Yesterday, as I was looking at the bright, big, shiny -and relatively tasteless- produce at my local supermarket, I could not help but miss the wonderful shops that make convenience shopping such a delightful experience in France. My countrymen use them daily, oui chaque jour, to get fresh bread, as well as meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables. Do the French patronize supermarkets? Bien sûr. Convenience is convenience, after all. Les supermarchés, and their smaller versions, les supérettes, are everywhere. Prices are lower there, and it saves time to pick up most groceries in one place. The French also take frequent trips to les hypermarchés, these gigantic stores that sell food, of course, but just about everything else as well (think Fred Meyer, but much, much bigger). While Americans were discovering malls in the 1960s, chains like Auchan and Carrefour started spreading all over France, Europe, and ultimately, the world, opening gigantic superstores mostly located in the suburbs due to their large size. I remember going to the local hypermarché with my mom when I was a teenager. It was our Friday evening ritual. While she filled the big cart with groceries, I would explore the giant aisles, looking for books, records (remember these?), gadgets, clothes. I never got bored there.
Times change. I live in the US now. I live in suburbia. La banlieue. It seems that our whole town could fit into one the giant Carrefour hypermarkets parking lots. There are very few decent specialty shops. Instead, there are chain stores, and parking lots, lots of parking lots. It’s practical. It’s convenient. No doubt about it. Still…
I was just in Paris, as you remember. Our rental apartment was located a few steps away from rue Oberkampf, a lively street that offers so many specialty stores that I did not even get a chance to visit them all during the two weeks we stayed in Paris. Quelle chance!
|Snow does not stop local shoppers on busy rue Oberkampf|
This is a blog that discusses France AND the French language, let’s highlight some of the wonderful French specialty stores that survive and sometimes even thrive, in the age of big distribution, hyper-this, and giant-that. French 101. Les commerces de spécialité. Allons-y!
The most frequently patronized shop, is, without a doubt, la Boulangerie. This is where you buy your bread daily. Baguette, ficelle, gros pain, batard, etc. The French take their bread very seriously. If you ask several people what the best boulangerie is, they are likely to argue. The French love to disagree. Try it. Next time you go, ask two people “Qui vend la meilleure baguette?” (who sells the best baguette?) . Then wait, and enjoy the show. La boulangerie also offers les viennoiseries, a selection of baked goods made of flaky dough, croissants, pains au chocolat, pains au raisins… Often, la boulangerie is also une pâtisserie. You will find delicious and gorgeous desserts there.
If you are shopping for food, chances are you will also visit la boucherie, where you buy all your meat, and poultry.
Need fresh fruit and vegetable to go with the meal? Look for le Primeur… My favorite primeur on rue Oberkampf offered 4 different types of mandarin oranges. The owner knew where each had come from and had me taste them so I could make my choice. They were juicy and oh, so tasty!
A French meal would not be complete without du fromage. Just as the typical Frenchman knows the best boulangerie, he also knows the best fromagerie.
|Look at the selection of goat cheese (chèvre) on the top shelf!|
Let’s not forget le vin… What’s a good meal without wine? There are options… You could visit an independent store, un marchand de vin/un caviste or a good chain store, like Nicolas, where knowledgeable sales staff will be able to help you make your choice.
Finally, let’s face it, on busy days, it feels like true luxury to have someone cook for you. A favorite shop of mine: le traiteur (often combined with la charcuterie). This is the closest thing you will find to an American deli in France. Delicious salads, plats cuisinés (entrées), cured meats, roasted chicken you can smell a mile away… It has it all. How can one live without a proper traiteur, I ask?
I hope you are ravenous by now. There are many more French specialty shops to discuss but it’s dinner time here in Seattle. Unfortunately, I did not visit my friend le traiteur today, and that means I have to c.o.o.k. dinner. Quelle barbe! A bientôt, mes amis, et bon appétit!