The Marché des Enfants Rouges in Le Marais is the oldest covered market in Paris. It's named after an orphanage once on the same site. Passing under the iron gate you are immediately thrown into the hustle and bustle. Stalls selling fresh fruit and veg, fish and meat are intermingled with deli stands and places to buy cooked meals ranging from Italian to Moroccan to Asian. I would suggest you get here some considerable time ahead of when you intend to eat, there is so much to browse and take in. Just walking around is a huge pleasure. I went on a fine Saturday afternoon, after being warned against the Sunday crowds and simply did not know where to start. It was absolutely packed at 1pm, peak time apparently, and some of the stands had queuing around the corner to sample their culinary delights. And for good reason, it all looked and smelt amazing. I was initially drawn to the Moroccan stand, but coming from my side of the English Channel, I could not bring myself to queue that long. Instead following my eyes and nose, I chose the little Italian in the corner. The odd quirk of the Italian place was that the menu was accompanied by a series of photographs, not unlike the ones you see in the windows of those rather unappetizing fast food places. To me this is normally a huge no-no, but as I had seen the food on other people's' tables first I was willing to accept this as a means to deal with tourists.
I opted for a lentil soup (€4.50) followed by a plate of fried calamari and prawns (€13.50), finished off with a tiramisu (€4.90), whilst my friends sampled the octopus salad (€15.00) and salmon pasta (€13.00) and a carafe of white (€11). The lentil soup was as expected, quite filling and very fragrant, the perfect start to my rather fish heavy main. The calamari was reasonably good, it did not succumb to the chewy trap and was mild in taste. The prawns were unimpressive and disappointing.
The other dishes were satisfactory, but perhaps did not live up to the smell. The real charm to the experience was not perhaps the food but the noise, the people watching, the shuffling about that we had to do every time a new couple came to share the table with us. It certainly was not a relaxed meal but more enjoyable then it would have been in a standard restaurant where the key focus is on the food. I finished with my tiramisu which was okay. Maybe it is not the verdict you want to hear in a food review, but come for the experience, not the food. Or perhaps head to the Moroccan (pending my next review on this market experience). Olivia Thiessen
Marché des Enfants Rouges
39 rue de Bretagne Paris 3
Ope Opening hours: Tue-Thu 8.30am-1pm, 4pm-7.30pm; Fri-Sat 8.30am-1pm, 4pm-8pm; Sun 8.30am-2pm
Métro : Filles du Calvaire or Saint-Sébastien Froissart