1) The Cheese Vendor: Traditionally, there were some 300 regional cheeses made in France. Now the number is well over 1000. Many are protected by the AOC designation (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) meaning that they have a specific French geographical origin. (This tradition BTW, dates back to the 15th century and began with Roquefort cheese) Some cheese stands are exclusively French, while others have branched out to Italian and English. Keep your eyes open for the small producers too. These fellows generally feature one type of cheese - say goat - made from the milk of their own flock. There is plenty to choose from, you can ask for a taste, so don't be shy!
2) The Seafood Monger: The French love fish, all sorts of fish - big fish, little fish and really ugly fish. Often there are two or more fish stalls at a market and they don't offer exactly the same varieties either. I am regularly amazed by the fish stalls, the quantity, the choice, and the people lined up to buy a particularly odd looking fish known as St. Pierre, that I'd never seen before (it is delicious!). By the end of the market day there is very little left, mostly ice, and that gets swept to the curb.
3) The Butcher: The French eat far less meat per capita than Americans; about 10 oz per week (there is currently a campaign to raise that consumption to 15 oz per week for health reasons). Most butchers tend to be very animal specific: Beef, veal and lamb. Pork or Horse (yes, there is generally one of those too if you are interested) Some butchers specialize in Offal - the lines at that stand are staggering at times. Really. Most French beef is advertised by region: Charolais, Limousin, Gascon, Maine-Anjou or Blonde d'Aquiutaine - to name a few. Apparently, people do have their preferences.
4) The Baker: There is no chance of missing out on your favorite fruit tart, turnover, or sable if you happen to have a hankering and it's dangerously close to lunch time and your favorite (or only) bakery is about to close for lunch. You should find exactly what you need at the marché and plenty of it!
5) The Candlestick Maker (kidding) The Florist: The French love flowers too, and judging by the number of florists in any given neighborhood or at most markets, they buy them. It's actually incredible. Now we have lots and lots of tulips available in many colors and varieties. At 10 stems for 6 Euros I buy flowers every week.
6) The Rotisserie: There is nothing like the smell of rotisserie chicken when you are hungry... and those little potatoes they cook alongside, just the thought of it makes my mouth water. This young man runs my favorite rotisserie of all. It's in Excideuil on Wednesdays so I don't get by often. He offers farm chicken (male or female), duck, quail, squab and turkey - you need to order early and swing by later to pick up your hot lunch or all you will have is ordinary chicken (which isn't so terrible).
7) Prepared Foods: (some times offering rotisserie chicken as well) Prepared foods are very popular and they have nothing in common with the American idea of 'hot lunch'. Offerings are seasonal and varied from Cassoulet to lentils and ham hocks, paella or sauerkraut.
8) The Poultry Guy: What impresses me about the poultry vendors is their sincere love of their chickens and the life those chickens live (free range, out doors and happy). The yellow ones (below) are corn fed, the white ones are fed on natural grains. Each variety has their own special 'train de vie' (way of life) and some varieties, like the famed blue footed Poulet de Bresse, have their own AOC designation. Yes, each variety tastes different.
9) Household Goods: When I was a girl, Paris had a quincaillerie on nearly every corner. So much more than a hardware store, overflowing onto the sidewalk with everything and anything you might need to keep your household in order. Plus, the people working in the stores were pleasant and they knew where everything could be found. Now these stores have largely disappeared, most are in villages across France though there are some impressive ones in Paris, but things have changed. So it's great to know that at your Sunday marché there will be hammers, rubber gaskets, toilet paper, dish soap, a bottle opener, colanders, plastic wrap, shoe polish and so forth.
10) Shoes: Tennis shoes, boots, baby shoes, the latest style made in China, it's all there. We, however, love this stand. Everyone in my entire family has a pair of boiled wool slippers to change into when we get home at the end of the day. Some of us are on our third or forth pair.
11) Bread: Sundays can be a tough day for bread. Those bakers do enjoy their morning to sleep in, so often your favorite bread baker will be closed on Sunday. Fear not, there is always bread at the market. But get there early or you will be met with a table full of crumbs!
12) Wine: Another staple of the French diet that can be found at your local market. These stands have their regulars so the wines are reliable, though an inexpensive 'plonk' is not unusual either. We have had some interesting regional wines from our local wine lady. My advise: Give it a whirl!
13) Eggs: This stand fascinates me. The eggs are sold in 6 packs. Each egg is date stamped and there are also duck, goose and quail eggs. Chicken eggs come by 'breed' in free range, organic, AOC and ordinary.
14) Clothes: It's hard to imagine an elegant French woman (or man) buying their beautiful cashmere sweaters at the marché, but they do, as well as Italian 'designer' skirts and pants, jeans, silk shirts and cotton blouses, leather gloves in many colors, beautiful pashmina scarfs (for 5 Euros each!) and in the summer it's straw hats. Granted, some of the offerings range from grandma' style house coats to glittery disco wear, but there are stands with surprising style.
15) Produce: Last, but certainly not least, you will find produce. Piles and mounds and tables full of seasonal, imported, organic, and local French produce. Some vendors are 'producteurs' (meaning that they grow what they sell) others are resellers. Generally you can tell the difference by the variety of what is being sold (exotics = reseller). I like to buy from the growers. These small farmers take pride in what they grow and sell... and their efforts are appreciated - you will generally notice that it is the growers who have the longest lines. All fruits and vegetables sold must have a sign indicating where they were grown, so if you see Madagascar hanging over those tangerines, well... hold out for the ones grown in Corsica, you won't be sorry.