how to buy food! And wine! Lots and lots of wine!

I know I've shown you this photo before, but it's my best food photo ever. 


Sylvia K said...

Wonderful captures, Clairz, of a wonderful trip!! Thanks as always for sharing with us! Wish I could have been with you! Most of my time in France was limited to Paris, which I loved, but I would have enjoyed seeing more of the country! Hope your week is going well!

Sage said...

If I had to shop this way for poultry I would diffently become a full vegatarion which I have seriously been considering anyway. I eat very little meat now. But that bread and wine shoulds lovely.Hope your trip was a good one.

Jean (aka Auntie Bucksnort) said...

Let's get that mandolin out and put it through its paces on Thanksgiving!

Joyful said...

I love your captures, Clair. I don't think I would have thought of the issues you encountered in your early days in the countryside myself. I've known many previous colleagues who travelled to the French countryside on annual vacations. Not one of them mentioned any of these kind of issues. I guess they spoke better French, lol. I know my French is not so good. I love the prevalance of markets in Europe and prefer to buy my food that way. We have markets here too but it is very costly to shop at them for the bulk of ones food. I do love going to Kenya too where you also buy your chickens "live".

Linda said...

Serious mealtimes indeed! When I worked in a French school we had wine with lunch in the school canteen, and then there was time afterwards for the teachers to go out to cafes for a pick-me-up espresso to help them through the afternoon's classes. Truly civilized.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Oh yummy Clair... One year Bill taught with an exchange teacher from France and she told us she missed 'fresh meat'...she hated what we had in our supermarkets.