Toulouse, the ‘Pink City’, is a food lover’s paradise boasting wonderful restaurants, exceptional regional specialities and vibrant food markets. One of those markets is Marché Victor Hugo.
Although, its location is anything but glamorous (the stalls are located on the ground floor of a 1970s car park building), the food reflects why Toulouse is an epicenter of authentic French cuisine. More than one hundred passionate vendors gather at Place Victor Hugo every morning from Tuesday to Sunday to offer the public an impressive selection of local products, the freshest seafood, breads, pastries, wine and just about every type of cheese imaginable. Early in the day, before curious tourists arrive, it is the locals who are rushing about with their empty wicker baskets or trolleys which soon enough are filled with food that looks like it came straight out of a Baroque painting.
I found the market by chance on a cloudy July morning. From the opposite side of the street, I first noticed the stalls that were set up with crates filled with a rainbow of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and I remember thinking how this sumptuous display seemed to add a much needed shot of color to what looked like the start of an unseasonably dreary summer day. As I came a little closer, I witnessed the art of buying fresh produce, which obviously required probing, sniffing and poking. This was more than your average shopping for the sheer sake of sustenance. It was serious business in the name of the pleasures of the palate. And the insid, this culinary paradise was even more tempting than outside.
FROM MEAT TO CHEESE
To start, the meat: nothing short of a carnivore’s dream. Butchers offering beautifully marbled cuts of beef, thick slabs of pork, elegant racks of lamb, whole unskinned rabbits, poultry complete with head and claws, legs of preserved duck covered in white globs of their own fat, and of course, huge coils of the gleaming Saucisse de Toulouse made with coarsely minced pork. And because the nose-to-tail philosophy is deeply-rooted in French cuisine, pork’s feet and heads, whole beef tongues, tripe, brains, hearts and other kinds of offal were also prominently displayed. Unusual to some, but here, nothing out of the ordinary. I was especially lured by the stunning assortment of charcuterie: all varieties of dried sausages flavored with herbs and spices, cured hams, unctuous rillettes, rustic pâtés and tins of foie gras. There were jars of cassoulet (a thick, hearty, Gascon stew of white beans, sausage, lamb, goose and duck) so that sampling the rustic regional dish would require no more than a bit of reheating.
Seafood stalls were masterfully arranged in exuberant mounds of delight with live crabs, langoustines and lobsters, whole fish, sumptuous king-sized prawns and baskets brimming with beautiful oysters.
And then everything from pasta to pastries and even wines. I didn’t want to wake up from this epicurean dream…