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Rungis, the Biggest Farmer’s Market in Europe – La Gourmandista

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Rungis, the Biggest Farmer’s Market in Europe

I pick up the thread from my previous post about markets, specifically those in , and the question presented at the end regarding where all the sold there, as well as those served at the restaurants of the French capital, come from. The answer is Rungis. A place I feel anybody who loves eating good food would think of  as a one-of-a-kind market. Then, my lucky day. I found a documentary on TV about it with tons of hard facts: it is located only 7 kilometers away from Paris. It is the biggest market of the Old World, and it has industrial-sized warehouses where all the products are distributed as follows: Seafood, Meats, Dairy, and , as well as Cut Flowers and an Administrative building. Each one of these is classified by type and merchant. It employs more than 20,000 people and about 1,200 wholesale companies in charge of distributing as fresh a product as possible to about 18 million consumers.

Of course, talking about the figures and the 8.8 million Euros marketed here in just one year (according to the 2013 numbers), is quite easy, and quickly written, but to have taken Paris' main market from the capital all the way to this site was a piece of work I dare to call titanic, since at no given moment did provisions stop being sold. 5 years of construction work, and the ‘move of the century' between February 27 and March 1, 1969, made it possible for Rungis to be admired by so many around the world.

The most important question – and personal quest –  for this weird Mexican-Parisian person was how to find the way to get there, and how to get to know such a place, since most of the commercial activity takes place between 2:00 and 9:00 AM, as far as I was aware. The information available to me was limited, though correct, and said that by 7:00 in the morning sales would be over, therefore making it a bit difficult to arrive there in time. Another factor was that sales would only be available for clients registered in the market's database. Having heard this, the requirements seemed excessive plenty, so I decided to leave it at that and dream about maybe one day getting to know the place just for kicks. 

Later, when I began my studies, someone shared with me that it was possible to take a tour there with a guide. Nonetheless, the price seemed excessive: 80€ for a lookie no touchie was an impressive price in my head. There were some who went, I myself decided to wait until the school would take me there as a ‘pedagogical field trip'.

Thus, after going through two thirds of the training, the long-awaited moment to visit the sacred market arrived. The rendez-vous was at 4:00 AM just a couple of blocks from the school. We were all there on time; some sleepier than others, some by foot, others by taxi or even Uber. It was cold, but I feel we were all anxious to see the place in question and even though we were all in coats and jackets, had we been handed a pillow and a blanket, no one would have complained. 

Upon arrival to the first warehouse we received some disposable overalls, which were legally required for hygienic reasons. It was evident that we had arrived to the place closest to the Parisian coast. There is no sea here, but there was tuna, sea bass, sea bream, octopus… I even saw some red snapper, which isn't very common around here. In fact, I had never seen them in this area. The guide showed us the products, the chef cleared  up a few doubts, we took many photographs. The visit finished when we arrived at the end of the unit and got to see small lobster farms, where a discussion began about which kind of lobster was better: the American, or the Breton. It was clear that among the French there was no doubt that the best product came from the Hexagon. For me, the most important piece of information was that 90% of what arrives to this unit is sold within 24 hours, since most of the orders are placed in advance.

Rungis is so big that moving from one unit to the next has to be done in a four-wheeler… so, the bus driver took the group to the next stop: Meats. I literally felt I was entering a walk-in refrigerator, which the chef confirmed was in fact the case. We were taught about product tracing and how the system was implemented due to the mad cow problem at the beginning of the 21st century. The carcasses were quite impressive. The meat looked beautiful. However, I learned that most of the produce coming in from other countries within the EU arrived already cut.

The third stop took us to the fruits and vegetables. I have to confess that my Aztec side surfaced quite quickly, since I immediately started looking for avocados, limes, mangoes, anything I could think of that might arrive from my country. I smiled more than once, when my classmates pointed at fruits they called exotic, and which for me were only star fruit, pitaya, or even a piece of yellow guava. How fortunate we are, those of us who come from a place bathed by sunlight all-year round!

 It was late and we couldn't stop by one of the pavilions that I was looking forward to the most : The Dairy. The reason was that they were in their most important hour of commerce of the day, and we wouldn't be welcome. Thus, we went to visit the unit which is the most difficult to manage : The Flowers. This is because the florists' trading mainly takes place electronically from the Netherlands. Last, but definitely not least, we went to the pavilion in charge of hosting the small local producers. This last pavilion was of utmost interest to me, since they are farmers mostly from the Île-de-France region, who bring their products to compete with those from any other wholesaler. The merchant who probably attracted our attention the most was the one who had exotic herbs and blooms. He was so popular that he chose to look the other way for a bit, and sold little bunches of herbs to my classmates.

As we had some time left, the chef decided to entertain the pack by letting us roam around one of the stores where the school buys supplies such as spices, oils, and vinegars. Of course there were some better behaved than others – I got some spices that would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in my country of origin, or at the local supermarkets in the city.

The tour ended at around 9:00 in the morning. We went to have a quick breakfast at one of the restaurants on the premises. We got into the bus again, and most students fell gladly asleep just as the bus started to head back to Paris. There was no doubt that everyone had looked forward to this visit, and all I can say is that I would most definitely go there again if I had the chance.

Address: 1 Rue de la Tour, 94550 Chevilly-Larue, France

To visit the market, click here