Marché d’Aligre – A Touch of the Souk

Marché d’AligreWhile most markets are shut tight on Sunday morning, that is the very best time of the week to visit Paris ’s Marché d’Aligre. Set in the outlying 12th arrondissement, the market has a distinctly North African flavor (where else in town could you pick up henna, rosewater, or spicy harissa paste?). Though this east Paris neighborhood itself isn’t chic, the hipsters are out in full force on Sunday mornings, scouring the market stalls for bargains.

In the heart of the square are the permanent stalls of Marché Couvert BeauvauSt-Antoine, built in 1779 and one of the last remaining covered markets in Paris. By the 1800s, it had expanded to include a farmer’s market in the open square around
it and was second only to Les Halles as Paris’s most important market. By the early 1970s, however, the atmospheric Les Halles had closed its stalls, moving its wholesale operations out to much less colorful digs in the suburb of Rungiswhich left Marche d’Aligre as a lone survivor of Paris’s great market tradition. (There are still a number of less permanent openair street markets, of course, including the stalls along Marché Buci, on rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement; and on rue Montorgueil, behind the St-Eustache church in the 1st arrondissement.)

The shopping inside the covered market itself is decidedly high end, with fresh poultry, charcuterie, butchers, excellent fish, luxury fruits, and imported foodstuffs for sale by long-established merchants in smartly outfitted stalls. If you ever doubted that France produces more than 1,000 varieties of cheese, you’ll be convinced by the amazing selections in the fromageries here.

The scene surrounding the covered market has an entirely different character—more multicultural, more for bargainhunters, and more vibrant. Prices are often low, and a spirit of hawking and haggling keeps things lively. Many Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian vendors operate here, selling fruits and vegetables they bought earlier in the morning out in Rungis at the wholesale market. Generally, they’ve sold out their stock and packed up by lunchtime, while the indoor stalls maintain regular store hours.

Thanks to those grazing hipsters, several excellent small shops and cafes ringing the square have their own following. Don’t miss the flaky French pastries at Ble du Sucre (7 rue Antoine Vollon), the organic breads at Moisan (5 rue d’Aligre), or the fresh-roasted coffee at Cafe Aouba (rue d’Aligre).