“Wholesome” is how I feel on Saturday or Sunday mornings at Marché des Capucins with my bae. There’s something so therapeutic, so comforting about picking out one’s ingredients for the rest of the week, pointing at the avocado, the tomato, the radish that will make it into my weekday lunch, choosing the corn-fed, yellow-skinned poulet jaune that will stew, whole, for hours in my Sunday night chicken soup. When we first moved to Bordeaux from Barcelona, we didn’t quite find our footing right away and chose a supermarket at walking distance for our weekly groceries. And for a while we were fine with that. But eventually we really grew to miss our Mercat de l’Abaceria in Gràcia, our weekly chats with our four ladies (cold cuts, produce, chicken and rabbit/fish) and our little breakfast at the skinny sandwich spot during which we’d plan our course. So we eventually ditched the plastic-wrapped “sucrine” for floppy lettuce with soil between its leaves, the “Nordic” salmon for local trout. Today, we’ve got Capucins pretty much figured out. We know to get our fruits and veg at the big stall near the entrance (except kiwis, which should come from a kiwi-guy further inside). We know the place for the “fancy paté” vs. the “rougher paté,” the stand where the best steaks are (but only before 10:30). We know where the fragrant herbs live, where the best-priced, thick and juicy cod filets can be purchased, where the crunchiest baguette with the most “toast level” options are to be found. We’ve grown more efficient in our visits too, idling less and demanding “pas trop mûr, svp” with more confidence now.
In an excessively fast-paced world, where efficiency and ease are valued over effort, where foods are chosen by their packaging rather than their nutritional content or natural flavor, it just feels right to spend an hour a week at the market, re-educating ourselves. Nope, strawberries are not in season in October, even if Auchan might imply that they are. But pumpkins are arriving, and the zucchini is looking good. Soon, chestnuts will be in season. Seeing what’s around and what legitimately looks good inspires new recipes to try out, ones I have forgotten about over the course of the summer. Root veg is in? Weeknight carrot and squash soups, it’s almost time! Leafy green kale? Time for Portuguese chouriço and kale soup. Smoked ham hock looking good? A reason to cook a lentil stew, which fully expresses its flavor. I represent a spoiled generation who produces none of what we consume. The very least we can do is take some time out of our week to personally select what goes in our stomachs. I wouldn’t trade that one hour a weekend at the Capu in for anything else in the world.
We try to get to the market as early as we can, before 10:30, to get the good stuff. And to do that we usually leave our apartment without the coffee we need to be fully capable to make decisions, especially ones as important as how much perishable meat to buy for the week ahead. Over the past months, we’ve found the perfect spot for that weekend morning coffee at Capu: Momo (or Les Délices du Maghreb). And for now, we’re hooked. In a way, we kind of wake up at the market with this coffee, sipping it in silence as we take in the vibe of the place. Then, once the caffeine has began to hit the spot, it begins. “We need fresh thyme and tons of ginger for the soup.” “We should get a fish for tomorrow night, one for the oven, maybe lieu noir?” “After the travaux in the apartment, it might be nice to have a good steak, maybe with a salad?” “I’ve seen some nice oranges on the way in. Can you do your orange-fennel thing?” “I want that Rostello ham this week, and 4 tranches weren’t enough last time.”
This spot is specializing in Moroccan pastries and mint tea poured from an arm’s length with significantly less fanfare than it deserves. They also happen to make a mean little latté with this perfect wet foam that floats upon layers of coffee until mixed in. It’s a bit too hot to drink when it comes out. As we wait for it to cool, we chat about what we envision cooking in the week ahead.
