If you live in Vaison, you know that on Tuesdays from around 7:30-2:30 normal life grinds to a startling halt.
I dare you to try and convince the Colismo delivery guy to please, pretty, pretty please wait on the Roman bridge, telling him you will run out to fetch the package and see how that turns out for you. I'd say about 99% of the time when I make it down all of the steps and out of the riverside door, he is long gone, seeing the incredible wave of people coming at him from every direction and not wanting to get further stuck in the mess that is market day. Contractors are another group that refuse to visit the home all together during that time slot, but that story is for another time.
Despite the headaches and chaos that the market can bring in terms receiving any goods or services to the house, the overall charm and allure of the market and its vendors is something we now know we couldn't ever live without.
Vaison's market dates back to the late 1400's (1483 to be exact) when a papal bull from Pope Sixtus IV approved the town to begin hosting a market, but it wasn't until Pope Clement VII set the decision in motion in 1532 and assigned Tuesday as Vaison's official market day.
There are anywhere between 450-500 stalls that visit Vaison any given Tuesday. So, how did we pick our favorites out of literally hundreds? It wasn't the easiest of tasks, that's for sure! The stalls hold a variety of things, from our favorites being the food stalls, to bolts of fabrics, pottery, clothes, kitchen utensils, bags, art, and soaps. Just focusing on the food, we've already eliminated about 300 stalls, making it a little less daunting.
My threpicks are in no exact order and all have a special place in my heart, so, without further ado...
I don't think that there is ever a time that I go to the market, that I don't stop and pick something up from our olive and tapenade people. I almost feel like it should be a law that you can't live in Provence without having some kind of olive product in your fridge at all times.
Also, when you are as into the apèro as I am, you always need a few of these items on hand to finagle into some new and innovated snack.
Le Bandolaise have an array of dips and different mixes of olives, along with confit lemons and sun-dried tomatoes, and other specialty seasonal items that change throughout the year.
When I'm abroad, I love trying to cook with regional items. On one of our last market days, I asked Ikram about the confit lemons and her and Bastian excitedly started rattling off ingredients for their favorite tagine. Adding their suggestions to my shopping list, this prompted me to hit up my other two favorites on this list, but more on that later.
African, and more specifically Moroccan food is a bit of a mystery to me. I've made eggplant dips with Moroccan origins, but this would be my first ever stab at a tagine. I was intrigued, excited and a little nervous.
"I don't have a..." making the shape with my hands... "tagine," I added. Wondering why the dish and the pot were called the exact thing.
"Pas un problème," she reassured, continuing on to tell me that any bake wear will do in a pinch.
The relationship between the two, Ikram and Bastian, is quite sweet. She is vibrant and bubbly, stopping to chat with absolutely anyone who wants to engage. Ripping off pieces of bread, she excitedly dips them into the beautifully crafted dips, handing it over the counter as she explains all of the ingredients and asking about each person's week. Bastian is more quiet, methodically weighing bulging sacks of olives and tallying up orders. As the line grows longer and longer, he grows more impatient with Ikram, exasperated by her chattiness. The dynamic is charming and completely why we fell in love with their table out of all of the other olive stands in Vaison. The amount of passion and kindness they put into not only their products, but their interactions with guests are what make them so special. The relationships are what make our trips to the market unforgettable.
I was thinking about this the other day, when I was at the fish counter at Whole Foods, an American bio grocery store, ordering fish from the same guy I have ordered from for the past three years. Despite me ordering the same items every two weeks from the same guy those three years, no pleasantries were exchanged or even acknowledgment that I had ever been there before.
Having these brief moments with the market stall owners makes our experience so much more than just a shopping trip.
Pro tip: Last year, we were obsessed with their eggplant tapenade (Caviar d'Aubergine ) which is wonderful, but this year, I found myself always buying the tomato tapenade (which was so incredibly handy to make a plethora of different apèro treats.) Andy, on the other hand, couldn't get enough of the houmous piquant (spicy humus). Andy's spice tolerance isn't super high, but we find that things labeled spicy in France usually means pretty mild for our American tastebuds. These three dips are our favorites, though, and always fabulous!
