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Sunday, 24 May 2015

An exciting visit to the marché de Capucines in Bordeaux

With the blisters now pretty much healed up to the point of having almost forgotten the pain I cannot believe it is almost a week ago on a Sunday evening (17th May) when I cautiously hobbled into the marché de Capucines for a quick nose around after picking up some plasters for my ailing and stinging feet.

It was about four in the afternoon and the indoor market was closing down most of its stalls with the exception of a couple of tapas style bars which seemed to be doing tremendous business with all the locals gathering for a late socially exciting Sunday afternoon nibble and tipple. Now there's a good name for a tapas bar n'est pas? - Nibble & Tipple © Phil Lowe 2015.

Having read a little about this very much alive local market where the folk of Bordeaux flock to buy their foodstuffs at decent prices and embrace their constant French  food lover's philosophy of purchasing produits avec fraicheur – fresh products - I became keener than ever to return on the following Tuesday. Well I didn't have a huge amount of choice as Saturday had already passed by, on Monday the market was closed and I was due to go home on the Wednesday.

Marché de Capucines is named after an order of monks called Les Capucines (lay cap – oo – san ) who alongside their religious beliefs dedicated their lives to looking after the poor. It lays between the districts (quartiers) of Victoire and St Michel both quite grey run down areas with high immigrant and student populations. The districts have great character but are decidedly down at heel. Perfect for architectural street photography with remnants of old France in the buildings and street furniture but perhaps not quite so perfect for hanging around after dark. Maybe I am being overly cautious.

Like any market in the world a Tuesday perhaps isn't the best day to see the market at its most vibrant but at least it transpired that I could get an agreeable impression without the massive Saturday crowds blocking out my viewing and photography chances.

I returned to the market on the Tuesday about 8.30am prior to my having my own breakfast. I wanted to photographically capture something of the working market early in the day. Perhaps I would have been better arriving at 4am when the market stall holders actually begin their working day. Then on reflection, how would I explain my appearance so early in the day with my limited French?

With a mix of charm, bravery and necessity I spoke to a girl on one of the meat counters explaining, in simple French, my own past in the butchery business and interest in French food and culture and my desire to take some photos of the meat products and their counter generally. She called to the boss and he acceded my requests and interest but never ventured out of his interior office to say “Bonjour” to the English butcher chappie.


I was very interested to witness all their different meat products on one counter. I say this because I was always under the, perhaps false impression, that the French butchery system was divided very clearly into a boucherie (beef, lamb and perhaps some fowl) and a completely separate business for charcuterie (primarily pork related with curing and smoking as a strong commercial interest). However in Céline and Christophe Gazeau's business I witnessed everything across the various butchery lines. Wasn't overly sure about the stuffed fox on the top of their counter but they probably have their reasons! Maybe it was once a friend of the family. It did have a happy smile for a fox.

Elsewhere in the market I saw a beautiful line of cured hams from Bayonne with little cups under each to collect the oils as it air dried in situ. Plus there was another tiny stall just selling les volailles de basse-cour (farmyard fowls). It had a small selection of quails, ducks, pheasants and Bresse chickens scattered among the pretend grass and peculiar tumble down ornaments seemingly left over from Easter.

All of the fresh meat was well presented with some long rib joints of beef, a loin of veal, (cote filet de veau) complete unboned and prepared shoulders, legs and cutlets of salt marsh grazed lamb and intricately strung joints of boneless shoulder of pork for roasting. Plus there were whole ribs of pork on display rather than pre-cut chops. Presumably this was so that the côtelettes de porc could be cut by the butcher as required. The yellow skinned farm chickens (poulet des fermiers) were all from the local Des Landes area and sans abats (without giblets). They also sold Marie Hot duck legs at 8.90 euros per kilo. These were fresh as opposed to in kept in duck confit. Interestingly there was also a massive soft brown calves' liver that sat in shiny prominence on one of the pure white trays that held the various cuts. Once again this appeared to be a 'slice as required' product.
best fish counter


The best fish counter was doing a good trade considering the time of day and there were a big variety of fish and shellfish on offer including dorade commune, grodin rouge, flétan, local eels, racasse, mullet, chapon, and loup de mer. As expected the more oily fish such as anchois and les harengs and the bright vibrant greens and blues of macquereaux sat temptingly on the flakes of ice. There were also local specialities such as tuna from the Basque ports and oysters from the bay at nearby Arcachon. The fishmongers must get up phenomenally early as they would need to buy and collect their stock from the wholesale markets known as criées. The seafood is auctioned early and then distributed to the towns and cities before daybreak. On the Sunday visit I saw the firm and sweet huîtres ( European oysters) being totally enjoyed, if not gulped down, by the plateful by the locals. I have yet to try these delights and felt slightly nervous of giving them a go whilst on holiday in France just in case they had a bad effect on my stomach.
taken on the Sunday

taken on the Sunday
There were plentiful fruit and vegetable stalls both inside and outside of the market building and I tried to take a (rather blurred from a hasty photographic execution) picture of a stunningly verdant herb stand. I'd never seen anything like that in England. Maybe the Borough Market in London may feature something similar but for me this was an exciting novelty.

There may well have been bread stalls but, in my explorations, I don't recall actively seeing them. That certainly doesn't mean they don't exist in this market. My other intention was to make a video of my visit but with the relative quietness of this Tuesday morning and the lack of bustle I felt it better to do a couple of circumnavigations, take some photos and do my best to chat to the stall holders on what appeared to be the most exciting stalls. I hope you have enjoyed my reflections on my visit.

À mon avis ça vaut le pein. In my opinion its worth the effort. I believe there is even live jazz music on a Saturday! You just don't get that in a supermarket.

#Bordeaux #BordeauxFrance

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