Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Olfactory Paradise

Coriander, Mint, Cumin, Figs, Cardamom … My nose is assaulted by a rich and delicious concoction of scents as I approach the Saint Michel market. Packed around Bordeaux’s highest monument, the 114m free-standing cathedral tower, Saturday morning is a hive of activity as Bordeaux residents descend to do their weekly shopping. The first thing my nose recognises is the coriander. Stalls piled high with fresh herbs – coriander, parsley, mint (I assume for tea), and various other culinary delights that my eye is not familiar with line the first row of the market. If I didn’t need to fill my basket with tempting produce I could quite happily sit and inhale the sweet scent for an hour or more.
Within minutes however, I am drawn to the visual feast of the spice stall. There must be at least 50 different spices sitting on the table, each in a small calico sack, as they have no doubt been sold for hundreds of years. They are sold by the gram, each purchase carefully scooped into a bag and weighed. My saliva glands are working overtime just imagining the array of different dishes they will end up in. As exotic cooking is not high on the priority list (why would it be when there are so many deli items available to taste?) I settle for a cake of soap from Provence, choosing the red vine for its deep red colour and visible seeds embedded in it, but mainly for the mysterious perfume.
Moving through the brilliant reds and oranges that signal the stone fruits of summer, my basket is gradually filled with kilograms of peaches, nectarines, pears, shiny summer vegetables, salad ingredients (including beef-heart tomatoes – deformed but delicious), eggs and figs. While it is tempting to try the curious, spotted barbarie figs – not a fig at all, but the fruit of the Prickly Pear, a noxious weed that grows rampantly along the train line between Ballarat and Melbourne – they will have to wait until next week as I can’t resist the real figs, plump and oozing sunshine. Back in our apartment, the figs don’t see the end of the day as it would be a crime not to devour them without restraint.
It is now Wednesday and our tiny fridge is no longer bursting at the seams, but by Friday things will be looking lean and the whole family will be once again looking forward to our Saturday morning market ritual.