February 12, 2014

Sunday Market

Sunday Market
Chagny, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France

Just 20 minutes south of Beaune, the Sunday market is Chagny is billed as “one of the biggest markets of the Saône-et-Loire department.” Anywhere within a 30-minute drive of here, people mention it as a quality market. Arriving in town on this Holy Day, one notices the signs indicating reduced parking, closed roads, and lots of men and women walking with their baskets and carts towards obvious commerce.

Like most good markets, there are several different access points. Depending on the direction you choose, you could walk right into the heart of the food bazaar or find yourself in a sort of cheap clothing Siberia, wondering what all the fuss is about. However you come, make your way to the middle of town. Generally, it is a safe bet in French towns that the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and the market will be close to each other. 

Over here is a man selling nothing but beef, with a sign “Mothers! Feed your children beef! It’s good for them!” Astute advertising, as kids are everywhere: in strollers, in backpacks, on and underfoot. The man selling pink garlic and purple garlic explains that the purple has a little more bite to it than the pink. If appetite conquers common sense, a huge wedge of the tomme de brebis (sheep’s milk) cheese may end up in your basket.

If it gets a "diplôme" for being the best, buy it.

Larger markets like this also show how important markets are to local artisans and producers. Recently, enjoying my anonymity, I was startled out of my reverie when I saw the artisan baker from whom I had bought a rye bread (at his workshop) two days prior. He tells me the Chagny market is something to behold in the summer, when crowds spill out on terrasses and the streets are jammed. As Burgundy is not terribly vast and has only a dozen or so big markets like this one, the olive merchant you bought from on Wednesday in Beaune may wink at you on Sunday in Chagny. It keeps vendors honest and shoppers coming back if they both know they are likely to see each other again.

Imagine what a good photographer could do with these colors

As a general observation, local health regulations are nothing like in the U.S. Rubber gloves, used in so much food prep under the Stars and Stripes, are nowhere to be found. While it can be surprising to see a man stub out his cigarette between two yellow fingers and then proffer a slice of saucisson, notice that the French are not falling dead in the streets from contamination. Go with the flow. 

As the clock creeps towards noon, the action picks up noticeably at the rotisserie. Scores of birds rotate on metal spears, dripping their juice onto piles of potatoes in the catch. Roast beef, hams, pork loins all vie for attention (and money). Where there was no line at 10, at 11:45 you are staring at a 15-minute wait. Although this could be inconvenient, it is also logical: the hot chicken will be better the closer to lunchtime it is purchased.

At the charcutier, the woman patiently explains how to cook guinea fowl stuffed with veal to a foreigner, then explains to a French woman how to prepare andouillette. The foreigner is in no small way gratified to realize that even the French don’t know what to do with food sometimes.

Sunday markets are a special treat.  While France tends to believe one should rest on this day, markets are a welcome exception. Take advantage of the morning as, after 12:30, the streets of this country are empty. And when you sit down to lunch, take a moment and ponder this truth: you are sharing a meal with more than 60 million French people simultaneously. The thought clears your mind of all your “to dos” and invites you to relax and enjoy some fine food.

What:  Weekly Market
Where:  Center of Chagny
When:  Sunday mornings, year-round

How Much:  Up to you.

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