I visit the Victor Hugo Market at least 3 times/week. Every week. Sometimes a little more (depending on our weekend plans). It is, honestly, one of my favorite activities here because it’s a chance to see familiar faces, practice a little French, and buy tasty food. I had told Jim a few weeks ago I had a goal, and that was to be recognized as a regular, not a tourist.
When I lived in Philadelphia, I got juice from the 4 Seasons Juice Bar once or twice/week for 4 years. It took the ladies there three years to recognize me and engage with me as a regular. Three years. We’ve been in Toulouse almost two months, and I’m happy to say almost all of my vendors recognize me. I’m a neighborhood regular. If it’s Tuesday, they know they’ll be seeing me. Sure, I don’t look French (easy to remember), and I speak French with a quasi-American accent (hard to forget), but I choose to believe it’s the gusto and excitement behind my engagements. I am very excited to order (probably even more so when I know EXACTLY how to say what I want), I love throwing in a new phrase I know, I often provide exact change (they all LOVE that, especially if it’s tricky like 21 euros 96 centimes and was not written down (I’ll explain in another post how confounding I find counting in French), and the sheer excitement in my voice when I get to have the goodbye exchange, “Merci. Au revoir. Bonne journée!” I say it all with a really huge smile on my face, a smile you can’t fake. I really think telling people to have a great day is the best part of my day. It’s like I’m just itching to say it to people. And when you do? You get a HUGE smile.
So there are a couple vendors I especially like. One is a butcher (sometimes I wave to him when I see him and am not buying beef and he smiles back), one is an older French man who always sells me asparagus (he just recognized me yesterday and greeted me with, “Aaah, mademoiselle…” like he’d been waiting for me to show up then started reaching immediately for a bundle of asparagus), one is a redheaded baker (she always bee-lines to me to take my order [Jim says it’s because I’m a sure thing – I’m definitely buying & she knows it] and seems delighted when I try something new and teaches me a few words or numbers. She always seems impressed I do the whole interaction in French), one is a fish monger (she always selects a fish and then looks at me and waits for a “c’est bonne!” with a smile, then she gives me a lemon on the house), and my most favorite is a gentleman who works the produce stall outside, just past the salumerie (I think he’s also Jim’s favorite because he’s often drinking a beer and/or smoking a cigarette while working).
Today I’m going to talk a little more about him. I visit his stall pretty frequently, probably the most of any stalls in the market. I often buy a melange of fruits/veggies, depending upon what we’ll be cooking/baking for the week. The first time I went he was very nice, but I had no idea what he was saying to me in French. He would write down the price on a receipt and hand it to me (which was very nice). I started to use my standard phrases: “Bonjour, Merci, Au Revoir, Bonne journée, un, deux, trois, s’il vous plaît” along with various names for fruits and vegetables I know (I remember him being especially surprised when I kept adding more fruits to my basket he was weighing by announcing & retrieving the fruit/vegetable I needed). But, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been upping my French game (thanks French class) and tossing in some adjectives (trés delicieux). Last week he asked me how I was doing, “ça va?” I was pretty excited to respond, “ça va bien et vous?” His eyes got big. Yesterday, I asked him his name, “Comment vous vous’appellez?” and told him mine, “Je m’appelle Victoria.” It was kind of a fun exchange, as I was somewhat delighted to be speaking a little more French. So, now I’m definitely a regular with a name. (On a sidenote – we chatted for a few minutes and another gentleman who was smoking a cigarette asked him if I was English, then that same gentleman told me he was impressed with the French I was able to speak. I won’t lie, these things make my day.)
What do I get as a regular? Perks. I get regular customer perks. What does that entail? He helps me pick out produce (no, no, no…rapid finger waving then motioning toward something else), always alerts me to the new seasonal options, and provides gratis goodies. He’ll often toss in something he thinks I should be buying or eating with my purchase gratis. What’s really touching, is it’s not random. He very carefully selects the fruit/vegetable like he was going to eat it himself.
Yesterday my gratis offering was abricots, tons of abricots. Prior to moving to France, I’m not sure if I had ever eaten a fresh apricot. It is, quite possibly, my favorite jam/preserve, but it’s a fruit I had never picked up at the grocery or a market. I’m not entirely sure why, as I like the taste, it just never seemed to trump apples, summer berries, or citrus.
With all of my unexpected apricots, I wondered what I could make with them, as there was no way I’d be able to eat them all. First, I consulted juice recipes. Nothing called for apricots. Then I looked for savory recipes. They all seemed too sweet, like pouring jam over chicken. Then I went to David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen* where he has a recipe for an apricot crumble. Done and done.
Fast-forward a few hours, and I had made that delicious crumble and served it a la mode. It’s (maybe) the most delicious crumble/cobbler I’ve ever had. Hands down. C’est delicieux! It makes me wish the apricot season wasn’t so short and appreciative that a French vendor is looking out for my best foodie interests.
Abricots – a perfect gratis gift, now I’m an eater for life!
*This makes me quite excited about exploring/cooking/baking the rest of his cookbook. Can’t wait to try more…