From their varied selection of pastries, our favorite is the كعب الغزال (or Kaab el Ghazal or Cornes de Gazelle or Gazelle Horns). This is a kind of crescent shaped pastry made with a white flour dough wrapped around a filling of almond paste, which is dipped in orange blossom water to give it the ever-so-delicate floral citrus kick that goes so well with the nutty sweetness of the crumbly marzipan inside. The pastries are baked to a just barely golden color and poked three times with a thin needle (not sure why, but apparently it’s tradition). A fun fact about these “gazelle horns” is that because of a quirky linguistic transliteration of the word “horn” in Moroccan Arabic, the word has a kind of double meaning: it can mean “horn” or “ankle.” And, as it turns out, “gazelle” in Moroccan slang means “beautiful woman.” Since women in Morocco historically wore a djellaba that would cover their face and body, leaving only their ankles exposed, they would make sure to make those ankles as attractive as possible, taking great care to keep them clean and smooth. Men in Morocco would call their ankles “gazelle horns,” hence the name of the delicious, seductive pastry.
There’s also this delicious crepe thing that we get when we’re extra hungry, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with tons of toasted almond slivers and pumpkin seeds for crunch.
Before we landed on Momo, we had shopped around a bit to find the perfect breakfast spot au marché. One of the first stands we tried was Tortill’art, which we have since then lovingly nicknamed “the grubby Spanish.” Behind the red-checkered counter, this place definitely does not boast of tidiness. Foods are touched here and there by bare hands. The microwave and refrigerator in the back (where a sketchy little pitcher of sangria is kept) are in quite an abysmal state. And that little espresso machine in the center – handled with absolutely no love, as it’s clear that he loathes making coffee – ain’t too appetizing either. But then again, this market in general isn’t known for its sanitary standards, with crates of veggies kept on the floor and raw poultry handled without a glove in sight. Back in the USA, the good old Capu would be guilty of literally every single health code violation and shut down within an hour of its inspection. And that’s just one of the reasons why I choose not to live in the USA.
The truth is that the Spaniard makes the most dreamy, mouthwateringly delicious tortillas, which never fail to hit the spot hungover, still drunk or stone-cold sober. He usually makes two or three different kinds, my favorite being the one loaded with spicy pieces of chorizo. In terms of texture, these tortillas are perfection. They’re thick and dense but not too dense, seductively moist and super fluffy, despite being loaded with tender bits of potato. They come served with a slice of baguette with a single pickled anchovy, whose tart, briny flavor add the perfect kick to the cozy flavors of the tortilla. The Spaniard also serves platters of cured jamón serrano, correctly sliced into paper-thin pieces. And to drink, a glass of Spanish red feels much more appropriate than a latté, and will be served with much more enthusiasm, judging by our experience.
Complex creations await at La Ronde des Fromages, a spot serving up beautiful pre-assembled boards of small open-faced sandwiches, featuring their cheeses and other market-fresh products. I love eating here, since each little bite is an adventure, the combinations of textures and flavors carefully thought-out by their creator. We enjoyed immensely the “cold” toasties, topped with 1) slices of raw mushroom cap, blue cheese spread, hummus and crunchy fried onions, and 2) fresh cherry tomato with juicy, succulent mozzarella, drizzled with reduced balsamic. We enjoyed even more the toasties heated up to order. One had some kind of stinky brie melted onto a piquant red pepper spread and topped with thin slices of chorizo. The other, a kind of tantalizing sheep cheese oozing over earthy, delicious slices of blood sausage and baked apple for texture and a touch of sweetness. So so good.
And if it’s pintxos you’re after, La Maison du Pata Negra has got’em, and then some. Here, it’s up to you to pick your prey off a long line of colorful pintxos. They count up the sticks after you’re finished and charge you accordingly. I chose some of my favorites, those I’ve been missing most since moving from Barcelona. Mushy, earthy and delicious blood sausage with roasted red pepper and fried onions; roasted eggplant with red pepper, a kind of lemony mayonnaise and balsamic; roasted red pepper topped with an anchovy and filled with mysterious and super creamy “crab salad”; Serrano ham with a round of goat cheese, sticky-sweet fig jam and sun-dried tomato; a thin slice of pork lomo on a thin layer of roasted red pepper spread, a sunny-side-up quail egg and sautéed bell pepper.
