Tumbled out of the hotel at 4:30am for a tour of Rungis Market, one of the largest wholesale food markets in the world located southwest of Paris. As the sun rose, we entered the Fish Hall, lights glaring, floor shimmering wet, and white Styrofoam boxes for the length of the icy-cool space. A display market, meaning that buyers and sellers see the fish, touch the merchandise, and settle on prices rather than purchase catches through an online auction system such as buyers in Boston. During the 1960s, Rungis replaced the famous and historic Les Halles market in central Paris, the site of Emile Zola’s novel The Belly of Paris.
The only way to officially see the market is to join tour or be a buyer. I joined a tour and was stunned (difficult at 4:30am) to find a large tour bus packed with tourists from all over the world who rallied early and paid to see a wholesale food market. Would anyone in New York get up at 5am and get in a tour bus to visit Hunters Point? Doubt it, but that might change.
We spent five hours walking through buildings that contained fish, beef, chickens, offal, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and more, much of which was contained in 40-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. The market is so big that the tour buses drive from one building to another, winding through trucks and forklifts that are trying to get business done before the market closes. And our group, like all the other touring groups, wandered wearing the required hairnet and white coats, making us look like clueless inspectors, pointing and asking questions that the vendors had answered at least a dozen times that morning.
The professionals in the market did not seemed annoyed with us, as we blocked traffic, got in the way of carts moving produce out onto waiting delivery trucks, and pointed cameras into the boxes of fish, meat, and chickens. The star attractions included the chickens with their heads looped around their carcasses, large bloodied beef hanging along with a photo of the animals when they were alive, tranquilly grazing in their home pasture, cases of foie gras, and piles of detached pigs feet, stomachs, and calves brains. Pretty tough going for a pre-breakfast visit.
In spite of all the fresh and glory food, the halls were amazingly clean, stainless steel gleaming, and floors immaculate with the exception of a few drops of blood left by those animals hanging unsold by the end of the market day.
More details of the market will be forthcoming, but to give you a flavor of the morning visit, here are some samples of what awaits you should you decide to become a wholesale market tourist in Paris.