Hi Frugalistas! This week’s midweek postcard takes a visit to a Paris market that is definitely off the tourist path. In fact the day I visited, I think I was the only tourist there. I’d read about the Marche Barbes (also known as the North African market) in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. I’d also read that this was a Paris market like no other, with somewhat “shy” stallholders and customers. I was intrigued……
I visited the Marche Barbes very early while attending a conference in Paris. Despite the early hour the market was in full swing when I arrived. In fact it was probably the most crowded Paris market I had ever visited.
And it was noisy……
French and Arabic voices calling out everywhere. Loud ululations throughout. What a cacophony! Calls of “taste Madame”, “buy one, get one free!” rang out. Imams were collecting money for charity while European and Arab shoppers alike braved the crowds to fill their shopping trolleys with bargains.
And I soon realised I was the only tourist there……..
It some ways the Marche Barbes is a typical Paris market. But look closely and it is not. Yes, there is the fruit, the bunches of herbs and the glossy, plump eggplant and tomatoes. There are baguettes, and pains au chocolat. But there are also stalls of olives in every size and hue, dried fruits and spices – all displayed in that “just so” Middle Eastern/North African style.
And then there is fabric. Bolts and bolts of riotously decorated, bright sequinned and jewelled fabrics. And kid’s clothing. Ornate. Definitely clothes for dressing to impress.
But it was a Paris market with a secret
The Marche Barbes is certainly very photogenic. But I had read stories that taking photos was particularly difficult. The stallholders and customers were a little, shall we say, “shy”. To try and get around it, I decided a charm offensive was in order.
So I went around and bought a few things. After each purchase I mustered my very best French to politely ask if I could take a photo of the produce. Each time I was met with a “Non, c’est interdit” – no, it’s forbidden. Each time I asked why there was a quick change of subject and an indifferent shrug of the shoulders.
When I arrived at my conference later that morning I took my purchases to the cloak room. The young girl looked at me amazed and a little aghast when I said where I had been. “Why did you go there? That’s not a place for tourists!!” But then the rather telling “I love that market! It’s the cheapest market in Paris. People come from all over Paris to go to that market.”
I think the Marche Barbes is a market that Parisians just want to keep their own little secret. Whether it is forbidden or not, it’s a Paris market that is well worth heading into northern Paris to find.
The Marche Barbes is under the railway tracks just near the Barbes Rochechouart Metro station.
This post is inspired by an article I originally wrote for My French Life.