Lunch at Les Halles de Bacalan

Now that the grades are in and my time as a student has come to its ultimate end, nostalgia has been creeping up on me. And besides the friends, the wines and the actual learning, I’m starting to miss all of those lunches together on the terrace of Hangars 16 and 18. I miss the makeshift potlucks of hummus, tapenade, guacamole, sausage, cheese and bread hastily purchased at the Carrefour across the street. I miss the overpriced salads at EatSalad, the little lentil and eggplant thing I used to get at SoGood, the “Nordic” with salmon and cream cheese at Bagels Kook on mornings after a particularly rough night of Chouffe-ing. An on some special days I would meet my beau and make the trip to Halles de Bacalan, a relatively new market out past the Cité du Vin tram stop. This vibrant, always bustling food hall is situated in a 1,000 square meter urban space and is home to 25 independent vendors. Butchers, fish and oyster merchants, poulterer, cheesemonger, wine merchant, foie gras specialist, fresh produce vendor, a bakery… the who’s who of everything delicious, local and, when possible, organic. Below are some of my favorite dishes from this lovely market. The vendors, for the most part, keep things seasonal, so many of these dishes will probably not exist by the time this is published, but well… You get the idea.

First, a little stand representing Maison Balme, the king of truffles for 4 generations. This stand specializes in the sale of pretty much everything truffled, including oils and vinegars, foie gras, pâté, terrine, butter, salt, mayonnaise, honey and rice. They also offer a very limited menu of truffle-studded dishes, of which my favorite is the truffled omelet, served with truffled ham and rocket. What I love about this stand, and pretty much all of the other vendors at the Halles de Bacalan, is the way in which the short menu and tiny capacity (4, as I recall, in the case of Balme) translates to very focused, individualized service. Each omelet is whipped up, poured over the skillet and nested over on an individual basis, with plenty of patience, attention and care resulting in a texture I consider perfect. This omelet is magnificently fluffy, thick but light because of so much air beaten into it. It’s cooked to the perfect consistency with the inside still runny and slick, adding a wonderful moisture to each juicy bite. The deep golden yellow hue testifies to the quality of the eggs used, whose clean, yolky flavor serves as the perfect canvas for the bits of earthy, funky, very pronounced truffle. And on the side, a generous portion of ham, a thick cut slice with its edges encrusted with bits of black truffle. And the two together in a single bite, magic. The perfect lunch or brunch dish, light enough but full of flavor.

Balme also serves bowls of truffle risotto, cooked to order. The texture of the rice is al dente with the starch forming a kind of cream with the freshly shaved Parmesan, which melts from the steam. Next to the risotto is a bundle of truffled ham, which can be torn to shreds and added or just eaten on the side. A wonderfully hearty yet light enough dish, perfect for lunch.

On the far left is L’échoppe Des Halles, directed by Chef Frédéric Coiffé, a slightly more spacious stand with a bar that can accommodate around 10 people at once. This one specializes in stir-fried dishes featuring the products sold by the vendors of the Halles, including fresh seafood, meat, produce, herbs and spices. The menu is kept short but rotates quite often, so it never gets dull. Here we had two dishes, each presented in a still-sizzling cast iron skillet. One was a very nice mix of fresh squid and vegetables, with a juicy and flavorful sauce holding it together and fried onions adding crunch. A very satisfying, slightly spicy dish.

We also tried a ground pork dish with vegetables, which reminded me of a drier chili, without the beans or spice. This one had broccoli, onions, peppers and herbs mixed in. A simple and satisfying dish, although it could have been a tad less greasy with maybe some kind of sauce added to hydrate it instead.

Finally, at Requins Marteaux, we had the lamelles d’encornets en persillade. These are very tender, thick and juicy chunks of squid (sourced fresh from the Bassin d’Arcachon), seasoned with parsley and prepared with good oil on the grill with plenty of lemon squeezed on. They were cooked to the perfect texture, with some sexy, crunchy caramelization happening on quite a few pieces. On the side was a very simple but delicious cucumber salad, seasoned with just a hint of vinegar. This one is a fantastic summertime classic, a light seaside snack to enjoy with a chilled glass of biodynamic white Bergerac.

Final verdict? Les Halles de Bacalan is a good place to grab a light lunch every once in a while when you’re in the area, a great pairing with a visit to the Cité du Vin, for example. It is, for my budget, too expensive for weekly grocery shopping and too far from my apartment, which leaves me still searching for a real food market with which to replace Auchan…

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