Reporter's Notebook: Paris Market

February 1, 2010 10:58:55 AM PST
As I reported Friday night, the Bensidoun family has just opened a year-round market at the Oglivie Transportation Center. The Chicago French Market marks their first indoor effort in the area; they already operate a few outdoor suburban markets in the summertime, including Wilmette and Wheaton. So as long as I'm in Paris this week, covering the Seafood Summit, I thought I should stop by one of the family's outdoor markets here, just to get a sense of what the purest expression of the market can be.

I picked one in the 13th Arrondissment, which stretched down several city blocks. It was a Sunday morning, so the market was just jammed. Total electricity. People browsing, tasting and asking questions of the farmers; some vendors just cooking: rotisserie chickens, Lebanese flatbread coated in dark green z'atar (a combo of sumac, sesame, oregano and olive oil) and tons of small kiosks offering prepared choucroute (sauerkraut and sausage), Vietnamese eggrolls and a myriad of sweet and savory tarts.

I think it's the live cooking I long for the most. Chicago has some amazing food vendors and farmers -- there is no shortage of baked goods at a place like the Green City Market or the Logan Square Market -- but our city still lacks the emotional connection to street food: the immigrants whipping up falafel before your eyes; the guy making potato pancakes to-order; the lady using fresh Comté cheese to create devastatingly good crepes. These are the sites I wish we had in our food-obsessed town. These are the images that locals can claim as their own. Unique, distinctive aromas and beguiling flavors, all created a la minute, before your eyes.

In France -- as in most other world-class food cities -- street cooking/food carts, whatever you call it -- thrives and creates jobs and brings in additional revenue. The concerns over health, sanitation and enforcement are important, but by no means should they rule out the opportunity for locals and tourists to savor these experiences.