The market in Les Halles may not be as famous as the original one — nicknamed the “Belly of Paris” by Emile Zola — but it continues to be a place frequented by locals, great for learning about French culture, and perfect for picking out ingredients for a French cooking class.
For centuries, the Les Halles market was a labyrinth of alleys packed with vendors hawking meats, vegetables, and fish. In the 13th century, the Rue Montorgueil was the road fishermen traveled to deliver fresh fish and seafood to Parisians, and the rue became home to the oyster market. Proof of the popularity of Les Halles is in the numbers; in 1846, it was calculated that 6 million oysters were consumed there.
While the area thrived, it also jam packed the first arrondissement with traffic. That’s why, in 1971, the city moved the market to the suburb of Rungis. Unfortunately, the old Les Halles location became a bit of an eyesore at the time, but no one forgot the culinary history of the spot. In 1977, an urban RER train hub, Châtelet-Les-Halles, opened, and in 1979 the Forum des Halles, a multi-story shopping center, was built as well.
Although the historical food market no longer exists as it once did, the Les Halles district is still home to a wealth of specialist food purveyors and kitchen equipment stores. As for Rue Montorgueil, the market street has become a place for Parisians to do their daily shopping; it’s still lined with old-fashioned bistros, Stohrer and Paris’s other oldest patisseries, traditional food stores selling everything from fish and produce to wine and cheese, historical restaurants such as the famous “Rocher de Cancale,” and stores selling kitchen equipment and tableware.
“It is an opportunity to feel almost like a local and meet locals. Les Halles is really a paradise for food-addicts, be they professional or amateurs only,” says Chef Laetitia, who leads one of our Paris cooking classes and cooking vacations. “It is not a tourist trap, but really a place where even three-star restaurants buy their kitchenware. There are two of Paris’s oldest restaurants, Paris’s oldest pastry shop. It is where I buy my fish and foie gras, which are also places that cater many good restaurants in Paris.”
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By Liz SanFilippo Hall
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