meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: Marché de Clignancourt - A day at the flea market

Friday, March 9, 2012

Marché de Clignancourt - A day at the flea market

When I was a little girl, my maman and uncle Jacques loved to visit the outskirts Paris to 'chiné **; I didn't get it.  But now, there is nothing like a day spent at 'Les Puces' (which all Parisian's know means Saint Ouen / Clignancourt).  No other flea market in the world compares, which apparently is not a secret since more than 11 million people visit Clignancourt annually. When friends Mo and Jean Charles asked if I wanted to join them on a light fixture hunt, there was no saying 'non'.

One man's trash is another man's treasure
The 'flea' market, as we know it today, began on the outskirt of Paris in the late 1880's, when some industrious types began wandering the streets of Paris at night "Moon Fishing" through the discards of the wealthy, then laying their found treasures (or trash as the case may be) on the sidewalks of Clignoncourt to be picked through by people with time to spare and money in their pockets looking for a deal.  Little by little word spread, the fashionable began spending their Sunday's wandering the streets, and soon the area became known as a place to find great things.
Mo negotiating price on some vintage Laguiole knives
M and JC have been regular customers at the Puces for decades; their beautifully appointed apartment is living proof of that dedication.  They know vendors on a first name basis and Mo has an instinct, plus she never gets lost.
JC takes a seat when we stop at Mo's favorite chandelier merchant (also marble fruit on the right).
JC on the other hand, has an eye for the unusual and unappreciated - like this hand hammered copper jam pot he found for me with Jonathan for 20E a few years back.
Purchased in 2009, this jam maker has seen lots of use!

What I especially like about going to the Puces with M and JC is that they like to take the bus. The #85 goes right to the heart of the Marché, so you don't have to walk for blocks as one does from the metro, through hawkers of cheap jeans, knock off perfumes and 'gold' watches offered from inside someone's coat (not kidding).  Click HERE for a list of all the places in Paris you can catch bus 85. Another nice thing about the bus is the ride is scenic: you will see the Sacré Coeur from some unusual angles.  Plus it doesn't take any longer than squishing yourself into the metro with the other hundreds of folks going to Clignancourt.
Must be lunch time?

Right around 11am the atmosphere begins to shift from merchandising to food.  Walk down any isle and you'll see tables being set with charming cloths (oh yes, it's for sale), plates of sauscisson sec, runny cheeses or delicious smelling, steamy saucy, food from home or appealing looking dishes delivered from a local cafe.

Baguettes being delivered to Cafes in Clignancourt
Then, there is that unmistakable sound of popping corks.  Apres tout, these people have been up since dawn; they're hungry (and thirsty).

If you look closely, you can see she is searching for a wine opener
Each of the 15 marchés throughout Clignancourt have several options for lunch. You want a good meal? Ask the vendor you've been chatting up for the best place to eat... where she eats. In my many visits with Mo and JC we've sampled more that a few 'Puce' eateries... and while it's not gastronomical fare the food is honest, inexpensive and the atmosphere is convivial. On this grey Saturday, we had lunch at La Pericole, right across the street from the entrance to the Marché Jean Valette.  Talk about old school!

La Pericole featuring a 16E, 3 course menu
Winter vegetable soup for me, Quiche for JC
Followed by a surprisingly tender steak frites
Mo ordered Salmon with leek reduction
Our neighbors very impressive herring and warm potatoes salad

Within the Marché known as Clignancourt/Saint Ouen there are more than a dozen smaller Marchés; Serpette is known for it's more up-scale atmosphere, designer (Channel, Hermes and the like) vintage clothing, specialty merchandise and higher price tags.

Lot's of Louis' in Serpette
Also rare and unusual porcelain sets.
Vernaison, one of the more popular and the first 'organized' marché at Clignancourt (meaning it had stalls, vendors weren't just spreading their stuff out on the street) is a virtual labyrinth of some 300 booths, some of which have been doing continual business since 1920 when this market began.
Her parents began this (mainly) silver stand in 1920
In the depths of Vernaison is a restaurant known as "Chez Louisette", which also opened it's doors early on. These days it is known as a fun place to have a beer or glass of wine for a pleasant break or on your way elsewhere to eat; the decor is wild and you will certainly enjoy the many artistes crooning away with pre-WW2 songs a la Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, etc.  But, (and I can not emphasize this strongly enough) whatever you do, DON"T eat there.
One of the many treasure filled alleys of Vernaison
One of the popular eateries is right at the entrance to Marché Paul Bert.  It's a bustling place filled with old advertising art, kitchen gizmos, doodads and interesting ephemera from days gone by.

