The Marché des Enfants Rouges is the oldest covered market in Paris, dating back to 1615. The seemingly strange name of the “Red Children” was derived from a hospital and orphanage which in the 1500s housed countless lost children, all of whom were dressed completely in red. Originally, a few vendors set up vegetable stalls next door to the orphanage, and hence the name of the Market of the Enfants Rouges. In 1615, in the reign of Louis XIII, it became a full-fledged popular market, and in 1777 it was transformed into a covered market when the orphanage and hospital were abandoned. The name stuck. It was in continuous use until 1994 when the structure was in peril of collapsing and was condemned. Happily, due to efforts of Jacques Chirac and devoted locals, it was saved and restored during a six-year period. Today, it is as lively as any market that you will find in Paris, and perfect for a summer indoor/outdoor picnic!
The temptations of any French market for a home cook are lethal with rows of tomatoes of all colors, white and green asparagus, purple-hued gleaming eggplants, and mushrooms of all varieties. Butchers displaying every cut of meat along with chickens, whether yellow-grain fed or with “black feet”, are side by side next to stalls offering strings of sausages, and cheeses of all varieties. As a tourist staying in a hotel room with not even a hot plate in sight, all this alluring produce can only lead to hungry sighs of frustration for those who are passionate about cooking. The market of the Enfants Rouges solves the problem – there are innumerable small stands or cafés that cook all this gorgeous food for you.
At the Marché des Enfants Rouges, “Traiteurs” (prepared food shops) are dotted between stands of fresh vegetables, glistening displays of fresh fish and shellfish, and hams and charcuterie. There are Middle Eastern traiteurs selling every form of mezze and sweet confections. With a nod to the USA, there is a “Burger-Fermier” with a Gallic twist: a burger topped with Mimolette, Cantal, or Maroilles cheese. Italian traiteurs offer lasagna, stuffed ravioli with cep mushrooms, and fresh pasta with homemade sauces. Moroccan stalls sell aromatic tagines with olives and preserved lemons, carrot salads, and sugary pastries. The Bio (health food) – Wagners offers homemade smoothies made from the nearby mounds of pineapples, oranges, mangoes, and even avocadoes and cucumbers. Choose your food and head to nearby long wooden communal picnic tables where you can enjoy a feast from the international cuisine of your choice. In addition, there are two small cafés. The Estaminet des Enfants Rouges provides their own outdoor and indoor tables with tartines for breakfast, and salads and entrees later in the day. The colorful “Corossol des Iles”, festooned with overhead ribbons, serves spicy Creole dishes of shellfish and stews to bring a touch of French Haiti to Paris.
As you eat, there is a steady mesmerising dance of shoppers, merchants hawking their produce, and curious tourists snapping photos of the delectable displays of food that create a fascinating impromptu theatre performance. The Marché des Enfants Rouges is the “Moveable Feast” that Hemingway called Paris. It is a hedonistic delight.