Origins – Rungis Market, Paris

There are food markets and there are food markets. Everyone’s been to a food market whether its Borough Market in London, Boqueria in Barcelona, Aw Taw Kaw in Bangkok, Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, Greenwich, London and the list can just go on and on and on. Each has its unique charm and one usually wanders about in a happy daze, tasting this, sampling that…

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There are food markets and there are food markets. And then there’s Rungis. Rungis, the world’s largest wholesale food market. It lies to the south east of Paris and covers and area of about 4.2 square kilometres or 232 hectares. It originally began  in 1110 in Paris as Les Halles where it remained Paris’ premier food market for 800 years. In 1962 plans were drawn up to shift the growing market outside Paris in an area solely dedicated for the purpose of wholesale foods. Today, nearly 2 million tonnes of food come into the market to be sold every year, turning over about 7.5 billion Euro. As it’s a wholesale market, the public isn’t allowed to purchase any food – only traders. Visitors are welcomed, however, and a tour of the market starts at around 4.30 am, lasting 4 hours and spanning the Fish, Poultry, Tripe, Meat, Cheese, Vegetable and Cut Flowers pavilions.

Here’s a little snippet of what we experienced….

La Maree, or the Fish Hall

Huge salmon
A small part of the fish market
Lovely selection
Baby shark
Barnacles
Turbot and John Dory
Frog Legs
Sea Urchins
Bonito (Baby Tuna)

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Even though we were there at 4.30 am, most of the traders had finished for the day as they normally start at around 1 am. The few that were still around still accounted for an enormous amount of fish! Bonito as you can see is basically, baby tuna, but can because of its size, has to go by the name of ‘Bonito’ – it is delicious though – and Tickets in Barcelona serve it raw and brushed with Joselito fat.
The guys working in the fish pavilion  are all really nice and quite eager to show you their wares, especially one fishmonger who loved his lobsters…
Lobsters
Lobsters
Lobster!
Lobster!
Big lobster
and Lobsters

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The temperatures in the fish pavilion are kept at about 8-10 degrees as all of the fish is on ice. There are also Environment Health inspections every night, so you can be rest assured, the fish is of the finest quality!

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Swordfish
Octopus
Monkfish
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Poultry Hall
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In this hall, it’s pretty much as it says. All forms of birds, whether it’s game or chicken. The only animal without wings to be found here is rabbit. Most of their game comes from the UK (Grouse, teal, mallard etc.)
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Challans Duck
Poultry Hall
Quail
Label Rouge Chicken
Poulet Noir
Poulet de Bresse
Pheasant
Mallard
Grouse

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From there, it was the gory chamber that welcomed us…

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Offal pavilion 

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Tete de veau / Veal head
Veal heads ready to be rolled
Rolled heads, liver, kidney, heart
Veal brain
Tongues and lungs
Pigs trotters
Tripe
Veal kidneys
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From there we ventured into the Pavilian de la Viande or Meat Hall.. The bulk of this part of the market only deal with whole meat that is between 100 – 400 kg in weight.
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Whole veal
Half a cow
Little pigs
Whole lamb
Half cows
Lamb saddles
Suckling pig
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The smell of dead animals at 6am is fine – rather makes you a bit hungry smelling such good quality meat, but the smell of the hall that followed really does make your stomach turn a little – especially if you’re hungover with only 2 hours sleep!

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The Cheese Hall

Langres
Wheels of Comte
Mont d'Or (my favourite)
A fine selection
More cheese
St. Nectaire

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And the last of the food areas and by far the largest, being spread across 2 sprawling halls was the Fruit and Vegetables.

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Lots of little radishes
A tiny section of the food hall
Muscat Grapes
Endless lines of vegetables
Tomatoes
Varieties of carrots
Girolles, Chanterelles
Ceps!!!!!
A huge box of pumpkins
Black radish
Garlic and more garlic
Jumbo beefsteak tomatoes
Chestnuts
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And finally, the last section of the market, Cut Flowers
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And we’re done. 8.30 am, with a glorious morning full of sunshine bursting across the Parisian sky, we headed for breakfast to one of the many cafe’s where along with the visitors are the hundreds and thousands of people who work at Rungis.
It is practically a  little city, with banks, police, waste incineration, restaurants, hospital..the works!
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If you do intend on visiting Rungis, I would highly recommend using our guide, Phillipe Bardet who is part of the Visite Rungis council and is extremely knowledgeable about the market and all the food. His rates are also much lower than if you contact the Visite Rungis directly (he charged us £75 per person while the Tourist Board wanted close to £400 for the two of us). Phillipe also met us at the gates to the market where our taxi dropped us off and gave us the appropriate white jackets and hats that are mandatory protective equipment. Breakfast is included in the price of the tour. Phillipe can be contacted on his email.
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One cannot enter the market as an individual  – you have to be a buyer, supplier or with a guide.
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A taxi from central Paris will take about 20 minutes and cost about 30-35 euro (you must book it in advance) and the most important thing is to make sure you have your return journey organised or else, like us, you’ll be stuck and have to find kind people to give you a lift to the nearest taxi stand – which is Orly airport from where taxis, coaches and the metro to central Paris can be taken.
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Go to Rungis! It’s amazing, awe-inspiring and one hell of an experience! Just make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before!
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