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La vie Provencal

Article first appeared in Cibus magazine

I familiarize myself with Provencal cuisine at the farmer’s market in Aix-En-Provence.

Some trusted friend suggested to me to visit Aix-En-Provence. It did not take much to convince me, just a mention of the vibrant farmer’s market on the Place Richelme and I was already planning the trip. In the heart of this gorgeous city in the South of France, in the Provence region, this picturesque market presents a slice of local Provencal life.

The day was pretty, bright and cold. The shade provoked by the number of tall trees in the square dampened our hope for some warmth from the shining sun but nothing would have disheartened me from wandering among the kaleidoscopic stalls of fresh, authentic and delicious food.

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Under the multi-coloured canopies, vendors sold goat cheeses, fresh and aged; different types of bread, including the typical, large, leaf-shaped pull-apart fougasse with olives; home-made biscuits with cinnamon, raisins, chocolate, almonds, ginger and lemon; cured sausages with duck, chevre, or figs and walnuts; green, black, small, medium, large, with herbs or without, Provencal olives and also tapenade. And, of course, lavender, the ‘soul of Provence,’ which enlivens the market with its soothing scent and purple colour. There were lavender scented soaps, aromatic oils, candles, honey as well as culinary dried lavender for cooking.

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The fruit and vegetables were ravishing. Reddish pink and white radishes, variety of apples and pears, green asparagus, tomatoes of all kinds, a wide assortment of green salad leaves, beetroot, potatoes, artichokes, shimmering red strawberries, sticks of rhubarb, pumpkins, all stacked up and presented in a more than inviting ensemble. I was envious of the people shopping knowing that they are returning to their homes to cook with these luscious provisions. There exists no bag large enough to carry all that I would have liked to buy!

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It was a lively scene in Place Richelme under the blue skies. Grey-haired women with dogs, properly dressed ladies wheeling tiny shopping trolleys, mothers pushing their children in strollers, men holding bags heavy with the shopping, robust stall owners pushing carts to supply their booths, as well as some curious tourists like us. As is usual in these surroundings, I was snapping photos left and right.

We broke the tour with a fragrant, freshly ground coffee at Brulerie Richelme, a coffee house which stocks coffee beans only from individual farmers who pick the coffee beans by hand. Then, continued towards the fish and seafood stations. Being close to Marseille and other fishing villages, Aix-en-Provence luxuriate in the freshest catch. A string of fishmongers displayed a hodgepodge of fish varieties – sea bream, sole, red mullet, fine oysters and scallops, vividly coloured prawns, razor clams, piles of gleaming sea urchins, langoustines, clams, crabs and live lobsters. It was an epiphany of taste and by the end of the tour I was famished and ready to eat!

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In this type of market, food and life are intertwined so easily. The extraordinary beauty of Aix-En-Provence is reflected in this market and the magical ‘joie de vivre’ feeling you get infected with by simply moving around in the square. It was worth discovering how this city, made for cooking, truly enjoys seasonal and readily available ingredients making Southern French food a worthy element in the so-much celebrated Mediterranean gastronomy scene.

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A great part of my life is today built around the joys of food and cooking. The right food markets (you usually feel the rightness at the first glance), as simple or elaborate as they may be celebrate these pleasures of mine so fantastically! As Julia Child (the popular American chef, author and TV personality) wrote, a visit to the market is ‘an experience that was worthy of a graduate degree unto itself.’

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