Sunday, 11 November 2012

Small is Beautiful in Monaco

New man on the block, Mr Brunengo
Mr Brunengo's selection of Italian produce
People in Monaco seem surprised when I tell them I do most of my food shopping at Monaco's  traditional market in the pretty Place d'Armes. Surprisingly, some people don't even know where it is.  Different strokes, as they say!

Most Monaco residents do their day-to-day shopping at the modern, gigantic, Carrefour Supermarché in Fontvielle, a neighbourhood built on reclaimed land that was once the Mediterranean sea.

Tender, greenhouse grown basil from Mr Brunengo
I'll admit that the prices at Carrefour are good and you can find anything and everything on their shelves, but in general, I avoid it like the plague.  It's bigger than a football stadium, lit like an operating theatre, and filled with an oddly large number of cranky customers and staff.  Maybe it's the damp.

Personally, I prefer to shop at the market, out of doors, from polite, informed vendors, with free delivery and the sun shining on our smiling faces.  Go figure!

For its modest size, the market has an outstanding variety of French, Italian and rare and fine imported products.  Local chefs dressed in their chef's whites shop here all the time.  The market has been on the same site for 132 years and this summer, the Prince and Princess cut the ribbon at the grand re-opening after a year or so of loud renovations.  I'm always grateful that the market is there, a short walk downhill from where I live.

During the week, the vendors are mainly resellers with a smattering of local producers.  There's Romy, who brings extraordinary things from her bountiful farm in St Jeannet.  Then  there's the gentlemanly Gilbert my "egg man" from Sospel whose fresh eggs with dark orange yolks make the most billowy souflées imaginable.  The line-ups to buy them form at 8AM when he arrives and disband around noon when he packs up for the day. 
Gilbert takes a photo break with me at the market

On Saturdays, all the local producers are there, under the market's loggia, along with some organic vendors added to the mix. 

On Friday when I was at the market to buy eggs from Gilbert, I was happy to see that a new local Italian producer, Mr Domenico Brunengo had arrived on the scene to sell his produce on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to fill in the gap between Romy's Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday visits.  This was his third day at the Monaco market.  His friend, the lovely and multilingual Jorien was on hand and she was able to fill me in on Mr Brunengo's business, in perfect English, one of her six languages.

Gilbert's son at the helm

Mr Brunengo grows his products in Ospedaletti and Vallecrosia, two small Ligurian villages  between Ventimiglia and San Remo, about an hour's drive from Monaco.  He pulled out his iPhone and proudly showed me some photos of the succulent greens he had growing in his greenhouses and teased me by telling me that he'd be foraging for Porcini, Sanguine and Chanterelle and hoped to have some for sale soon.  When he's not selling his produce in the Monaco market he's busy at his stand in the Ventimiglia market, snuggled in the row of local Italian growers there.  He also delivers.

Romy and her fresh bounty
A few years ago Monaco's market was floundering but it's heartening to see it slowly coming alive again with people grabbing lunch inside the market building or sharing a coffee at one of the outdoor cafés that line one side of the market.  With more local producers on the scene with different products and price points, there'll be more choice for everyone.

Take that Carrefour!

Turnip from Romy, romanesco from Domenico



Barbara Lilian said...

How wonderful to have a market that sells not only fresh French products, but Italian as well & everyday of the week. I love to shop at my local weekly market, even though it's very small. Once a month we have 'La Foire' when market traders come from further a field with their fresh products. Then I stock up on the cheeses from the Auvergne & Cantal & fresh fruit from the Dordogne. I live on the borders of the these departments. Enjoy your markets. Best wishes. Barbara Lilian

French Girl in Seattle said...

Let's see... Grocery shopping at Carrefour or at a small outdoor market with friendly merchants... Hmmm... "Il n'y a pas photo," as the French say. No question. I pick the outdoor market. I was a bit surprised to find such a friendly, small scale market in Monaco. I am not a big fan of the glitzy Principauté. But for this wonderful market, I would gladly go back. Thank you for taking us there! Veronique (one of your newest Followers...)

Loree said...

Fresh is best but I have to say that I am guilty of shopping at the big supermarkets because it is more convenient. The markets usually pack up by noon and I don't leave work till 4pm :(

Aidan said...

Gilbert Jr. is dreamy. That would be enough for me, forget the gorgeous veggies!
aidan xo

Gustia said...

Believe it or not, I'm not a fan of the glitzy Principauté either even though I live here. I tend to hang in the more traditional haunts like the market. If you ever want to visit the market let me know. Good, down to earth things await!

Gustia said...

Too bad there aren't evening markets in France. Definitely a missed business opportunity.

Gustia said...


Lost in Provence said...

Ooh, leave it to sneaky Aidan to beat me to the punchline! :) We do make a trip to les grandes surfaces once or twice a month to stock up on basics but I think you know how much I love my local markets. If I do make it Monaco for a visit, I would love to go with you to see it in person.
And a random ps. Friends stayed over this past weekend and brought an Italian brioche for breakfast--let me see it is written on the box Gran Soffice--do you know it? Delicious!!!

Gustia said...

You vixens! You should both come to Monaco and I'll introduce you to Gilbert Jr. and we'll all buy eggs together. I know Gran Soffice. It's a Pannetone and it makes really good French Toast too.

Andree Riffou said...

Sharing the same views here in Canada! Would much rather go to the market all year around! You know, the Ottawa Farmers Market is continuying for 3 more weeks as a Christmas market. And then, we have our small specialty shops to tie us over during winter. Does your market continue all winter?

Gustia said...

Yes, it is! I added a link to my post from the Mairie de Monaco about it. Here's the link: It's been on the same site since 1880 (132 years) and this summer, the Prince and Princess inaugurated its grand reopening after extensive renovations. Thank goodness it's there, a short walk downhill from where I live.

Sarah said...

How fab to be able to get Italian and French veggies. I'm dead jealous. My local market is a bit pathetic really, and the timings are all wrong so I tend to shop in Carrouf.

The Auntie Times Online said...

Isn't it funny how markets have become a luxury and supermarkets are where we go if we don't have a market?

French Girl in Seattle said...

Just saw your reply. Next time I stay in Nice, I will get in touch with you. I have already met two wonderful ladies (fellow bloggers,) on the French Riviera, and I would love to meet you too!

Vicki Lee Johnston said...

Your photographs are stunning and those vegetables are art in themselves ... what inspiration!