I used to say such things when I first moved to France. My companion, Remi, would always respond with a confused stare of non-comprehension, an unspoken, « Pardon? » pursed on his lips. Since moving to France twelve years ago, much has changed in how I think about food in general and what I eat in specific–most certainly since discovering the outdoor markets in the South of France.
In Arles, we are blessed with two outdoor markets per week, rain or shine, all year long. I have a special fondness for the Wednesday market as it is a « buyer’s » market of workday produce, people and their scruff-along dogs. I haggle amidst those with little time to waste for the flânerie (strolling) that is a key aspect to the Saturday experience, one where couples often pause to have a coffee and people-watch in between purchasing anchoîade*, Vietnamese nems** or a roasted chicken at the largest market in Provence.
Both markets complement each other and have changed how I cook. When I lived in Paris, the markets were financially out of my reach but here in the heart of the fertile Vallée du Rhône, it is far less expensive to buy at the market then at the supermarché. These staples fill my larder and it doesn’t hurt that the goods are finer, too.
Organic products are plentiful, pleasingly imperfect and happily lacking in a Whole Foods size markup. I pick what is in season from a local producer (who also tells me when to wait a week or two) and there is always, always something to make me think, “I do believe you are coming home with me.” After a winter of courges et choux (squash and cabbage), the tender first asperges (asparagus) in spring are followed by eagerly awaited fraises (strawberries) – which everyone eats until they are sick of them – only to be outdone by mountains upon mountains of ripe fruit and tomatoes that shine like jewels in the sun.
Les bijoux du marché provençal.
That is what I am enjoying now and how I cursed myself this past Wednesday for only having five Euros in my pocket and a camera in hand. Just like a tourist! But I used them wisely and brought home a dozen oysters as a surprise for my honey, smiling to remember when that sum would only cover the price of one (one!) at some of my swankier former haunts in Manhattan.
Such culinary treats are entirely accessible to everyone as they should be and have to be, especially as there is no quick fix of Chinese take-out in this provincial town. If I want comfort food, I have to make it myself.
So I buy what I need, when I need it, which means that it is incredibly rare when a wilted radish is found languishing in the fridge past its « eat me » date. It is understandable that wasting food is beyond frowned-upon in the French culture, most certainly as ‘the gastronomic meal of the French’ has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List! Gone too are the complex preparations and massive portions of my past — completely unnecessary when such fine ingredients are being savored.
And as for eating the same thing two days in a row? With food this good, I look forward to it!
© All text and images, Heather Robinson
*Anchoîade is an anchovy-based condiment from France.
**Nems is similar to egg roll.
Heather Robinson is a travel writer and photographer who resides in the south of France. You may visit Heather at Lost in Arles.