Market Day

It’s market day in my French town.  And that makes the day special, even if it is a weekly occurrence.

While somewhat similar to farmers’ markets found in many US and Canadian towns, the regular street markets in French towns and Paris arrondissements (administrative districts) are more like public services provided and supervised by local town councils for the benefit of a town’s or district’s residents.  They are integral to local social life, and necessary for many who do not have cars (whether by choice, or not).  Markets are also perfect for single folk and the elderly who might want to buy only one or two carrots, one or two apples, a slice of cheese, an onion, and a single steak hache (fresh ground-beef patty)–small portions that are difficult to find in the grocery stores.

In my town, about 20 minutes west of Paris, the market days are Friday and Sunday.  The Friday market is quiet and business-like.  The Sunday market is boisterous and sociable, with the sidewalk cafes over-filled in good weather and lots of neighbors chatting as they stand patiently in line for fresh fish and vegetables, oysters, small-producer cheeses, roast chicken, Greek and Middle-Eastern delicacies, seasonal fruits, bunches of herbs, shoes and socks, bed and table linens, house-ware gadgets, bouquets of flowers, and more.  Conviviality reigns and everyone fills their baskets and totes with lunch and dinner provisions.

Strollers, foot-powered scooters, wheelchairs, and dogs on leashes are all welcome along the town’s main street, where the collapse-and-store market stalls go up and down twice per week.  No one is in a hurry.  There is a surge to the crowd after mass ends at the Catholic church around the corner.  At 1:00 pm, the vendors repack their vans with the unsold goods, and a few “gleaners” pick bruised fruit from the refuse piles.  The town cleaning crew arrives to take down and store the rather ingenious market stall frames and roofs, then removes the trash and sweeps and washes the sidewalks where the bustling market stood just an hour earlier.  The hosing prevents anything from rotting and smelling on the streets.  By 4:00 pm you can walk down the street and not realize it had been market day at all–rarely even detecting the tiniest telltale odor at the spot where the fishmonger had stood.

We walk to market almost every week, whether or not we need food or intend to buy anything–just for the pleasure of it and the exercise.  I miss the days when the kids were at home and we all walked together; now it’s just me and the hubby on our strolls.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of life in France, and one that our sons remember with fondness, too.  And, the haiku to mark the day:


cold Sunday morning–

market baskets all swinging

to ringing church bells

 (P.S. There are websites that list the markets in every region of the country, giving their addresses and hours, and specialties, if any.  Here’s a good one for Paris: )


The Best French Pastry You’ve (Possibly) Never Heard of—La Galette des Rois!  (You’re Going to Have an Epiphany …)

The French know about and crave these round, buttery, flaky, almond-paste-filled creations, of course, and so do all expatriates living in France, but tourists and business people just passing through may miss them completely.  So, I think these traditional “Kings’ Cakes” made for the feast of the Epiphany (celebrated on January 6) constitute one of the best kept secrets of French gastronomie!

Because les galettes des rois appear for only about 4-6 weeks in the winter (roughly mid-December to the end of January), they cannot be experienced by the throngs that visit Paris and France any other time of year.  Their appearance with plain-looking, brown crusts probably cause most winter tourists to pass over them, too, in favour of the fancier pastries filling every pastry shop display case.  The flat cakes are most often sold whole, in sizes that can be divided into 4-10 portions, so finding just one slice to try can be tricky.  When you do find one, though, please have it warmed up before eating!  Although some folks might say they are good cold, they approach sublime when heated in an oven, and only then will the almond and butter fragrance waft from the wedges—fully half the experience in my book!

I blogged about the whole Kings’ Cake experience (including collecting the hidden fêves and playing the traditional game to win the gold paper crown) in February 2015 here:

Everyone gets into the act:  co-workers will share them in the office; friends will get together just to share one; kids at school often make them in class; families welcome the chance to stretch the holidays just a little longer with this tiny celebration, usually washed down with “hard” apple cider (the drier brut has a slightly higher alcohol content than the sweeter doux), or sometimes Champagne.  In tea salons, you may wish to have a warm slice with coffee or tea, of course.  Are you after a ‘real’ French experience?  You just found one!

