According to Dictionary.com, a foodie is, “a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment, especially good food and drink.” Having lived in Africa before moving to Lyon, I’ve explored some tastes, textures, and smells outside the traditional American fare. In Africa I ate giraffe, ostrich, wildebeest, and fish eyes. In Lyon I’ve enjoyed the more refined paté de foie, boudin noir, and strong smelling cheeses covered in mold. As much as I love living in a city that qualifies as foodie-heaven, what I appreciate the most is the ritual of French grocery shopping.
Between the two weekly markets, the Monoprix, Intermarché, and Ed grocery stores within a fifteen-minute walk, and the big WalMart-esque Carrefour store a short bus ride away, I have greatly enjoyed grocery shopping in France. Of course, it can be challenging when you don’t know all of the terminology and you shop by label photos. But you live and learn, and I promise you will buy squid by accident only once.
Most weeks I make a pilgrimage to Intermarché or Carrefour to pay homage to stores that offer the convenience of prepackaged eggs, frequent shopper cards, paying by plastic card embedded with a micro-chip, and selling big, sturdy eco-friendly grocery bags for 60 centimes. In fact, only a few stores in France will still give out plastic bags. We usually fill two eco-friendly bags at the larger grocery stores then buy the remaining items on my list from the import grocery stores and markets.
It was a very happy day in my life when I discovered the import grocery stores in downtown Lyon. As in many larger cities, Lyon has neighborhoods which are largely populated by immigrants, and thus their grocery stores as well. The Asian and Arab stores are a treasure chest for vegetarians and creative cooks. This is where I go to stock up on dried beans, soy products, herb and spice mixtures, Indian chutneys, wheat germ, and also wander around to see what new products have arrived. On the way out, be sure to pick up a few specialties from behind the glass counters, like veal kebabs in Turkish Elmek bread, triangular fried fataya pies, tabouleh salad, or spring rolls.
The highlight of grocery shopping in France is without a doubt the marché. I love wandering through the produce to decide in the morning what to prepare for that night, an idea recommended by Mireille Guiliano, author of the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat. Twice each week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my friend and I meet for coffee then walk to the market. We’ve actually established quite a little routine. We know which vendors to see for better prices, finding more exotic items, and buying in bulk. For the best quality, buy from the French producteurs. These are the real deal. This is the actual farmer who knows the produce like the back of his soil-stained hand. The prices can be a bit higher, but the knowledge they share and the expertise in selecting your produce is worth the extra centimes.
I'll know I'm approaching French-hood when I buy one of the rolling bags or woven baskets the women use to cart their purchases home. For now, I just weigh myself down in bags filled with early summer cherries, sweet-scented melons, fresh goat cheese, white peaches, and whatever else I couldn’t resist.
On the way home from the market, I buy our daily bread. It is true that French baguettes are unbeatable - with goat cheese or jam, or just plain. A true baguette will only stay fresh for a few hours as there are no preservatives. All the more reason to enjoy a piece as you put away your groceries!
By Kari Masson, a freelance writer for travel, cross-cultural, and expatriate-focused publications. More than 50 of her articles have appeared in North America, Europe, and Africa. If you are looking to add dynamic creativity to your publication, contact Kari at