Excerpt from travel log…
The mention of a Sunday market excited me. I expected to find some food stalls selling sandwiches and Orangina, maybe some trinket vendors, like the ones around Centre Pompidou and other popular hangouts. What I found at the far end of Blvd Richard Lenoir, close to the Bastille, wasn’t just a “market.” It was…heaven. Beginning as abruptly as the neighborhood park where a few homeless men loitered ended, the magnificent marche began and extended out for at least a mile.
And what a mile it was! Row upon row of green awnings barely concealing the surfeit of fresh produce and cooked delicacies spilling over underneath. I entered the market at a seafood stall and my eyes widened to take in the sheer quantity and variety of oceanic fare. There were generously sliced filets of salmon, haddock, mackerel, and many more kinds of fish I couldn’t even name heaped on ice-topped crates. After walking around the fish crates with my jaw hanging down to my chest I moved stations into the merchant’s crustacean section. Atlantic crayfish, crab, and lobsters, which looked like they had swallowed ten of their smaller Pacific cousins before being poached by the fisherman lay about slowly moving their claws. Monstrously large scallops and shells, the size of saucers, strewn about half open and revealing sumptuous tender flesh inside. This was just the first stall!
I peeled my person and jaw away from the seafood. Enticing as it all was it wouldn’t give my belly immediate gratification. I walked a few more stalls and came upon a cheese counter, which put the fromagerie section at Cold Storage Gourmet to mortal shame. Cheese wheels the size of my head! Really stinky Brie! Bluey moldy Roquefort!
Here I began my consumption, not just ogling, of foods. I was excited but also timid, not knowing which variety to buy and budgeting in my head how much I could justify splurging on my first meal during this summer of unemployment. I asked the girl behind the counter if I could try some and she obligingly sliced me pieces of the Tomme de Savoie (a hard cheese), which I deemed not hard or salty enough. She then handed me another one and proceeded to explain the nuances in the four different families of blue cheeses, where my eyes had already roamed. After the tutorial I asked for three chunks of cheeses I had sampled, simultaneously salivating and fretting over how much this breakfast extravaganza would cost.
The girl wrapped up my purchases in wax paper (old school! No plastic wrappers!) and reported, “Trois euros et quarante-cinq centimes.”
Did I hear correctly? Had my French eroded beyond hope in the years of non-usage? Three euros and forty-five cents!? I verified the amount on the printed receipt. I couldn’t have bought one sixth of this much wonderful dairy moldiness for so little money back in Singapore!
I was floored, and done for. This delightful surprise at the cheese counter unleashed the food monster within and I threw caution and budget to the wind. I left the cheese angel at her station of duty and bounded down the street, trying to find other foods to go with my purchases while biting into a hunk of blue…