There was a time – many years ago – when the arrival of a French or Italian market in town was a cause of excitement for any franco- or italophile for whom a large part of their love of either France or Italy – or both – is the wonderful food. Of late, I’ve found these markets disappointing. Amongst the food you will find a lot of stalls selling tacky souvenirs and the food itself often leaves much to be desired. We’re used now to being able to source great food easily – gorgeous French cheeses, luscious Italian olive oils – in specialist delicatessens and even supermarkets; fantastic bread, croissants and brioche from French bakeries in London. Farmers’ markets are on the up and another source of high-quality foods. So what does the occasional pop-up French market have to offer these days? Not a lot, I thought, as I passed one in Twickenham’s Church Street this morning. I’d walked back from Richmond in the sun (yes, we have sun!), which is 2 miles to the point where the French market began. Did I want to walk down it or just head straight home? It was the sun that did it. It’s so nice being out; it’s Saturday and I was trying to have an easy, relaxing day. So I headed down the market and discovered that sure, there were some pretty tacky and unexciting things there, but also a few stalls selling some good stuff. Including a cheese stall selling one of my favourite French cheeses – Neufchatel – that is hard to come by usually.
I brought some back from Normandy a couple of weeks ago and was excited to see that I could buy some again. In fact, I bought one for Nicola and one for Jonathan and Lyndsey too, because this was our favourite cheese on holiday in France last summer; we even stopped in Neufchatel itself for lunch on our way home. The stall holder told me they freeze well when I was saying how difficult it was to find them here, but I’m not a ‘freezing’ kind of person (other than portions of things like bolognese sauce or soup that I make in bulk). Occasionally it seems a good idea but then I forget the food is there and by the time I remember it’s lurking in my freezer, I feel it’s past its eat-by date and it goes to waste. I imagine this is a consequence of living in London. I can always pop out to buy anything I want at almost any time of day. There were some other good stalls in the French market today. One selling range of different flavoured saucisson that reminded me of buying some in the market at Saint Pierre sur Dives last August.
There were jars of pates and tins of foie gras.
The same stall had huge trays of paella cooking which is another common sight in French markets. Another stall was selling olives and you could taste first to see what you like best.
There was a stall selling crepes cooked to order; another with biscuits and sweets; a stall with bread and pastries. As well as the food there was a stall selling soaps and fabrics from Provence; a leather stall with handbags and belts; CDs of French music (hmmm – perhaps not so exciting); and another selling bright, pretty woven bags.
It was great the sun was out; too often these markets have arrived on wet and miserable days when no one wants to leisurely stroll around and see what’s on offer, but today it was busy. Church Street is the prettiest street in Twickenham with lots of restaurants and cafes that spill out on to road in the summer (the road is closed to traffic then) and lay out chairs and tables for people to eat outside. And to add to the general feeling of fun and community a local band was playing.
It was a fun thing to do and back home, a couple of thick slices of my Neufchatel cheese with some of Ruben’s Bakehouse’s sourdough bread and a green salad was just perfect for lunch in the garden.