Today is market day in Aix-les-Bains, Wednesdays and Saturdays are flooded with vendors of all kinds. Produce, cheese, baked goods, spices, nuts, clothing, handmade soaps and candies, meats, everything for the home, it’s all there in one place and it is bustling! If you know me in the slightest than you know that I do love food, nothing thrills me more than the hunt for unique finds, rare ingredients and the thrill of finding a beautiful red carrot or green garlic! I’m in the right place, France really does embrace the art of cooking and has a distinctive culture around the fresh market place, and they certainly make eating a special event.
Our family has had to adjust to the cultural differences here in France including meal times. Breakfast named “petit-déjeuner” is not a big thing, a simple coffee and croissant is sufficient, not your average bacon, home fries and over easy egg to be found.
Kids have chocolate milk here including incorporating it into their cereal, chocolate for breakfast?
Lunch “déjeuner” is a 2 to 2.5 hour affair, while most people take the time to go home to enjoy a meal with their family many people go out to dine. Restaurants make a big effort to put together lunch menus at affordable prices that include complex ingredients and interesting pairings since it’s considered to be a larger meal compared to North American’s lunch on the run attitudes.
That brings me to my next point school lunches! On the first day of my daughter’s school I packed her some snacks and a full lunch not knowing how the system worked here and I was told to come back at 11:30am to pick her up. When I got there she explained that there are two options – you either go home for a two hour lunch or pay for a school lunch which is referred to as the “cantine”. The “cantine” posts a weekly menu which offers a well-balanced lunch including appetizer, entree, dessert and of course baguette is included in every meal. Served with real cutlery, carafes of water and actual dishware. The menu is prepared by a team of certified dietitians and reviewed by city council and school officials often. It puts our North American schools to shame even from Canadian standards.
While we are getting better, we really could take some advice from the French. It also costs hardly anything – to have my daughter eat at school for 2 hours it costs €4.65 which is equivalent to $6.79 Canadian dollars a day. Having reviewed the menu week after week I find it interesting that they can serve fish 2-3 times a week, amazing quality cheeses, fresh fruit and veggies and always a local pastry or homemade dessert of some kind and still keep the cost so low.
My daughter does not particularly like the meals there since she hates fish and most meat so we stick to the days that offer chicken!
Dinner or “diner” is quite late in France, usually around 7:30-8pm, you cannot even get into a restaurant until at least 7pm which for us is WAY too late – if we are planning a night out then we eat something at home first! The French like to dine outside of the home quite often, I suppose it’s because they have smaller spaces that eating out is so prevalent? The cost of eating out is very affordable also, you can feed an entire family with what would cost us at home to just simply have drinks and apps… It’s very tempting to eat out often since we are surrounded by magnificent restaurants and local ingredients but I prefer to cook at home and involve my daughter in the menu planning and prep work of making a home cooked meal. It’s important to me and since she was little she loved to get involved so why wouldn’t I take advantage of that!
I adore market day because I feel like I am really getting loads of food for so little. With the growing use of additives, pesticides, hormones and other genetic modifications to our food, it’s so refreshing to buy local and to speak to the person who actually grew that carrot or made that cheese. It’s also nice to have the unpredictability of the items available, whatever is in season is cheapest and with the proximity to warm spots like Morocco and Spain the array of produce is always so abundant.
The difference here in our market vendors is that many of them are the growers, the producers skip the middle man and set up a stall and sell direct to the people.
If you have any questions or want to pick their brain about recipes etc, the farmers are very passionate and will happily give you advice. Your local market stall is so much more than a place to purchase items, it truly is a community hub. It’s a place where friends meet, shop and sit done and have coffee. My first day going to this market I noticed a homeless man and his dog sitting nearby, nothing unusual but what I did find heartwarming was that the locals knew this man, engaged him in chats and asked about his general well-being while leaving him some food for himself and his dog. I don’t know about you but it’s very rare to see people interact or even know a homeless person by name where i’m from. It may very well be that he is the only homeless person I’ve seen in this town and therefore we know him by name? Irregardless it’s great to see that this person is part of this community and humanized and not shamed for his misfortunes.
To have a fresh food market at our finger tips is such a luxury and I think the residents of this town really do appreciate it since it is always so busy. I know we never miss a market day and it has really helped us to consume less meat as well as encouraged us to increase our fruit and vegetable intake. Every region in France is heavily influenced by it’s history and close border counties and it’s what makes the local food so very special.
We are lucky to have picked Aix-les-Bains as our home since cheese and wine from this Savoie region are world renowned and have so much history. I encourage you to explore your local markets and chat with the vendors to learn about your area, its a great way to discover unique flavors and learn about your region while supporting the local economy. Not to mention having some amazing ingredients to cultivate a beautiful meal with your family! What do you love about your city?