I didn’t always love markets. I used to find them confusing and stressful. Many years ago I used to spend a lot of time in Rome, but not enough to perfect my Italian. I loved the local market in Testaccio but it also terrified me. Timidity gets you nowhere at the market in Rome. Everyone else always seemed to know exactly what they wanted. Admiring the goods on offer but not knowing what half of them were called in Italian, I would wait patiently for my turn to point to what I wanted. Just as I would make eye contact with a sympathetic merchant someone’s ‘nonna’ would arrive and start a very loud conversation about the price of sage captivating everyone (else) and I would fade into the background and move on empty handed. Was it vocabulary I lacked or confidence? A little of both, but mostly it was savoir faire.
Market etiquette differs from place to place but having made every mistake in the book I think I finally have it sussed. Visiting my parents, who were living in Shanghai about twenty years ago, I learned the local ‘formula’. To make things simple if the price was 100rmb, you would start your counter offer at 50 (easy enough to divide by two) and go up to 75 if you really liked and wanted what was on offer. I applied this formula at a market in Mexico not long afterwards and offended someone so much that he told all the other market sellers not to sell to me. Oops!
I don’t like bargaining anyway, it doesn’t come naturally to me and that experience put me off for ages. I get it from my mother who also dislikes bargaining. She used to pay the asking price in Shanghai until she was told off by the Chinese merchants for ‘mucking up the system’. You can’t win! Even if it does come naturally to you, there is something not right with being overly assertive on your travels in a foreign country. I was mortified in India when a friend looked a rickshaw driver up and down with exagerated indignation and told him “not to be ridiculous” because he quoted her a few roupies over the price she expected for the ride to Pondi Bazaar. We were both so happy to be alive after that ride that the prices were inconsequential. Karma!
Finally one of my ex colleagues, an assertive lady from Glasgow, taught me how to shop at a market. Having split up briefly at the ladies market in Hong Kong, she was horrified by how much I had paid for something and marched me back to the stand shame faced and insisted I be given a better price, which I was! She told me to watch, listen and learn. I spent the day with her and did learn to love ‘doing the markets’.
In Toulouse, happily, you don’t need to bargain. Maybe at the antiques market, allées Francois Verdier on the first weekend of every month, but I am not even sure. This is the only market that still puzzles me a bit. I am never quite sure that they want to sell me things. The ‘chineurs’, the savvy ones, go early on Friday mornings apparently. On Saturday and Sunday it is mostly just regular folk strolling around and it‘s not always easy to make contact with the vendors, especially around lunch time. I guess I do still have a bit to learn.
My favorite markets in Toulouse:
Marché St Aubin: open Sundays from 7h to 14h.
I wake up on Sundays, excited to go to the market at St Aubin. As I walk down the hill, basket in hand in search of inspiration, I see lots of people from my neighbourhood with their arms full of goodies trudging back up the hill. A circular market spread out around the church of St Aubin, it is eclectic, energetic and colourful. You can buy fresh produce, bio produce, wine, bread, charcuterie, olives, tapenade, all the usual stuff and lots of made on the spot dishes like paella, empanadas and roast chicken. Towards the canal entrance there is a Syrian food market stall where the queue for falafels is getting longer every week. It is tempting not to cook on Sundays as there are so many enticing dishes that only need warming up. You can browse for clothes, bags, jewelry and even chickens if you want fresh eggs every day. On the opposite side of the canal, at the church entrance, there are books, records and flowers for sale. It‘s a fun, lively and laid back market.
On Saturdays the flea market that used to be Marché à la Brocante Saint Sernin is held here at St Aubin until construction around the basilica is finished, hopefully by summer 2019.
Marché de producteur à Monplaisir is open on weekends, the market on Saturdays and the café Saturday and Sunday. A little spot by the canal where only small scale producers from the region sell their produce. There is a garden, a little café with french music playing in the background, and just a few small merchants offering their goods. The bread from the Gers is fantastic, and he only sells in Toulouse! You can stop off at the end of your weekend run along the canal, pick up a few things and be on your way. You can also take your time, have a coffee and enjoy the ambience.
Marché Victor Hugo is open from Tuesday to Sunday 7h30 to 14h and is surely the most impressive food market in Toulouse. Whatever you are looking for you should find it here. It is the gourmet food market of the city. Visiting a market displaying such wonderful food when you don’t have a kitchen because you are just visiting can be frustrating; at least here you can have lunch at one of the restaurants above the market offering various dishes prepared with the fresh produce from below. They are not expensive but you need to get here early, before midday, if you want a good table. The market has just been renovated and reopens 1 september 2018.
Le marché Victor Hugo stands where the marché au bois, wood market, was constructed in 1827 after the demolition of the ramparts that surrounded the city centre since the Middle Ages. In order to modernize Toulouse various covered markets were constructed and in the late 1800’s this market was renamed Victor Hugo. In 1959 an above ground parking lot was constructed over the market; it was the first paid parking lot in Toulouse. Too complicated to demolish and dig out an underground lot, it has been renovated as well and contrasts interestingly with the older buildings surrounding it.
Le marché bio du Capitole : L’Esparcette
The first ‘marché bio’ in France, created over thirty years ago, this market allowed small local produceurs to live from small scale biological agricultre. All produce here is certified organic. The market is open twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 08h to 14h.
Marché Saint Cyprien, open Tuesday to Sunday 7H to 13h, is another very old market in the city. This covered neighbourhood market is located south of the river and sells quality food from Tuesday to Sunday and books on Monday.
Marché des Carmes, open from Tuesday to Sunday 7h to 13h30 is in the centre of one of the liveliest trendiest neighbourhoods in Toulouse. Heteroclite, pretty, busy and well placed, it is a very sought after area to live in. The market is popular and surrounded by cafés, bars and restaurants. It’s a covered market with fruit and veg outside as well. There is a good Italian grocery store, Casa Italia, just outside the market; a good beginning of the month kind of shop.
Marché Crystal on the other hand is probably the least expensive big market in Toulouse. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 7h to 13h30 and spreads itself along the boulevard Strasbourg. Mostly fruit and veg, the produce and the prices are interesting.
There are a couple of book markets that move around from place to place as well. Place St. Etienne has a ‘marché des bouquinistes’ on Saturdays from 9h30 to 18h. There is also a book market at Place St Pierre on Fridays from 10h to 18h30.
Marché Forains, Place du Capitole takes place in the main square of the historical centre of Toulouse on Wednesdays. There are many stands on display selling clothes, jewelry, books, records, African goods and more. The market is open from 7h until 19h on Wednesday and a smaller version is open from 7h to 13h30 Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Le Marché de Noël de Toulouse – Christmas Market – open 10h30 to 20h30
During the winter from late November until late December there is a big Christmas market at Place du Capitole. You will smell the aligot, a winter dish from Aveyron and le vin chaud as you approach. You can buy Christmas decorations, jewelry, toys, artisanal gifts and lots of gastronomic seasonal treats at this pretty winter market!
Enjoy visiting the markets in Toulouse! Follow my blog to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie. Next stop back to the blue…..