SO, who thinks Paris is just about fashion and wine? My first time to see Paris with a “slow food “ lens was in time for the Paris Marathon 2015. No, I did not run the race but I was lucky enough to find myself in Paris on a Sunday. And Sundays are for farmers markets like the one at Bastille across the Opera.
On this nice Sunday in spring, all you need is a shopping basket and some money and off you go to a real farmers’ market where the sellers are all local French cheesemakers, fish dealers and fruit and vegetable purveyors. You will see all kinds of oranges, carrots, potatoes and all fruits in season.
There is wild honey, fruits, nuts and dates. There are olives, olive oil, eggs and fowl like chickens and ducks. There are artisanal breads and freshly made crepes. You can also have roast chicken, and many sandwiches to eat from the assortment of sausages, smoked meats and hams.
Each seller has chalkboards dis-played for the origin of their produce and the price. All clearly marked whether the oranges are from Valencia or from the south of France. And all the sellers allow you to sample their fruits, their dips and sauces making the customers (like me) buy their products. Sampling is normal and is not frowned upon. I had a taste of Tarama or Taramasalata, cod fish roe that I first tried in Greece some years ago. I could not help but buy a container or two with some local Greek bread as well.
And there are other stuff France is made of. Like lavender pouches or sachets filled with lavender flowers. All from the south of France. There are baskets and placemats from Madagascar. There are leather bags from Spain. And soaps made from honey or lavender. You will not go wrong buying even your gifts at this market.
What I noticed is that the French really care about where their food comes from. And they like everything fresh and in season. Like what Slow Food advocates for. The baguette or French bread is just an example of what the French buy everyday so it is fresh and made with levain , if possible.
Levain is a natural leavening agent, which does not use yeast. It may take longer to let the bread rise, but there is a distinct taste the French know about. And that is why artisanal bakeries survive in Paris. They may be independent stores, but they all thrive because the French know what is fast food and what is slow food. After eating bread for almost two weeks now, one can tell the difference between artisanal bread and a “fast baked” bread I had to get at Monoprix when the usual artisan bread shop has closed for the day.
The French are also falling victim to “bread improvers,” substances that extend a bread’s life to more than a day. For purposes of economics, many chain stores already use “prepared dough” and they all have improvers or “life extenders” that is definitely not Slow Food. I was lucky to have bought my breads at Le Grand Epicerie of Bon Marche and at the neighborhood baker near our apartment. Those were really good and lasted only for a day. But you don’t mind buying bread daily as it is affordable anyway. And this is why the typical French passes by a bread shop and tucks his baguette under his arm on his way home. Don’t buy it too late though. At the Paul branch in Rue de Buci, we were given a choice of regular baguette or Levain—no price difference. Just a discerning palate of the French and those who know.
Besides bread, there is artisan butter. Demi sel (lightly salted) or Doux (unsalted). You do not use butter compounds or butter mixes in Paris. Just French butter from cows who were grass-fed. They make the butter the fat of choice which you may want to have all the time.
And for fruits, choose bio or organic. The supermarkets, if you fail to get them at the farmers markets, have sections for organic fruits and vegetables. That’s where I get to eat all the apples and strawberries I want. Even wild honey is marked “bio” for just a few cents more. Besides the Salone del Gusto in Italy, and the farmers markets in Europe , you would be hard-pressed to find organic apples anywhere.
And the best slow food lunch I had was at a Chez Papa—slow cooked cassoulet, yes with all the fava beans stewed in rich meats, duck and sausage. We also had a Toulouse sausage, homemade in the southwestern French way and duck confit with meat falling off because of tenderness. Slow food. Rich and filling.
The French know how to eat and eat well. This brings me back to my visit to Agrifood in New Orleans last year where the owner of Exki was with me in a speakers’ panel. He has founded the slowest fast food in France-Exki—short for exquisite food. Organic, slow food done in a quick way. Good, clean and fair.
When you come to France you have your choices. Classic slow food or the quicker new ones like Exki. Either way, you win. France really knows how to do it slow.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra, Podium, Centris QC mall and Davao City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org