I’ve visited a lot of food markets worldwide, but the enormous Rungis International Market is utterly mind blowing. If you’re a foodie in Paris, you must visit Rungis. (Vegans, look away now.)
For as long as I’ve been writing this blog (like back here in 2012), I’ve been banging on about visiting food markets when travelling – they’re a fascinating way to connect with the locals, they’re fun and they feed me. All excellent reasons, right? However, on my recent trip to Paris, and as part of the course on Advanced Studies in Taste that I was study with Le Cordon Bleu Paris, I got to realise a long-held dream and visit Rungis International Market – the largest food market in the world.
Dating back to the 12th century, the original Paris fresh food market was in Les Halles, close to the centre of the city. Here, from the dark early hours, growers and producers from nearby rural areas would converge on market days to sell the fruits of their labours. Over the centuries the market outgrew it’s original wooden buildings and by the 1850’s the traders were housed under magnificent glass and cast iron halls designed by noted Parisian architect Victor Baltard. (One of these beautiful original halls can now be found in Le Marais, where it hosts community events and exhibitions.)
However, 100 years later, with traffic and access difficulties increasing, the decision was taken to move the markets from the centre of Paris to Rungis, seven kilometres away, where it also subsequently included the meat traders, after the closing of the La Villette slaughterhouses.
This is a wholesale fresh food market, with the emphasis on fresh, so the day I was to visit Rungis, my classmates and I were hauled out of bed at an ungodly hour and decanted on to a bus, in order to get there in time to catch the fish market, which is the first to begin trade – at around 0300hrs (that’s in the a.m., guys).
The first thing to strike us was the size of the market site – it’s enormous, covering an area of 234 hectares.
In fact everything about Rungis International Market is big – it supplies 18 million consumers throughout all of France, a good deal of Europe and even further afield in some instances. It houses 1,200 companies, employing over 15,000 workers and boasts an annual turnover of nine billion Euros.
For over five hours our little group wandered through vast halls, which were all varying degrees of cold, and groaned with seafood, meat, cheese, fresh produce and flowers. The range, origin and selection of every different food product was boggling. Seasonality is obviously not a problem and I spotted seafood products sourced from Norway, Madagascar and everywhere in between – this seriously not the place to shop if food miles bother you.
In fact once I recovered my wits, which were totally blown away by what I was seeing, I was struck by how very lucky we are in Australia – unlike Europe, we can grow so very much of what we use right here.
By 8.30am, we were a weary little troupe and grateful to sit down in the workers cafe to refuel before being herded back on to the bus – all of us slightly shellshocked by the incredible bounty we’d witnessed.
Our tour was organised by the Le Cordon Bleu school for us as their students, but tourists can visit Rungis either individually or in groups. If you’re spending some time in Paris, I can highly recommend a visit. It’s definitely an experience you’ll never forget. Check out their tour details here.