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June 23, 2011

Market Day in Geneva, Switzerland

by Anne Paddock

Saturday morning is market day in most of Switzerland:  a time to wake up early, forgo breakfast at home with the knowledge that a better meal awaits at the Rive market in downtown Geneva.  Rive is actually the name of the parking garage that borders the market and because these two consonants and two vowels form such an easy word to pronounce, the market has become known as “Rive” by the locals.

The real name of the market is Helvetique due to its location on Boulevard Helvetique on the left bank (“Rive Gauche”) of Geneva.  This area is the oldest part of the city and is the main shopping district crammed with jewelers, designer boutiques, banks, restaurants, and local shops.  Every Wednesday and Saturday, the boulevard is closed off to traffic from early morning until mid-afternoon to allow the vendors adequate time to set up, conduct business and pack their unsold wares after the market closes mid afternoon.canstockphoto5378043

The market has two distinct parts:

The Indoor Market:  A permanent market that consists of a row of various butchers and cheesemongers on each side of a narrow aisle on the street level of an office building. Maneuvering through is a challenge during off-peak hours and virtually impossible during peak shopping periods.

The Outdoor Market: This open air market is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdaysand the set up is simple:  two street blocks filled with fresh fruit and vegetable vendors although there are cheesemongers, chicken roasters, and various specialty food sellers.  The market is organized along the sides of the avenue with a wide paved walkway for pedestrians to walk up and down.  The local Swiss will tell you the entrance to the market is on the south side of the boulevard as most people walking to the market will come from the old part of town and walk south to the market. However, those parking in the Rive garage will tell you the entrance is in front of the garage.  I quietly chuckle when the Swiss disagree.

The Pasta Man

On Saturday, there tends to be three groups of shoppers:  the early birds, bags in hand or carts in tow on a mission to take advantage of the best selection, the late sleepers who seemed to waltz through the market shopping and socializing, and the afternoon browsers who scan the picked over produce.  We were clearly and proudly in the early bird group, arriving at Rive by 8:00 am and making our way to what we affectionately referred to as “The Pasta Man.”

This vendor always had lines of people that grew longer as the day progressed so he was our first stop where upon greeting him with a “Bon Jour,” he would ask my daughter if she wants her “fraise pasta” meaning “strawberry pasta” today. The red pasta was in reality beet pasta and although my daughter knew this, the vendor would always tease her and try to tempt her away from purchasing her favorite plain pasta. We would also purchase a container of his homemade tomato sauce, a jar of freshly made pesto, a ball of buffalo mozzarella, and a chunk of fresh parmesan and while he was packing all this up, he would invariably place a container of tiramisu in our bag which was his way of saying thank you for coming every week.

The French Vegetable Guy

Our second stop was always the vegetable vendor who hailed from France, just a few kilometers away. With tables and tables of freshly laid out vegetables, I could always see and smell the dirt on the potatoes or the root vegetables and the onions piled high.  We would select what looked best (everything) which would include crisp beans, purple eggplants and the greenest zucchini, crisp lettuce, skinny asparagus, and beefsteak tomatoes, when in season.canstockphoto6637649

Oh, The Strawberries….

Our next stop which always took the longest was the fruit vendor.  After uttering the proper greetings which is very important in Switzerland, my daughter would eye the rows and rows of strawberries.  The strawberries I had known were always firm, cone-shaped and beautiful but lacking in taste. These were different and would never need to be sweetened with sugar. After making our selection, we would move on to raspberries and the whole process would be repeated with my daughter finally choosing raspberries that still had bits of green vine in the green corrugated containers.  If I inquired of an apricot, a pocketknife would come out of the vendors pocket, the apricot sliced in half and then handed me to taste and evaluate. Soft and buttery sweet, they were always divine and added to our shopping bag.62778057630c40a74428z

The Baguette and The Trip Back 
Choosing the bread was always easy and my daughter would take a few Swiss francs to go buy a fresh baguette which would be partially wrapped in a piece of parchment paper secured with a piece of tape.
At about this time every week, our hands would be full and so one of us would suggest that we take our bags to the car and then return to finish our shopping.  By the time we got to the car, the smell of the berries, the yeasty bread, and the ripe cheese would entice us to sit down and have a quick snack.

We would eat a quart of fresh strawberries or a pint of raspberries. Then we would rip a piece of bread from the baguette and break off a piece of parmesan.canstockphoto3223138

We would look at each other and not say a word but somehow knew we were both thinking the same thing:  this is delicious. I will never forget the day when my daughter and I finished our recharge breakfast session and she turned to me and said “Mom, I think we’re a bunch of food geeks.” Yes, we probably are.  Those breakfasts were so delicious and so simple and we didn’t even need a stove.

Our market day would conclude with our last stop at the chicken rotisserie where we would buy a slow roasted steaming hot chicken that would be placed in an insulated bag with small baby potatoes, carrots and juices. Twenty minutes later we would arrive home. Lettuces would be cleaned, a salad made and lunch was ready.

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