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This past May, Mexico Cooks! traveled to Paris–yes, that Paris–with a specific mission: to compare markets in the French capital with markets in Mexico City, Mexico’s capital. Above, well…you know!
Prior to traveling to Paris, Mexico Cooks! had arranged a Parisian meeting over dinner (mais oui, what else!) with California foodie expat Randy Díaz. Randy invited several of his friends to join us and we had a marvelous evening at Le Casse Noix.
The lovely and tremendously knowledgeable French Market Maven (Marie Z Johnston) at the incomparable Graineterie du Marché, a small shop on the square occupied by the Marché d’Aligre, Paris. Loui Franke and the peripatetic Mr. Pidds, whose attention was grabbed by an operatic canary, were along as well.
One of Randy’s friends at our dinner was the delightful Marie Z Johnston. She very generously offered to take me shopping at her favorite Paris market. Oh joy! My first thoughts were, what will I see that compares with the tianguis (Mexican street market) where I shop every week? And what will I see that I’ve never seen in Mexico?
The Mexican tianguis is simply a moveable market. In my Mexico City neighborhood, three separate tianguis occur every week. In Paris, we visited the Marché d’Aligre, which sets up in the same square six days a week and also has a brick-and-mortar building alongside the square. Many fruits and vegetables are the same in both Paris and Mexico City, but for the rest–vive la difference!
In Mexico, we are limited to one or at most two varieties of tomatoes. But there is really NO limit to the kinds of chiles we can buy! The plum tomatoes above are accompanied by (from the photo’s far left) tiny orange chiles habanero, long thin green chile de árbol, fatter jalapeños, smaller and spicier chile serrano, and (at top) yellow-orange chile manzano. The chile manzano, just a bit bigger than a golf ball, is nearly as hot as the habañero. It is the only chile in the world with black seeds.
At the Marché d’Aligre, this whole box was filled with different kinds of tomatoes, including some heirloom varieties. But there wasn’t a chile to be had.
To the left, standard round Mexican rabanitos (radishes), which in Mexico are eaten out of hand and are thinly sliced and sprinkled as a condiment in certain kinds of hot soup. To the right, a handful of huauzontle, a New World vegetable that looks just a little like broccoli. It’s completely unknown in France and the rest of Europe.
Above, a crate of tender and beautiful red and white French radishes–often eaten with a smear of butter and a sprinkle of salt.
Flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) are sold by the large bunch in Mexico. They can be cut up in soups, stuffed and fried, or used in several other ways. Trivia tidbit: only the male blossoms are cut and sold, the female blossoms are allowed to develop into a zucchini-like squash.
At the Marché d’Aligre, I had to ask what this was. Even after reading the sign, I was puzzled. It’s wild asparagus! And behind the wild version, the ubiquitous thick, white French asparagus. ‘Twas the season, and asparagus was everywhere. We only occasionally see fresh asparagus in Mexico, and when it is available it costs el ojo de la cara (the eye out of your face)-the Mexican version of “an arm and a leg”.
Fruits in Mexico can be completely different from fruits in Paris. For example, on the top shelf of this fruit stand are small cups of granada (pomegranate) seeds, already removed from the fruit and ready to eat with one of those little pink spoons. On the bottom row are large cups of cut up sandía (watermelon), fresh sweet already-peeled tunas (cactus fruit), and a mixed cup of mango, melón (cantaloupe), papaya, and fresas (strawberries).
At my tianguis, a typical display of (foreground) fresh papaya, bananas (left top), jícama, mangos, and tunas (bottom right).
In Paris, a number of Marché d’Aligre vendors offered Cavaillon melon, similar to cantaloupe but with a definite panache and a fame of its own. The melons look so beautiful in their bright-red tissue paper.
It was cherry season in France–look at these beauties! We sometimes see the black cherries in Mexico, but the ones on the right in the photo are unheard of here. In France, I bought a kilo of the addictive black cherries for 5€ (about $6.00USD). In Mexico, I recently saw them offered for 20 pesos (about $1.50USD) for a tiny bagful. But as I said: addictive. I had to buy some.
Unknown in France, considered a plague in the United States, and prized as a delicacy in Mexico: huitlacoche (corn fungus). It’s sometimes called the Mexican truffle.
These are unknown in Mexico, but coeurs-de-boeuf (beef heart) tomatoes are much sought-after in France. What a color, what a shape, and what a flavor!
Peonies and primroses at the Marché d’Aligre. We do see primroses in Mexico, but peonies do not grow here.
We do have wild orchids in Mexico–and I am not certain, but I suspect that there are none in Paris.
Isn’t the diversity of our world wonderful? As I said before, vive la difference! Viva la diferencia! Long live our differences!
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