As we were munching on our delicious pintxos, the woman behind the counter approached us to ask if we were “in” for the special seared foie gras she was working on, which is prepared periodically, pretty much when she feels like it. We agreed, even though our plates were already overflowing, and boy am I glad we did. Out came a perfect lobe of juicy, jiggly, absolutely delicious foie – a snappy, tight exterior coating a smooth, creamy inside. On both side, a perfectly seared surface, caramelized and crunchy. It was served with the perfect little layer of fig jam and balsamic squeezed over the top. And as an extra special surprise, it turned out La Maison du Pata Negra actually has some pretty decent Spanish wine. Ben got a nice Ribera del Duero and I a glass of Marques de Riscal Riserva.
Near the south entrance of the marche is a restaurant called Les Jardins, with a green sign. This place is loud, dynamic and stressful when it comes to seating. But once you’re at a table, you get a whole new perspective on the Marche des Capucins and a perfect view for people-watching. A tray of briny oysters to start, pairing wonderfully with a glass of Graves. We also got a plate of accras de morue to share. These were wonderfully crunchy on the exterior with tender, juicy fibers of salted cod filling up the inside. Another dish perfect with dry white.
With an ice pack keeping our perishables nice and cool, we ordered seconds. Ben got a juicy bavette, a quality piece of meat topped with caramelized shallots, with a side of perfect fries (or fried baby potato wedges, to be specific) and a creamy tarragon-flavored mayonnaise to dip into. I ordered a beef tartare which came with gorgeous, crumbly-creamy raw beef bound, according to tradition, by a raw egg yolk, and accented here and there with chopped shallot and capers. In the case of both the bavette and tartare, the meat had come from a vendor just a few feet over. It was fresh, tender, flavorful meat selected by the restaurant – no doubt – early in the morning, before the people of Bordeaux had even crawled out of bed. So, in a way, it was perhaps some of the freshest meat in Bordeaux at this time, and sold for around half the price as it would be in a restaurant in the center. Needless to say, it’s a good deal. It left us pretty damn pleased for sure.
Perhaps the greatest hit at Capu, however, is Chez Jean-Mi, a beloved Bordeaux institution equally favored by teens fresh out the discothèque from the night before and looking for their petit-déj’, and groups of older gentlemen sent out by their wives on a mission for fresh bread and taking the time to enjoy an apero with their friends before going back. The menu is pretty simple: freshly shucked oysters, shrimps, bulots (whelks), shrimp and crab, fish soup, cheese, pâté du marché and I guess some breakfast stuff. At 10am, half of the guests are drinking coffee and orange juice, the rest dry white Bordeaux wine. By 11am, it’s pretty much all wine.
My personal favorite thing here is the Soupe de Poisson à la Rouille. A thick, delightfully grainy and very comforting fish soup that comes served with grated cheese to melt into it, some croutons and a flavorful roux. I like mixing the croutons into the roux before dumping them into them in. The roux adds a splash of garlic and spices (paprika? piment d’Espelette?) to the otherwise already very flavorful soup.
But then, of course, the classic breakfast spread here is a dozen oysters straight from the bay of Aracachon nearby, a slice of lemon and some freshly sliced baguette with salty butter. Choose your size, I like the 3’s and 4’s. Wash down with a glass of fresh Graves.
The shrimps are delicious too, and they come with their own little tub of mayonnaise to dip them into after they are beheaded and deshelled.
These are just a handful of the wonderful oyster bars, brasseries and bistros housed in the colorful and dynamic Marche des Capucins. There are so many more of them that I want to try: O Lève tôt, the delicious-looking tarts and croquetas at La Cuisine d’Aissatou, the tajines and flaky pastillas at Zanqa 8, the moules frites at Bistro Poulette, the breakfast classics at Chez Cristophe. And around the market too, places like Cochon Volant, Au Bistro, the Lebanese at Adonis… In the 3.5 years we’ve spent in France, we’ve fallen under the spell of Capucins, our market in Bordeaux.