Marchés (marketplaces) are part of the French way of life, an all-season commodity. In Lyon, the Marché de la Croix-Rousse is a local institution. It is open all mornings except Mondays and has an organic extension every Saturday. Merchants and locals often take breaks and chat, so it's a great place to learn more about the neighborhood.
"I’ve been here for twenty years!" exclaims Ginette, as she prepares platters of sliced cauliflower. She works at a stall belonging to Les Quatre Saisons, a farm located about 3 miles north in Caluire; it has been part of the marché since the 1920s. She works with Kevin, who has been helping the farm for two years. "I have a BA in literature. I went to London for music and worked in a bookshop. I taught, too. Then I worked in a luxury hotel in Paris. And now here I am!" Ginette doesn't know, but at home, we refer to their stall as les dames ("the ladies"), because the first time we went, it was only ladies in their fifties, including Ginette, tending to the stall and shouting deals at the top of their lungs.
When I was a kid in southern Provence, shopping for groceries at the market was a weekly ritual; when I moved to Lyon fifteen years ago as a student, it became a financial necessity. Bless the cheap vegetables and the discarded boxes of ripe fruits with which I could make free jam! I moved to the Croix-Rousse neighborhood six years ago, and its famous marché still feels like a treat. It is located just a flight of stairs away from my home. Every single time, upon reaching the top, I turn around and marvel at the view.
Today, I'm making cervelle de canut (“silkweaver’s brains”). It is a very easy-to-prepare Lyonnaise specialty, and it isn’t really brains. It is based on fresh local cheeses and named after the canuts, the 19th-century silkweavers who made the fame of the Croix-Rousse neighborhood and of Lyon’s silk industry. It makes for a convenient appetizer that still gives us a strong sense of local identity—a local alternative to hummus or tzatziki, especially when we have guests from out of town. Here are a few tips for you to experience the Marché de la Croix-Rousse at its best—and that includes shopping for ingredients you can turn into a lovely snack.
In a bowl, mix some cow milk faisselles and fresh (very white and soft) goat cheese. Pepper and salt to taste. Faisselle is made of unpasteurized raw milk. If you are unsure about this, or ill, or pregnant, you may find faisselles made of pasteurized milk in local supermarkets. In any case and for better results, carefully drain the faisselles (which come in little individual molds, typically in a six-pack) before mixing. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of finely cut shallots, 1/2 tablespoon of parsley, and 1/2 tablespoon of chive. Then add 1/2 tablespoon of strong olive oil, 1 tablespoon of sour cream, 1/2 tablespoon of dry white wine, and a drizzle of vinegar. You may add a pinch of red chili pepper and a pinch of paprika if you have it. Cover and let it rest for at least 2 hours, ideally for 1 or 2 days in your fridge. Eat it chilled, not icy, with well-baked or toasted bread. This serves two people, or one very hungry mademoiselle.