Jackie Kai Ellis on Shopping at Markets Around the World

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Jackie Kai Ellis, part‑time Vancouverite, part‑time Parisian, is a designer, Paris patisserie tour guide, founder of Vancouver’s croissant haven Beaucoup Bakery & Café and the author of The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris. She recently collaborated on a line of Parisian‑inspired dining linens with Vancouver‑based bedding brand Flax Sleep – including a roomy market tote that’s similar in shape to Provençal baskets. So, we asked her to share some of her favourite markets around the world, plus tips on how to make the most of your purchases as a traveller.

January 8, 2021
A Flax Sleep market tote bag
Jackie Kai Ellis’ inspiration for the Market Bag was the classic fan‑shaped baskets of Provence.   Photo: Flax Sleep

enRoute You’ve lived between Vancouver and Paris for several years. What’s your favourite market in Paris?

Jackie Kai Ellis I have a soft spot for the Marché Bastille. It’s touristy and definitely not the most authentic and local, however it’s the market where I first fell in love with markets. And it really is the perfect place for a tourist to spend a Sunday morning. Here is everything I recommend that you try there, from my book The Measure of My Powers:

  • Buckwheat crepes with lemon and sugar. Try to find a stall that focuses on foods from Bretagne, as they will usually have the best crepes.

  • Juicy Medjool dates, prunes, pistachios and candied strawberries from the dried fruit and nut stalls.

  • Forty‑eight‑month cave‑aged Gruyère especially, but really, all the cheeses!

  • Whole roasted chicken. Be sure to ask for the potatoes roasted in the chicken fat.

  • Fromage blanc bought by the carton at the fromagiers. Eat with fresh fruit as a dessert.

  • Artichokes. The artichokes in Europe seem so flavourful and much meatier than the imported ones I’ve tried in North America.

  • Fresh fraises du bois or alpine strawberries if you can find them in the summer.

  • Radishes, with good butter from the fromagier and fleur de sel.

  • Oysters eaten right at the stall on plastic plates. At some stalls, they will pour white wine into the empty shells for you to drink.

Jackie Kai Ellis strolling through a Paris market
The Marché Bastille’s more than 100 stalls line Paris’ Boulevard Richard Lenoir.   Photo: Nicole Franzen

ER What do you shop for during your daily visits to markets in Paris?

JKE It really is whatever is in season, because Parisians eat that way. In the fall and winter, you get potirons, the huge pumpkins – they ask you how big a slice of it you want, then they weigh it. Once spring hits, there are fresh peas and asparagus of all different sizes – really thin ones that almost look like lavender flowers and thick white ones, too. And then in the summertime you get fraises du bois, the tiny wood strawberries that taste like strawberry cotton candy, all the plums, and musk melons that smell like cantaloupe on steroids.

ER What’s your favourite market in all of France?

JKE I love antique and flea markets, so one of the biggest ones, which is touristy but worth a visit, is the Sunday market in L'Isle‑sur‑la‑Sorgue. It’s probably two kilometres long, and you can find everything from linens to old surgical tools and paintings there. I’ve bought pottery, old maps and letters. And there’s a huge farmers’ market attached to it, so it’s a whole day of fun.

ER And what about in the world?

JKE This one is a little hard to get to, but it really is my favourite. It’s the bazaar in Urfa, Turkey. It was probably the most untouched, preserved travel experience I’ve ever had – I think I saw only one other tourist. You walk into these old buildings and men are playing chess or checkers under canopies and then you snake down little alleyways and they’re selling Ottoman Empire cups, and there are spices, simit on sticks, fresh almonds – it was so cool.

Bags of spices for sale in a market
A spice market in Goa, India.   Photo: Nikoli Afina

ER What are your tips for travellers who want to take in markets, but don’t have a kitchen to bring purchases back to?

JKE When I’m visiting a market for the first time, I like to hire a guide – they know all the tips, tricks and best stalls. And I try to organize my trip around the markets, because you want to arrive as early as possible if it’s a food market since you’ll get the freshest products and it will be bustling with locals  – and that’s what I love. If you can’t cook during your travels, pick up spices and dry goods to bring home. When I last went to Israel, I got sumac and za’atar; in India, I bought teas; and in Turkey, I shopped from a huge selection of dried peppers. There were probably 20 different spicy chili flakes and they all have different flavour profiles; what I love about going to a market and tasting all these things is that you get a sense of what a culture is like through the back‑kitchen door.

Jackie Kai Ellis arranging market flowers in a vase in her kitchen
Flowers for her Paris apartment are a favourite market purchase of Kai Ellis.   Photo: Nicole Franzen

ER And if you do have a bit of space to bring things back to – in an Airbnb or larger hotel suite – what would you recommend purchasing?

JKE Oftentimes there are amazing flowers at markets that you would never see at home, because of the climate, or because they import them from different countries. And usually Airbnbs will have all different kinds of cups, so don’t worry about putting all of the flowers into a big vase and instead make an arrangement with ten little glasses. If the food and produce you purchase is wrapped in paper, spread that paper across the table as a runner or covering to keep it rustic. And go for foods that you can pick at and eat with your hands – different types of meats, cheeses and local dips, crackers and torn bread. Keep it casual; that’s what I would do.