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By Theadora Brack in Paris—
Cuckoo for classic French dishes, pots and pans? Join the club! I, too, possess a mad penchant for collecting kitchenware from yesterday. Fret not, I’m okay! You’re okay!
So where to find the beauties in Paris? I recommend trekking it to the Porte de Vanves flea market. I’ve been shopping here for over a decade because the wares are eclectic and the prices are affordable. Tip! Create a shopping wish list. Visualization will help you narrow your hunt while increasing your chances of finding the object of your cuisine dreams!
Old French kitchenware has always been souvenir-worthy. In fact, an antique mortar and pestle was one of Julia Child’s first flea market purchases after she moved to Paris.
“The mortar was made of dark-gray marble, and was about the size and weight of a baptismal font,” she wrote. “One look at it, and I knew there was no question: I just had to have that set.” That very mortar and pestle, along with other kitchenware she brought back from France is now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
1. Vintage barware
Prepared to be bug-eyed at the market’s groovy mix of ice buckets, ashtrays, glasses, and bottle openers, all sporting logos of old-fashioned French bar favorites like Suze, Ricard, Pastis 51, and Picon.
Looking for something specific? I’d kick off the quest with dealers Danielle and Pierre Aurillon. They’re personable, and have been with the market for decades. Their booth is located just across from the soccer field. While browsing through their funky array of barware, don’t overlook the absinthe spoons, the tastevins (wine taster’s cups, recognizable by the bump in the middle) or the glazed wine pitchers.
2. Pots and Pans
Here at the flea market you’ll find a slew of Julia Child’s favorite (and highly coveted) Le Creuset cookware but drastically discounted compared to what it costs outside of France. Made to last forever, it hardly matters if it’s “used.” I’ve been able to find cast iron ovens, au gratin pans and chef skillets, along with enameled-iron sauce and sauté pans—all vintage and well loved.
Copper equipment will also seduce you. Feeling all Proustian, I’ve also picked up madeleine pans with their telltale shell-shaped molds. Is there such a thing as too many? Not in my book, and not in Proust’s either, apparently.
3. One dish, two dish
As you make your way through the flea market, keep your eyes peeled for classic crème brûlée ramekins, café au lait bowls, soup tureens (with handles) and escargot tongs, along with the little dimpled metal pans you cook the snails in. Quiche and soufflé dishes also rise to the top here. Don’t let minor chips and scratches keep you at bay. I firmly believe that yesteryear’s wear’n’tear adds value. “Everything has a history,” as Julia would say.
Currently I’m on the hunt for historical plates. Royally kitschy, they’re perfect for desert and salad, and they’ve never failed to ignite dinner party conversation. Collecting them like baseball cards, so far I’ve been able to find enough royals for everyone at a table of eight to have their own doppelganger from Versailles. Once I locate the Sun King, the world will be my oyster. Do let me know if you spot him!
If obsessively buying dozens of silver-plated knives, forks and spoons is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I’m hooked. Decked out in intricate Art Deco and Art Nouveau patterns, each one typically costs only one or two euros. Do they need to match? Not on my table. If you’re into a little tarnish and exquisite patina, well then, pull up a chair and start sorting. The “keepers” go to the left.
Tip: During your flea market jaunt, also keep your eyes open wide for other classic French table items like linens, breadbaskets cutting boards and cheese molds, not to mention pepper mills, candle stick holders, and wire baskets—the latter were once used for collecting (and rinsing) eggs or slinging salad lettuce dry. Soon you will be just a-swingin’, Cheapos!
Clipping from Julia, “Toujours Bon Appétit!” Happy hunting!
Elsewhere in our guide: If you’re also hunting for a great inexpensive place to stay during your trip to Paris, be sure to stop by our Paris guide. You’ll find more than 100 recommended budget hotels, all visited, inspected and reviewed by our Paris-based correspondents. Read more.