Cafe Le Paul Bert
No complaints on the Frites at the Paul Bert

The menu is basic, there are seasonal 'Plats du Jours', and 'Vins du Mois', soups and simmered dishes are served in black Staub pots.  Sure, there are tourists, but also regulars and palm reading gypsys; you'll be sitting amongst vendors wining and dining clients, bragging amongst themselves about their latest find or sale. It's an active place with harried waitresses and an entertaining cast of characters.  Stick with the simple, or better yet, order what everyone else is eating, and you can't go wrong. 

Another fun place to stop for a rejuvenating café or p'tit blanc (miniscule glass of white wine) is this Jazz Manouche place (think Django Reinhardt) It's right on the Rue des Rosiers and I've heard tell from various vendors that the food is terrific too.

The afternoon entertainment here is a 'don't miss'
There is a lot to do and see at the Marché Clignancourt.  Make a day of it, don't be shy - take the bus!.  Oh, Mo found a terrific 50's light fixture for 10E and I came home with these for 20E: 

A Bientot,

Practical information:

Saturdays 9am - 6pm (best day)
Sundays 10am - 6pm
Mondays 11am to 5pm (many stalls closed)

** Chiné:  A French slang expression meaning to pick through stuff/junk looking for treasures (antiques).


Rachel - De Ma Cuisine said...

I was just talking with a friend about how we both wished to go to Paris to visit the markets like you do. Exactly what you wrote about in this post (and the daily trips to the marché to get produce!)! Sounds wonderful!

Catt White said...

While I've been to most of the food markets - including the wonderful visits with you! - and enjoyed impromptu neighborhood brocantes, I've never made it to The Big One at Clignancourt. Next trip, for sure. Thanks for the wonderful tips!

Nicola said...

We just had lunch at Chez Louisette last week and the food was delicious. Now you have me worried! What's wrong with it?!

Marie Z said...

Nicola: I may have stuck my foot in it.. as it's been a few years since I was finally scared away from eating at Chez Louisette... greasy, tough meat, flabby frites, dressing from a 10 gallon drum, and overdone, flat as a pancake omlettes. When we were there on Saturday I asked on of the merchants where he likes to go - and he said (in French) well, Louisette is great for a glass of wine or a beer, but NEVER eat there... since that had been my last experience, I went with it. Perhaps things have changed for the better 'cuz it sure is a fun and lively place! What did you have? Please tell all!

Nicola said...

Marie: I went with some ex-pat American friends on a Monday while our kids were at school so it was quiet. We dived in the first place we saw as it was so cold. We had no idea we would get musical entertainment with our lunch! I had pork with lentils and my friends had chicken and salmon. All good French comfort food we thought and much better than we expected considering the surroundings! Such a contrast to what we could have grabbed for lunch in our US suburbs that we couldn't help but be impressed. Definitely an "I love Paris!" moment :)

Anonymous said...

I went twice to Clignancourt on my trip to Paris and was in heaven. My trip to Paris was mainly to do research on Art Deco and I found so much at Clignancourt. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I can't wait to go back.

Anonymous said...

I have been at Chez Louisette twice last year (2012) and it was fun and there nothing wrong with the food. I don't understand how you post anonymous hearsay just like that.

Marie Z Johnston said...

Dear Anonymous,
The opinion about the food at Chez Louisette is 100% mine and hardly anonymous or hearsay as I've been there MANY times. Yes, the atmosphere is fun and lively, however, I find the food overpriced and really not very good... for my money there are better places to eat. As my grandfather Pépé used to say "Each to his own bad taste".

jose said...

love your blog, clingancourt is a fantastic place, thanks for the bus 85 recommendation, we live in costa rica, and this is certainly another type of wildlife, urban jungle, very civilized in the best way

Marie Z Johnston said...

Thank you for your comment Jose... And you're welcome about the bus! I love riding the bus in Paris and when my French friends showed me this way to arrive at Clingancourt I was thrilled! Costa Rica is a beautiful country - I was there in 2014 and truly enjiyed the place, the people and the food.