More Food On the Hoof

photo, beef storage, rungis market Where beef hangs out before it gets to you.

Food On the Hook

Paris:– Wednesday, 14. March:– A week ago today I had a simple life that consisted of walking south through the 14th arrondissement to catch the new tram for a ride to Paris–Expo, to see this year's beautiful cow show. Sitting at home today, chewing fingernails, waiting for a plumber, that former life seems so remote.

Continued from the Café page

No less wonderful was the Village du Cochon. I mean it was wonderful if you like looking at sleeping pigs having wonderful dreams, with their tusks hanging out. One large enclosure had a bunch of little black pigs with curly tails that were romping around like – like three little pigs – but there were about a dozen of them. Worth a half–hour at least.

Looking for the chickens, which were back at this year's salon, resulted only in seeing a a glass–sided box full of eggs that were hatching. An egg would jiggle and then a crack would appear, and then this scrawny drowned–looking flea of a bird would battle its way out. Chicks 10 minutes old were already yellow and fluffy, just like the fake ones at Easter. After 30 minutes I assume they are ready to be grilled.

photo, cow heads, tetes de veaux In the scrap meat hall.

Then a pause outside in the sunshine was taken, in Paris' unfarm–like air. As I was already out, it seemed easier to cross under the road to the Hall 2 than to take the traditional overhead passage, so this is what I did. I'm sure the passage was just as hot and crowded as it was in past years, as evidenced by the mobs in Hall 2 trying to get to Hall 3.

A quick look in Hall 4 indicated it was full of show dogs and not the food that used to be in it. So with 10,000 other folks I ambled along to the imposing Hall 7 which had two floors given over to French food treats, and foods from the offshore departments and territories. World foods were in a remote corner of Hall 3. I had some great ham and cheese tidbits there.

Finding the Bretagne in the second level of Hall 7 was somewhat taxing, on account of searching for it high and low on the first floor and not finding any logical geographical order. In a way this was good because I got to try some nibbles from unfamiliar regions, such as Martinique. All the same fatigue was setting in. Hall 7 was like an all–day sucker and trying to get out of it in less than two hours left a feeling of... release.

photo, charles, guide at rungis, with zombie peopleOur guide at Rungis, not smoking.

Did I say there was a lot of folks at the salon? With the bird virus thing last year the attendance was reduced. Obviously Parisians felt deprived and many must have interrupted their jolly skiing holidays just to take in France Farms Corp.

With good reason. I think it is kind of nice that farmers from all over France send their food and animals to Paris once a year, just for us to look at, and maybe touch, and nibble a bit. It kind of makes one humble to look a 1200–kilo blond in the eye and contemplate how it might look and smell on a plate.

And so it was, too tired to cook, I found myself in the Café Rendez–Vous that evening, tucking into a juicy pepper steak with some frites on the side.

Food On the Hook

Friday, 9. March:– This day started kind of early for me after writing last week's club report, at 04:15 in the morning, long before sunrise. As you might guess the VGFoM was behind the extremeness of the hour and somewhat before I my senses switched to on I was hustling down the street to catch a bus at the Denfert RER station. This is how a visit to Paris' distribution food market at Rungis begins.

Of course I knew that there would be a score of lunatics along for the ride because this is the minimum for a tour – my first tour! – but I was a bit surprised when the bus filled up, all 50–odd seats. The ride to Rungis was not exciting, in the dark, along the Périfreak! a short bit and then down the A6 towards Orly. Rungis is located on an area on the northwest corner of the airport.

photo, salmon direct from norwaySomebody's forgotten salmon.

The bus parked somewhere and we all got out and put on white smocks made out of that untearable material used for wrapping new TV sets. Cute little caps went along with this getup, and we looked like a gang of shabby ghosts lost in a parking lot. Our guide Dominique introduced us to our English–speaking guide, Charles.

They immediately said there was to be no smoking and promptly lit up, "Except for us!" We shuffled off the see the fish barn. It was very big but mostly empty. Fish arrives at it, from everywhere, at 8 in the evening, and then the dealers show up, followed by the buyers, and all that is left at 5 in the morning is dregs. The hall was impressively big though.

Next we got back in the bus and drove around a building and got out to see the scrap meat department. This had all sorts of gory stuff, heads, bones and other unidentifiable parts. Rungis is not a slaughterhouse – that is done elsewhere away from curious eyes. Rungis is a distribution centre. Everything ready to prepare or eat comes here and then ships out to lesser distributors, wholesalers, food chains, restaurants and shops.

It used to be done in the centre of Paris at Les Halles but its 12 hectares proved too hemmed in so General De Gaulle decreed that the whole shebang needed to move to Rungis, where it now occupies 232 hectares, most of it a parking lot. Well, 25,000 cars and trucks pass through it every day including 3000 semi–trailer rigs.

photo, sign, creme de caramel, hummm

Some people were keeping notes while Charles rattled off these big numbers. Workers at Rungis, 13,000. Regular buyers number 20,000. Market served includes 18 million inhabitants, a fifth of the French population. The place shifted 1.6 million tons of mostly food but also flowers, in 2004. The whole ball of wax was worth 7.1 billion euros in 2005. My eyelids got heavier.

There wasn't a lot to see in the new, modern, sanitary version of the cow barn. Since mad cow everything has been cleaned up, straightened out, fixed, computerized, tagged, fingerprinted, communicated and over all it is watched with spy cameras, so don't try anything funny like eating something. You see more meat at the local butchers but hear less.

Between each of these buildings – all kilometres long – we had the bus for transport, but climbing in and out of it began to sap our reserves. All the same we had to look at the hall – one of eight – of cut flowers, which were, or course, cut and mostly gone. I've skipped the cheese here. It was another huge building full of cardboard cartons full of cheese plus a couple of rounds of emmenthaler.

As it was getting light about 8:30 it was anything but bright on account of overcast. This just added to the feeling of queasy giganticism coupled with hunger and thirst. Yet again into the bus and another circling of what seemed to be vaguely familiar jumbo hangers, and then we were deposited next to one of Rungis' many restaurants. They look like road houses out in the country, partly because of the parking lots, mostly because they aren't fancy.

photo, beef steak, peppercorns, cooked by uncle den den More meat on the table, yum!

On the program was breakfast which many thought had been forgotten. So then, we straggled through a smoky bar where some Halles types were knocking off beers and cognacs, and into a large dining room, with tablecloths of all things.

The tour, for individuals, is not cheap. Up to you to decide if the breakfast makes up for it. Including a carafe of red wine, it featured just about everything I have ever seen on a decent buffet, except maybe grilled sardines. And if you wanted more, you got it. I mean, it was Rungis after all. And no, I didn't see any onion soup but that doesn't mean there wasn't any.

Should you be tempted, check out the Visit Rungis Web site for details about the visit, but don't forget that the starting time is 5 am. It will remain with me forever.

A bientôt à Paris
signature, regards, ric

Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini