Text: Brendan Seibel
Image: Dale Calder
Today it’s hard to imagine Les Halles as anything other than an architectural disgrace. Centuries ago it was the “Belly of Paris”, but now teems with a distinctly different commerce. The tradition of visiting the neighborhood grocer, seeking advice from the opinionated fromager, the friendly conversations between people brought together by exchange, buckles under the weight of every new Monoprix.
Marchés remain entrenched against the onslaught of commercial evolution. While most manifestations of this bygone era live on as open-air weekend gatherings only a few covered markets survive. The oldest is Marché des Enfants Rouges (dating from the 17th century) tucked away behind the trendy rue de Bretagne in the 3rd. They crop up suddenly, ghosts of a dying age, like the strikingly squat Marché Saint-Quentin on frenetic Boulevard Magenta.
This forlorn patch of the work-a-day 10th is now served by the ghost of a ghost. Marché Saint-Laurent, swept in along with the same tide which brought the northern stations. Haussmann’s grand plans displaced the original when Boulevard Strasbourg tore through the earth and the current location was built and rechristened in 1866. It stands as the largest covered market in the city.
Hidden behind the concrete and bricks lays a bright atrium, sunlight streaming through broad windows and a central skylight. Handsome wrought iron lattice-work supports a shallow dome, married to ornate lamp posts running between more than thirty stalls. Certain vendors certainly cater to thicker wallets but many can compete with smaller stores. A half dozen grocers, some organic, are spaced throughout the market. Five boucheries offer regional meats, selections of charcuterie, and the requisite smoked accoutrements; a number of poissonniers bring the morning’s catch from the coast. Specialty dishes from Portugal, Lebanon, Italy and Morocco share space with a small brasserie where you can relax with a drink; shoppers in a hurry can grab pizza or crêpes. Several crèmeries tempt you with their ornate arrangements, an Oriental bakery with mystery and Terres de Bières with French and Belgian beverages. Between the retoucheur and the quincaillerie an entire day’s errands can be handled.
Marché Saint-Quentin mixes people as well as cuisines. Safe from tourists it serves a transitional neighborhood where the well-heeled rub shoulders with the down-and-out. Fish mongers hold court with office workers, butchers with day laborers, and kids vie for a turn on the coin-operated ride under the skylight. And for anyone heading to Gare du Nord or Gare de l’Est it’s one last opportunity to pick up a fresh bouquet or bottle of wine before heading home.
85 bis Boulevard Magenta
Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 8am – 1pm, 3:30pm – 7:30pm Saturday: 8am – 7:30pm Sunday: 8am – 1:15pm
Metro: Gare de l’Est (4, 5, 7)