For a French housewife, the weekly -- or in some larger cities, twice weekly - market is a source of fresh produce, cheese, fish and meat. It’s also a chance to chat with her favorite farmer or vendor. For a visitor, it’s an opportunity to delve into the daily life of a foreign country.
The markets of southwestern France are no exception. In Toulouse, as in Paris, there are several covered markets that function every day of the week, except perhaps on Mondays. The largest, the Victor Hugo market in the center of town, has more than 100 stalls. The choices are bewildering: so many beautiful fruits and vegetables, fish glistening with drops of sea water and fresh shrimp in three or four sizes, cuts of meat so different from ours, and a plethora of cheeses (bringing to mind General Charles de Gaulle’s famous quote “how can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese”).
The Victor Hugo market also sells foie gras, one of the specialties of the Midi Pyrenees region. Another regional specialty, pork products made from the area’s black pigs, is also sold at the market. Or course, there are bakery and pastry stalls and one selling fancy ice cream cakes. Scattered throughout are small bars, always well attended by anyone wanting a quick glass of wine or beer.
A smaller, but equally entrancing market is the Carmes covered market. It has only about 50 stalls, but the produce, fish, meats and cheeses are equally enticing. The original graceful 19th century metal structure of both markets has been replaced by concrete.
Toulouse has a weekly organic farmers' market on the Place du Capitole in the center of town.
In smaller towns, some of which have daily covered markets, the farmers’ markets are of prime importance. In Rodez, for example, a small medieval town in the Aveyron region, the twice weekly market is a lively meeting place. The strawberries are sweet and juicy; cherries come in three sizes, all of them fragrant, ripe and full of flavor. Beautiful heads of lettuce, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables make it difficult for customers to choose.
The Rodez market has a stall where a young man fries large vegetable and meat pancakes (“farcous”) for one euro. Eat them, hot and delicious, right there, or take a few home for lunch. You can buy a portion of the region’s special aligot (a dish combining mashed potatoes, cheese, garlic and cream) prepared at the site, or a piece of “fouace,” a lovely light orange flower flavored cake resembling a brioche.
Roquefort - “the king of cheeses” - is offered at the market mild, sharp or extra sharp. It’s another regional specialty.
Even if you don’t buy anything, Midi Pyrenees markets are a feast for the eyes and the nose.