Markets in central Paris tend to get lots of buzz. It’s delightful to shop with the Eiffel Tower in the background or Luxembourg Gardens in easy picnic distance. But anyone interested in experiencing a range of Paris markets would do well to explore the outer arrondissements too since that’s where more ethnically diverse markets are located. Although I say “outer,” these neighborhoods are well within the Périphérique (the ring road that encircles Paris) and easily accessible by Métro or bus.
Le Marché Barbès in the 18th arrondissement, for example, has tremendous ethnic vitality as does Marché Belleville (in the 11th), Marché d’Aligre (in the 12th), and numerous others. At Barbès, multiple nationalities and cultures converge at stalls underneath a train trestle.
Offerings include lots of fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs, and delicacies commonly used in different ethnic cuisines.
It’s part culinary bazaar and part visual extravaganza. African women in colorful dresses sparkle like gems as they shop elbow-to-elbow with Arab women in burkas. Men huddle in clusters of conversation and deal-making. If you’re looking for a leisurely market with lots of personal space, go elsewhere. But if you’re in the mood for fast-paced commerce and crowds in a noisy and cramped setting, then Barbès market is an excellent option. It’s one of my personal favorites.
The Barbès market caters primarily to neighborhood residents. Not a lot of travelers venture here, even though it’s only a short trot from tourist epicenters Sacré Coeur and Montmartre. But that’s starting to change. As Elaine Sciolino describes in this NYT article, the gritty neighborhood is starting to attract a slew of hip and trendy spots. They’re fun and definitely worth checking out. My only quibble with her otherwise outstanding article is that markets days (Wednesday and Saturday mornings) are great times to go, not to avoid this neighborhood. My advice is plan your itinerary to overlap with a markets morning so you don’t miss it. Decide for yourself whether it’s more exciting to visit this neighborhood on a market day or not, and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear!
Le Marché Barbès
Boulevard de la Chapelle from rue Guy Patin to rue de Tombouctou, 18th arr.
Wednesday 8 am to 1:0 pm; Saturday 8 am to 2 pm
See pp. 232-235 in Markets of Paris, 2nd ed. for more information