The French night markets. It’s hard to put into words just what this whole “night market” scene is about but basically it’s a celebration of good food, wine, music and friendship. La joie de vivre, as they say in France. Over the years travelling through France (and Italy), I’ve visited my fair share of night markets but didn’t really “get” them until 3 years ago when I visited the night market in tiny Vianne (Lot-et-Garonne) with Kate, Monica and Tim. In theory Monica and I were visiting the region to take part in a food photography workshop but Kate and Tim insisted that the night market was a “must do” part of throwing ourselves into the local culture so off we trotted.
This summer has been a special one. Our first summer when our house in France felt like a home (and not just a construction zone). The first summer I’ve been able to actually live in the house and (mostly) just enjoy it (Neil might disagree as his part of the trip involved a lot of “house stuff”…). And the first summer where we were terribly spoiled as the Nérac Marché Nocturne takes place two blocks from our house. Far enough (and down a hill) away that it doesn’t keep us up at night. Close enough that it’s quicker to head home for a toilet stop than it is to queue with the masses. For real!
I’ve enjoyed the local night market with a friend from Toronto, Kate, Kathy, Steph, Monica (and Neil!) and with our new friends and Nérac neighbours, Brian and Liz. It’s been a whirlwind of wine and music and food and friends.
I checked out a couple of other night markets in the area too (they run through the summer) which is always fun – some of the local “producteurs” travel around to each of the markets in a region but there is always something a little different at each one. Over the weeks, we’ve learned to be a little more organised in the way we approach the markets – it can look a little haphazard to an outsider but if you pay attention and watch, there is a method to the madness…
Tip for successfully navigating the night markets
1. Figure out the glass/ cup situation. Many markets will sell re-usable (glass or plastic) glasses for 1€ so make sure you have something to drink that 4€ bottle of wine out of (sub-tip – it’s a great way to stock your vacation rental home 😉 )
2. If there are tables and chairs, send someone on a rekkie to secure a table or at least a space to set out your food. This appears to be the job of the little French kids – I’ve observed on more than one occasion kids swooping in on spaces like a carefully planned mission. Picnic baskets in hand, they arrive and save spaces by placing out the (previously purchased) re-usable glasses. Then they sit down and hold the fort while mums and dads and grannies and granddads head out to collect the meal.
3. Take some time to scope out the food offerings. There will usually be some meat and veggie options, always cheeses/ charcuterie/ frites and quite often fresh fruit and even some desserts. Before you get too excited and start buying stuff, make sure you know what’s available. Then rendez-vouz back with your party at the previously procured table with your previously procured wine and glasses and make a plan.
4. Figure out what the longest lines are and get some of your party standing in them. When they are nearly ready to be served, send more people out to the food queues that are the shortest (or moving the fastest). This way you will end up with a more or less complete meal on the table all at the same time.
5. Don’t speak French? A smile goes a long way. And you can of course, point at things.
Most importantly? Enjoy! Also, drink water…..