During the summer months, many towns have nocturnal markets where you can eat, drink and listen to music in a communal atmosphere. These are a fun and cheap way to enjoy an evening out and maybe meet new friends. Simply turn up around 7PM and grab a seat at the communal tables that are set up in the village square, usually in front of the mairie or town hall. Local traders set up stalls around the area and sell everything from wine, salads, cooked meals, sausages, snails, foie gras, paella, steak and fries, crepes, fruit and of course cheese plates. You bring your own cutlery and crockery and set yourself up for a pleasant evening. Choose your dinner and take it back to your spot and enjoy dining al fresco with music from surprisingly good bands.
We decided to try out the market at Audrix on our first Saturday night here in the Dordogne. It is the original night market in France and insists that all vendors who sell food there must have grown/raised/slaughtered/harvested and prepared the food themselves. Having heard how popular these markets are we arrived before 7 and even though the setup was still going on, there were a number of tables already occupied. Being July 4, there were a few groups of Americans with little flags on their tables already having an aperitif. Some people bring tablecloths and decorate beautifully. Being our first, we had our crockery, cutlery, wine glasses and napkins but had not thought of one very important fact – the vendors only take cash! We had 15 euro with us and with no ATM in sight, we decided to make the most of it anyway. And we actually had a great meal.
A bottle of cold rose for 5 euro followed by snails in puff pastry and a delicious salad of lettuces and grilled vegetables all accompanied by a small round bread, cooked in the outside village bread oven. It was dense and chewy with a crispy crust. Next time we know to take more cash but I think we did pretty well on our limited budget even though there was a scary moment where it looked like we might be 20 centimes short for the salad but luckily by digging into the bottom of our wallet, we found that elusive coin and dinner was had. There was a British duo singing and playing music and they were very good. I was expecting an old French lady playing the accordion so this was a nice surprize, not that I have anything against old ladies playing the accordion, mind you. A fun evening and there were about 250 people, way more than I expected.
We have since attended several more of these marché gourmands. The next one was in Le Bugue, our closest “big town”, I think the population is 2800 but it has the best day market in the area, has a very nice grocery store and even a home repair store similar to Home Depot in the states, several hairdressers, restaurants, a wine bar, a beauty salon, so although it is not “big” in the sense you might think, by our standards, it is a “big” town. When you live in a village/hamlet where the population is around 450, it is not difficult to be bigger. Le Bugue has its evening market every Tuesday in July and August. It is held on the banks of the Vezere river which crosses the town. A very pretty setting surrounded by trees. These are very important and people spend a great amount of time choosing the best spot to sit depending on where there is shade. When it is in the high 30’s (90’s) you want and need that little bit of shade. However we learnt that the sun moves – who knew- and so out great shady place turned into a burning inferno as we were about to cut into that entrecote and potatoes. We quickly moved over a few seats, luckily they were not taken, but that was short-lived as the sun continued to move and now there were no more seats. We donned our hats, bought a plate of cheese, a few slices of bread, (yes, you can buy it by the slice from a huge round crusty loaf), and shared some Bergerac red wine with the German couple sitting besides us. This time there was no band but a DJ. Families of all nationalities were enjoying their meal, children dancing, people chatting in all languages, what a festive experience.
To round out our first week, we went to our third Marché Nocturne. Is it obvious yet that we are really enjoying them? This one was going to be special. It was the first of four that will be held in our tiny hamlet, Journiac. Since we arrived, you could not miss the bright yellow signs on the sides of the road advertising this event. Our neighbours were going, the mayor would be there and there was a real live band. What more could you want? At around 7PM, we packed up our plates, knives, forks, glasses, ice bag to keep the wine cool, little table-cloth, our hats and off we drove the 3 minutes or so to the square in front of the mairie. Flowers had been planted, hundreds of tiny flags draped over the square, music was playing, vendors were set up around the trestle tables and chairs and people were arriving by the dozen. There were about 200 seats, I estimated, and by 8PM, not an empty seat was to be found. People most certainly turned out to support their local community. Here it was mostly locals, very few tourists. The food setup was slightly different this time. The vendors sold wine, beer, salads, foie gras and charcuterie plates for starters, crepes and strawberries for dessert and the main course was cooked by the commune volunteers and was 8 Euros for your choice of pork belly or steak on the BBQ with a side of pommes de terre Sarladaises or 5 Euros without the potatoes. Some things in life are worth the calories and this is one of them. Pomme de terre Sarladaises is a dish from the Perigord region of France and is made with only three ingredients, potatoes, garlic and duck or goose fat. They say butter makes everything better, but goose fat makes it even better. See recipe below. We got to meet the mayor, a very nice and friendly man, who seemed very pleased that we had come to live here year round and were already enjoying the community functions, even though we still had no furniture. Our neighbors joined us and all in all everyone had a wonderful evening. We left at almost 11PM, the band still playing and the wine still flowing but we knew we had to get up early the next day to try and beat the heat and continue with our painting, varnishing, cleaning, gardening etc. We have already noted the next date on our calendars, July 24.
Pommes de Terre Sarladaises:
Quantities depend on the amount you are making. Yukon Gold potatoes, small ones are best, goose or duck fat, garlic, at least 1 clove per potato, feel free to add 2 or 3 if you like garlic, water, salt, pepper and fresh parsley. Cut the potatoes into coins about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, sear them in the fat in a large pan, add the garlic and continue to saute until everything is a nice golden color, add some water and steam until all is soft and still crispy. Season, add parsley and enjoy.