Thursday, February 7, 2013

Château Rouge

I'm pleased to present this guest blog post by Yetunde Oshodi, one of the twenty-four persons featured in Black Paris Profiles.

Yetunde Oshodi
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

Nigerian-born and a former New Yorker, Yetunde Oshodi-Fraudeau is the owner and founder of Feels Like Home in Paris, a vacation apartment rental company in Paris.  With apartments primarily in Montmartre, she's always ready to share her suggestions and impressions of Paris and France in general with her guests.  She has even created a blog called Like Home in Paris to help Paris visitors get more out of their Paris holiday.


I once heard that the market at Château Rouge, which is primarily sub-Saharan influenced, was said to be moving to the outskirts of Paris. Since it is still standing at this location, I assume that the project has either been postponed or abandoned for now. Thank goodness for that!

As a student in Paris, I was told by a Ghanian classmate of mine that Château Rouge was the place to go if you were looking for ingredients for making various African dishes. When I visited there the first time, I was both overwhelmed and taken back to the street markets in Nigeria, which I only remember vaguely. In the 20 years that I lived in New York state, I had never come across something like this!

I recalled my father taking us from our suburban home into Queens or Brooklyn to buy plantains before they became a popular item at the local green grocer on Tarrytown Road (thanks mainly to the Latin population). I recalled that he came up with interesting and convincing substitutes for many things he couldn't find - for example regular spinach for the water leaf used to make efo. I remember visits from relatives with suitcase full of gari (ground cassava) and even plantains (how in the world they carted all that stuff through customs I will never know). And here I was in Paris' 18th district with all these things and more at my fingertips. I can't begin to express how much delight this brought me! Now I don't eat Nigerian food everyday - it can sometimes be a laborious endeavor for which I find I have either little time or little patience - but I love to eat it whenever offered.

Plantains and Other Produce
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

Walking through the streets of the African market, you are transported to another world - a noisy world of "mamas" and the kids shopping, chatting and perhaps even bargaining. Many of the items sold at the market look so familiar to me but I don't recall their names partly because my family is represented by two African nations, Nigeria and Cameroon. Since Nigeria was a British colony and not a French one, the names of the produce which can be found all over West Africa are not the same as those in Nigeria. Even when I took my aunt to the market so she could cook up some yummy stews, she was hesitant about some of the leafy vegetables we came across which looked familiar but did not have a name she knew of.

Shopping for Greens and Other Produce
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

But Château Rouge is not only African products.  It is also the place to get Halal meats and fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese and fish from exactly the same producers that you would find at any other Paris market -  sometimes for considerably less.

Halal Butcher
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

Fruit Stand
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

Now Château Rouge is not for the faint of heart. It can be overwhelming to the average tourist with the phenomenal number of people pouring in and out of the Château Rouge metro station and the huge crowd you can find in the middle of the day.

Château Rouge Metro Station
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

Strolling at the African Market
Image courtesy of Yetunde Oshodi

Seeing as you are in Paris and the people you encounter are predominantly black (you know you are thinking it even if you don't wish to say it out loud), some may be wary, but it is a fascinating place to visit and shop if you wish to venture into African cuisine. That is mainly why I go there. I think it is wonderful that you can find such produce in Paris and it really gives me the feeling of the diversity of this city.


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