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Going to market on Rue Montorgueil

I live in the 2nd arrondissement (district), the Montorgueil-St. Denis quartier pieton (pedestrian neighborhood), and the St. Eustace Church parish. Serving the arrondissement, the quartier, and the parish is the market street Rue Montorgueil, just west of my apartment. Montorgueil is pronounced “mont-or-goo-ee,” and it translates to English as Mont Orgueil or “Mount Pride,” referring to the hilly area where it was developed.

The street was made famous in Claude Monet’s 1878 oil painting, “Rue Montorgueil in Paris, Festival of 30 June 1878” (shown above). The original is in the Musee d’Orsay. You can almost hear the French flags flapping for the international exhibition Parisians were celebrating that summer.

There are many cafes and restaurants along Montorgueil including Cafe Jet Lag, Cafe Escargot (topped by a huge golden snail), Foody’s, Les Petit Carreaux, Dorus Rotisserie, Au Croissant Gourmand, Le Pain Quotidien, Little Italy, Au Rocher de Cancale, L’Epicurie, and the franchise Pomme de Pain. There are also little specialty shops for pizza, sandwiches, crepes, gelatos, cheeses, wine, olive oil, and Lebanese fast-food (like falafel).

La Palais du Fruits (The Fruit Palace) has creative produce displays each morning. Huge piles of green beans in bunches decorated with tomatoes. Bunches of green table grapes dotted with plums. You don’t choose your own produce at the palais. A man chooses for you, asking if you want it ce sois (tonight) or demain (tomorrow). Sometimes I prefer the Target-type shopping at Monorprix where I can get Kleenex and fish and pears and toothpaste in one go.

At the poissonerie (fish market), I hear the curly-haired fish seller sing and bark about his catch of the day. One morning as he was carrying on, a little toddler girl in a pink knit cap went by in her stroller with her fingers jammed in her ears. 

Montorgueil’s markets and stalls are open to the street, and the choosing,  paying, and barking are all part of the scene. One of my favorite stores has glaces (ice cream) and bakery goods for sale out front. The two young ladies running this sidewalk part of the store are quick and cheerful. The consistent price of a baguette traditional right now is 1 euro 10.

Montorgueil runs north from the shopping confusion of Les Halles, up to where it turns into Rue des Petits Carreaux (Street of Small Tiles), at the crossroad of Rue Réaumur. You’ve come to the end–literally and metaphorically–when you get to Starbucks. Cylindrical barriers keep public vehicles out (unless you know the code, as my cabdriver did the other night), so the street is reserved for pedestrians, some private cars, delivery and service vehicles, and many dogs.

Montorgueil also boasts bakeries and pastry shops. La Maison Stohrer (whose pastries you see below) was founded in 1730 and became famous for being Marie-Antoinette’s baker. Stohrer’s sells postcards showing Queen Elizabeth stopping by. Cakes and breads are also available along Montorgueil at Paul, Le Moule, and Eric Kayser. After you’ve purchased your basic bread, you can also stop at the Royal Sucre to purchase crepes, gaufres (waffles), beignets, and churros (a Spanish fried pastry).

I get my baguettes at Maison Collet, minding to get into the line a droite (on the right), and not in the line for quiches and prepared sandwiches a gauche (on the left). A baguette currently costs 1 euro 10 ($1.44).

On Sunday mornings you can watch the men set up fish, butcher meats, and produce. With the cobblestones freshly washed, crushed ice getting packed with mussels and clams, and fruits and vegetables coming off wooden palettes, this funny little rue is at its most charming. There’s also a street market on Thursday on nearby Rue Montmartre. There are other market streets. My husband and I recently walked Rue Mouffetard over by the Pantheon.

 But, no matter where I’ve been for the day, no matter how exasperated I am with the simple problem of feeding myself, I know I can find some fresh food on Montorgueil, this throw-back to a time when people always shopped store-by-store, item-by-item on a little market street.