David Lebovitz has an excellent recipe for making them at home (so easy!), so now you have no excuse not to discover these for yourself if you missed them on your last trip to France; here it is:   The almond-crème or frangipane filling is traditional, but some pastry chefs are experimenting with new fillings, too.

Although I’m reposting last year’s photo, I also wrote a new 17-syllable haiku:


What temptation hides

Beneath these plain brown wrappers?

Sinfully good taste!


Haiku Galettes des Rois Montorgueil

February 5, 2015

Get them while they last!  Going, going …

What delights can be found inside plain brown wrappers! I’m speaking of French pastries, of course—specifically the seasonal Galette des Rois.  Hidden inside the round, golden brown, rather “plain Jane,” shiny, flaky, buttery crusts is (usually) frangipane, the traditional almond cream filling of les galettes des Rois, or the Kings’ Cakes.  And, something else, too—a fêve! This will probably be the last week you can still find une galette des Rois in Paris pastry shops, until they reappear next December.  Normally a specialty made for celebrating Epiphany, observed on January 6, I see this treat appear earlier and earlier each year—and stay around later and later, too.  I have discovered Kings’ Cake as early as the first week of Advent and continue to find them through the week of La Fête de la Chandeleur, celebrated on February 2nd.   For good reason!!

The Cake:  A centuries-old tradition, with regional variations and changes over time, certainly, today’s cakes are melt-in-your-mouth delicious—flaky, buttery crusts on the outside and crumbly-yet-creamy almond paste on the inside.  Best served warm, the fragrance emanating from the oven as they bake is half the reason I love them.  To make a terrific one at home, I suggest trying this recipe from acclaimed “foodie” author and professional pastry chef, David Lebovitz: Remaining little-known among the throngs of tourists who visit Paris each year (because of their winter-only appearance and being overshadowed by row upon row of more colourful and fancy pastries), they are loved by the French and all of the expatriates I know who call France at least their temporary home.  It is the one French treat both of my sons ask for when they’re home for the holidays.  Seek them out if your future travel plans bring you to Paris in the wintertime; you’ll be glad you did.  And now to explain that fêve!

The Fêve:  Originally, the fêve, a “broad bean,” was a real bean hidden inside the Kings’ Cake, placed there for a game.  The game is still played, but the beans started to be replaced by miniature porcelain figures in the late 18th century; and by about 1870, the replacement was nearly complete.  At first, they were one-inch porcelain figures of the baby Jesus, except for a short period during the French Revolution when anti-religion revolutionaries declared the treat a “galette de l’Egalité,” and replaced the baby Jesus with a little porcelain “bonnet phrygien,” a red cap that symbolized The Revolution.  Now there are Disney movie and comic book characters; miniature animals, household items, cars, and more—whole sets of themed fêves to collect, new ones every year.  I confess to having whole sets of characters from the “Lord of the Rings” movies, for example.  Collecting fêves is serious business!  Here’s one example of the numerous websites devoted to this hobby:

The Game:  If you try the cake, try the traditional game, too!  Ask the youngest child in the family to sit under the table and designate who receives each slice as the server puts them on the plates.  The person who finds the fêve in his or her slice is king or queen for the day, chooses a consort to rule with him or her, and receives the gold-colored paper crown commonly sold with the cake (or, make your own crown at home!).  The newly-crowned monarch rules for the day, giving (hopefully good-natured!) orders to all family members who join in the make-believe fun.

How to capture all this in 17–or fewer–syllables??

Frangipane fragrance 

Wafting warm from the oven—

Who will win the crown?

Galette des Rois 2014 2015     Photo of the historic Stohrer pastry shop at 51 rue Montorgueil, by Eric Hian-Cheong,