My second pick is Le Potager de Mistral, a family run produce stand that I chose on my first market day in Vaison and never went anywhere else after. There were a handful of other produce stalls at the market, but something about this one really drew me in. All of the produce was laid out perfectly and showcased a lot of pride in their product. Stacks of squash, mounds of lettuce, and bundles of carrots, were all displayed to resemble works of art.
My first market day was a little nerve wracking. I had arrived in Vaison the day after Andy had left for an unexpected work event in Cannes. Feeling a bit jet lagged, a little lonely and very overwhelmed, I walked through the stalls in a bit of a fog. I've read enough books about expats in France to know that interacting with market or shop owners could be (or at least the books made it sound) a bit intimidating. After being drawn in by all of the bright, fresh colors of the Le Potager de Mistral stand, I stood back from the stall and watched what others were doing. The last thing I wanted was to make a faux pas on my first ever market trip! I watched as locals grabbed a small green or red basket, filling it up with their choices, and then handing the brimming baskets over to one of the guys behind the stand to weigh and bag. Seemed easy enough.
I followed suit and when I was ready to check out, I had my first interaction with Stéphane. I think he could tell I was a fish out of water, and was kind and patient, as I stumbled through basic phrases, chopped up by the anxiety and nerves of the situation. The interaction, though brief, really made me feel comfortable and confident and so I returned the next week. Each week, a few more questions were exchanged. Where are you from? How long are you here for? Why do you buy so many lemons?
Side note: I make a mean lavender lemonade with their lemons and lavender found at my next stop!
Not only do they have beautiful products, but they do something that I've never experienced here at any of the farmer's markets in the U.S.
When we wanted to buy a melon, his son, Hugo, had asked when we plan to eat it. He wanted to pick out a melon based off of when we had planned on eating it, so he could pick the one that would be ripe at the perfect time.
For fresh, beautiful food from a family that really cares about their products and the customers, stopping at Le Potager de Mistral is a must!
Pro tip: There are a few family members that work at the stand and though I don't usually get a chance to interact with them, they are all VERY nice! If you aren't so sure about which item is the best for when you plan to eat it, don't feel anxious; just ask! They are so helpful and will answer any question you may have. And make sure to say hi to Stéphane and Hugo for me!
I wanted to make sure I gave very different suggestions for my top three favorites and I've unintentionally written this in the order I visit each of these stalls every Tuesday.
After I gather my vegetables and fruit for the week, we usually head over to Senteurs de Vaison. This is a great stop for thés, tisanes and épices. Since Ikram and Bastian had suggested certain spices for my tagine, I knew I had to pay her a visit to get what was required.
This is also where I get all of my lavender for my lemonade, and my dried hibiscus and mint for my infused iced tea that I make each week.
This stand has a lot of bio (organic) choices along with incredible handmade blends of teas for all tastes. She also has one of my favorite products, (and something I brought home to everyone last year as a gift). A blend of spices to mull your own vin chaud or vin été depending on the season you are infusing your wine. It was so comforting sitting at home during the freezing winter months of January and setting a sachet of the spices to slowly boil in a saucepan of red wine. The whole house was engulfed in the spiced scent of vin chaud and brought us back to Vaison, despite it being so far away.
Pro tip: Getting little packets of the mulling spices for vin chaud or vin été is such an easy gift to bring home and it's something that I personally have never seen back here in Pittsburgh. She also includes instructions on how to infuse the wine, giving measurements and cooking time, leaving little guess work for the recipients.
Have you ever been to the Vaison market?? If so, did any stalls stick out to you? Which are your favorites?
If you haven't been to Vaison, but have a favorite market around your town, where are you from and what are you "go to" stalls??
Happy shopping! -R
Bonjour, Ciao, Salut! My name is Rachel and I am a part-time resident of Provence that splits my time between Pittsburgh, Pa and Vaison la Romaine. Come take a deep dive with me into Provençal culture, food, history, villages, markets and all of the quirks that come along with them!