“All I have is a voice." (W.H. Auden)

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig;

    Home again, home again, dancing a jig.

 To market, to market, to buy a fat hog;

    Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.  (Mother Goose)


My earliest recollection of food shopping was with my paternal grandmother in her hometown.  During summers, the grandchildren were shipped for some bonding time with our grandmother and maiden aunts and to temporarily relieve our parents of child-rearing duties.  Twice a week in this dusty town, the merchants begin arriving early in the morning and staying until early afternoon to sell their goods to the residents. The covered, open, and cement-floored market became the hub of the town’s activity and everyone, anyone, was sure to be sighted here.  My grandmother would dress up for the occasion, complete with the traditional dress and pearls, her basket and parasol, and would promenade from the house to the market.  Her grandchildren, me included, would trail behind her holding each other’s hands.


This was one of her favorite activities.  She would go from stall to stall, eyeing and/or touching the goods, asking questions and finally haggling.  Often she would linger amidst her favorite vendors to catch up on the latest family news while introducing her grandchildren as in “these two here are the children of my son X and those three are the children of my son Y.”  Our names were irrelevant; only the identity of her children who sired us.  Our prize for the patience and good behavior would be a thrilling ride on the passenger seat attached to a motorbike, known as the tricycle, back to the house with the shopping basket.  She would trail behind by foot, parasol in hand, perfectly content with her choices and her budget. 


I recall these memories often as I go to village markets for many of our supplies.  True there are groceries, supermarkets and even a mom and pop convenience store in our own village.  But there is an easy pleasure and an abundant sentimentality when shopping in these weekly markets.     


Our village is not big enough to host a one.  Instead, the meat and cheese van comes on Tuesday mornings to spread their wares for the locals; mostly the elderly or those without personal transport.  I especially like their roasted pork ribs that turn crispier when refried and their fresh sweet butter bought by the quarter of a kilo.  Once I asked for a demi-kilo since I did not know how to say a “quarter only” in French.  The vendor examined me up and down with a puzzling look.  So he picked up the slab of butter and showed me the half-kilo.  Shocked at the proportion, I shook my head so he pared this down to a quarter.  Merci.


On Fridays, Puisserguier hosts the market which is temporarily relocated in the field near the cave cooperative as the grand promenade is being upgraded with new water pipes.  It is much more difficul to get to and there are fewer vendors for lack of space (and access to electricity for their vans).  But the Paella seller comes and he is so generous with the large shrimps and mussels when we make our order.  Sadly, I have not seen my favorite Vietnamese vendor since the move.


So on Sundays at the Capestang market, before the 10:30 am mass, we wander along the stalls and look for another Vietnamese vendor to get our needed comfort food fix.  He usually throws in an extra summer roll for second daughter.  We follow this up with roasted chicken from another vendor in the same marketplace.  Our lunch and dinner meals are then complete.


St Chinian also hosts a twice-weekly market; one of which falls on Sunday as well.  There appears to be the same choices as Capestang so we are lucky to have these two villages within a 10 minute drive.  It is not unusual to encounter our neighbors doing their own shopping.  We stop, do the bisous (left cheek first then right), while saying our “bonjour,” “vous allez bien?” or “ça va?”  We exchange pleasantries and we say our “au revoir.”  It is almost a social event but not quite a “fete.”


If I sometimes miss these nearby markets, I drive to Narbonne and shop at Les Halles.  The bustling but clean indoor market is full of wonderful smells that tempt the appetite rather quickly.  The array of goods are stunning and one’s sense of smell and sight can be overwhelmed.  Walking around, maybe enjoying a tasting or two, perusing the breads, the cheeses, the fresh seafood and viand can consume an hour yet it is not a very big place.  But there is so much to see and to comprehend that time passes.  And it is easy to pause, to sit on a stool in one of the bars to have a café or a beer or a glass of wine, while gathering one’s thoughts, checking the shopping list or just watching the buyers and sellers.  If only my grandmother was here, I often mused.  She would be just as delighted, I know, to witness food shopping as an art and not merely a necessity.

Elizabeth 17.02.2014 06:57

France is awaiting your return, Betty!

Betty Roussy Stewart 16.02.2014 15:07

Such a wonderful experience for all! Truly a beautiful region filled with lovely people, excellent food, and soothing wine! Am looking forward to returning.

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Latest comments

14.07 | 12:01

Beautiful! Vive la France!

17.02 | 06:57

France is awaiting your return, Betty!

16.02 | 15:07

Such a wonderful experience for all! Truly a beautiful region filled with lovely people, excellent food, and soothing wine! Am looking forward to returning.

07.09 | 18:44

What a joy for this to be shared. I am reading several times, soaking it in and making my own movie in my mind of this adventure. So excited for you three!