A taste of North Africa

I have so much to write about, and so much is going on, and yet I can’t seem to find the time to just do it. I have a half-dozen, half-written blog posts, waiting patiently to be finished and published. I have 10 times as many photos that I would love to use here. I have stories to tell, red tape catastrophes to recount, food to talk about, vacation dates looming… And yet I just can’t seem to get it all out. So I guess I’ll just pick a theme and go with it, hoping and crossing my fingers that I can just make it all the way through to the end.

A couple of weeks ago, after hearing about it on the internet somewhere, I set out with one of my colleagues during our lunch break to discover the Marché des Enfants Rouges*, a curious little hidden market that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about sooner. Fellow bloggers spoke of a great, locals-only ambiance, the smell of international cuisine wafting through the halls and hand-made, fresh, real Christmas wreaths for sale by the local florist. How could I resist? How did I not know about this already?

It was about a 15 minute walk from our office, and we revelled in the new scenery we saw along the way, our brisk pace keeping us warm and ensuring we would have plenty of time to explore the market. When we finally found it, we were enthralled. It was tiny. No larger than the average Parisian supermarket. But what it lacked in size, it made up for in smells. We were immediately drawn in by the odour of fresh herbs and root vegetables at the veggie stand. Parsnips, white carrots, rutabagas, turnips… But even more seductive was the smell of spices coupled with simmering meat, coming from an elaborately decorated Moroccan stand nearby. As we approached and admired the blue and white tiled counter and first set our eyes upon what would soon be our lunch, a lamb tagine with dried fruit, we were welcomed with a smile by the man behind the counter.

I asked if it was OK if I took photos. “Are you going to eat here then?” he asked, still smiling. I told him that we most certainly were, and he was kind enough to indulge my need to visually capture the beauty of a sky-high pile of couscous, decadent-looking desserts covered in honey and pistachio nuts, and of course the famous tagine. A tagine is basically just a slow-cooked combination of meat and vegetables, made in a pyramidal, ceramic dish. It differs from the ever-popular couscous, in my experience anyway, by the lack of broth. A couscous dish is typical very broth-heavy, the latter being immediately soaked up into the couscous upon serving. I may just be making this up, but these are the differences I have found.

Once the photo session was over, we were lead to a charming little heated terrace where our waiter finally brought out the steaming plate of couscous, lamb, apricots, raisins, prunes, carrots, almonds and more, along with our baklawa and our corne de gazelle*, for dessert. We dug in, and weren’t disappointed. It took a couple of minutes for the slow-roasted flavors of the tagine to infuse with the plain, fluffy couscous that it was served atop of, but once it did… It was magic. Each bite was overflowing with flavors both sweet and savory, and they were generous with the servings. Once we had savoured every last grain of couscous, we topped it all off with the just sweet enough pastries that we had chosen. All in all, affordable, delicious, and in a great little hidden corner of the city. My colleague even ordered two more dishes to go for her family dinner that evening.

We struggled to extract ourselves from our cozy little table, realizing that our stomachs had won over on our curiosity: eating managed to be only the second thing we did upon arriving at the market, and we hadn’t seen anything more than fresh vegetables and couscous. We took a few minutes before heading back to work to explore what remained, and though we were incredible full and satisfied, we couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing things being cooked and served all around us. There was the Japanese restaurant serving real, traditional food, far from the cliché of sushi and maki and yakitori, the totally ecological bakery selling fresh sandwiches made in galettes, a Caribbean vendor selling accras de morue* and an earthy Italian stand that made us both salivate.

We promised to make another trip to the market very soon. We had a lot of food to try, each stand having its own perks and little details that made us absolutely want to come back. Before leaving we took one last stroll and stopped to admire vintage photographs at a little shop right along the market. The selection ranged from beautifully-framed prints to random, single photos presented in a fish bowl just outside, and selling for 1€ each. A charming little shop, perfect for photo enthusiasts and curious travellers alike.

*Marché des Enfants Rouges: market of red children; apparently so named because an orphanage once stood where the market now is, and the children that were welcomed to the centre were dressed in red clothing as to be easily identifiable
*corne de gazelle: literally gazelle’s horn, a crescent shaped, dense, almondy pastry covered in powdered sugar
*accras de morue: LIke hushpuppies, but with cod

For more information on the market, visit the 3rd district’s website here.

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