What I Learned in France About Shopping for Fresh Produce

updated Jul 23, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I lived in Paris many years back while attending culinary school, and I’m lucky to be back here again this summer with my family. One of my very favorite things to do while traveling (in Paris or anywhere!) is head out to the local markets and grocery stores, where I can really experience the culture and see how people live day-to-day.

On this trip, during our first foray into the wonderful Parisian outdoor food markets, I was watching the lively interactions between the locals and the vendors and was reminded of one smart thing they do to make sure that the fruits and veggies that go home are still fresh when it’s time to eat them. It’s something I plan to do when I return to California, and it’s something that you can easily do the next time you’re at the farmers market or grocery store, too!

Credit: Christine Gallery

Besides the standard “Bonjour” greeting at a produce stand, it’s customary for the vendors here to ask the customer when they plan on eating the produce they’re buying. This mostly applies to fruit, but what happens next is the ingenious part. Once the vendor knows when something is to be eaten, they carefully select produce that will be ripe when that time comes.

Let’s say you plan to eat some peaches today but you need a few to bring for lunch later in the week. The vendor will pick some ripe ones — and also select a few unripe ones that will be ready when it’s time to put them in the lunch bag. No more trying to eat all the fruit up at once and having none for later, or feeling guilty when you have to throw something out because it’s gone bad.

You can easily apply this tip when shopping at a grocery store, too. Do a little research or ask your favorite farmers market vendor to show you what something looks like when it’s ripe versus unripe. Then fill your produce bag with the right combination when you’re shopping. This technique is perfect in the summer during stone fruit season, as they do continue ripening once picked, but you can even employ it when buying veggies. Buy a combination of delicate (asparagus and lettuces) and hardy (Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) vegetables, and plan on eating the delicate ones first.

I’m excited to use this tip when I get home and have to restock my empty refrigerator, and I like to think of it as an everlasting souvenir of France that I’m bringing back. It’s not one I can put on display, but it will always bring back sweet memories of vacation and discovery.