At the Capucins market, you can find both typical products from the Bordeaux region and dishes reminiscent of travel and holidays, as stands specialising in world cuisine have set up there. I met stall owners with remarkable backgrounds who provide market visitors with delicious exotic products.
The Capucins market: a welcoming and lively atmosphere
Unlike halls that offer many places to eat for wealthy customers, such as the San Miguel market in Madrid, the Capucins market is frequented by people of all social classes and all ages. Thus, I meet both people of modest origins and bourgeois, and as many young people and families as elderly people.
What makes the market attractive? Undoubtedly, being the largest market in Bordeaux, first of all the diversity of its products. Moreover, some of the customers are restaurant owners who purchase at the ‘Capus’, thus making it a semi-wholesale market. This great diversity encourages me to stroll in the hall and admire the products. Of all the memories, the ones that stick with me the most are the scents coming from the herbs and aromatic plant stand. Not far from there, the olives and dried fruits stall displays an assortment of small products of various colours. The black and green of the olives, the red, orange and yellow of the dried fruits, and finally the beige of the hummus make the products even more desirable than their taste. From his stand, pleasant scents emerge. My favorite is the fragrant of the brine which preserves the olives. What’s more, there is a multitude of greengrocers, butchers, and fishmongers. This wide choice of products invites you to compare products and prices before buying.
On top of the products, the warm and relaxed atmosphere attracts customers. Thus, regulars talk with the sellers as if they had known each other for a long time. Despite the noisy atmosphere, I appreciate that the market enables meetings and exchanges.
Finally, restaurants, cafes, and bars attract consumers who do not come just to do their shopping. This offer, which has developed in recent years following the global trend, has increased market traffic on Fridays and weekends. On the other hand, this development has accentuated the differences in attendance and entertainment between calm days, from Tuesday to Thursday, and busy days, from Friday to Sunday. Consequently, before Friday, some stands are not occupied by their owners. Those who want to enjoy a calm atmosphere will therefore prefer to come during the week, but be aware that your favorite stand may be closed!
Among the local specialties to be tasted on site, oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon and charcuterie are very popular. Others, like me, simply prefer to have a morning coffee on the terrace. From there, I observe the stalls located just in front of the entrance, outside the hall. Several decades ago, stall owners set up their carts outside to sell their wares. ‘Carts’ remained to designate the stall owners present outside the hall. Whether they are sellers of fruit and vegetables, tasty oriental dishes, or clothing, they liven up the Capucins district which is, in particular thanks to them, lively and diverse.
The neighbourhood has undergone many changes over the last decades which have sometimes caused a decline in attendance for the market and sometimes reinforced its attractiveness. One of the main events is the departure in 1963, by decision of the town hall, of the wholesalers to the new Brienne market. Before that, a wholesale market and a retail market coexisted. In addition, the installation of supermarkets in the district, which initially raised fears of a drop in attendance, finally reinforced the attractiveness of the market by offering in a small area all the possibilities of food and non-food purchases. More recently, the development of the on-site catering offer and the installation of international product stalls have attracted a new, younger, and wealthier customers base.
However, despite the market’s reputation of gentrification, the customer base remains mixed. So, while I was having a coffee at a counter, a long-time Capucins regular told me that the market was still a place frequented by all segments of the population.
Meeting stall owners who offer exotic products at the Capucins market
I interviewed 4 stall owners with atypical backgrounds offering products and cooked meals from different regions of the world. Their experience and their products enrich the Capucins market. They make it a multicultural place where, beyond the typical cuisine of the Bordeaux region, it’s possible to (re)discover delicious foreign specialities.
Servan from D’elices D’épices
Servan, a spice stall owner, settles under the hall every Friday. He does not have a fixed stall and thus enjoys great freedom. On his stall, loose spices presented in brightly coloured bags attract the attention of visitors. Servan offers, in addition to bulk spices, his creations and spice blends he makes himself, such as curry.
Pierre le reporter: “Hello Servan, can you explain how you came to sell spices?
Servan: I started with my family, 8 years ago now. They traveled to get the spices on site, to see how they make the spices, vanilla for example. It’s been 8 years since I joined them and I therefore settled in Bordeaux. Originally, I’m from Normandy. We can say that it’s in the family because we are a family of traders. First I studied marketing, to end up in the organic food industry. I really liked all things essential oils and I first wanted to be a naturopath, but it was too complicated in chemistry and biology, and since I didn’t really appreciate these subjects… I’m more interested in nature than in the formulas. That’s how I finally found myself in spices, somewhat by chance, through the family.
So you’ve been at the Capucins for 8 years, right?
Yes, I started in 2014 to take the place here. I had decided to come only on Fridays because it’s the day when all the restaurateurs come to do their last shopping. Coming on Friday allowed me to have visibility in the city center, since I don’t have a shop, so that restaurateurs could see the products to work.
So most of your clients are restaurant owners?
Yes before, but since Covid started, it’s very complicated to work with them because they want low prices. It’s complicated to organise, also in terms of payments. The best thing is to work with individuals and I have all types of clients, and they will all receive the same spice regardless of their profession.
So your clients base is very diverse…
Yes, and tourists come too, for example the Belgians, who use spices in almost all their dishes. They are much more knowledgeable about spices than we are. In France, there are very few people who use it. They will put curry, herbs and that’s it. Belgians know it all, they know how to tell the difference between different types of pepper, for example. It’s due to their culture.
Do your clients come from the neighbourhood, or from elsewhere?
At the Capucins, I have very few loyal customers, not even a dozen. Everything else is mostly foreigners or tourists stopping by because my booth smells good and it brings back childhood memories. For example, there are Moroccans who come and buy spices because it reminds them of home. Not too many thoughtful purchases. On the other hand, in the other markets that I do, the clientele has nothing to do with it. These are people who live in the neighbourhood and who come every week to get me something different to taste.
How did you train?
I didn’t do any training. I trained myself. When I started making my cousin’s website, I wrote all the descriptive texts for the spices. I took pictures of them and had to describe them: how does it smell? Is it anise? Spicy ? Does it taste like brioche? So I learned by putting my head in it, by shopping, by remembering the smells in my brain. What helps me is that I have a good sense of smell. By the way, there is a big difference between what we smell and what we taste. There is less fragrance with the taste. If we ate through the nose, we would perceive the flavors better.
Where do your products come from?
Many things come from Madagascar: peppers, turmeric, ginger, cloves. Otherwise everything else, the seeds, is from Europe, France for example. I have an importer in France, who is a wholesaler. They have a laboratory, which allows them to also make essential oils in addition to spices. Otherwise, I have products that come from further away: Bolivia, Syria (liquorice for example).
Do you travel abroad to find your products?
I traveled to the Mediterranean Sea — Lebanon, Israel, Spain Italy — and Reunion Island, which is the only major trip I made for spices.
Do you directly buy to producers?
Often, we buy from cooperatives.
What is your philosophy in your profession?
Sharing, because I talk with people so that they discover new things. I try to share what I cook, for example tapenade, pesto, hummus. With each recipe, I try a different spice. I show my clients that it is possible to put spices in a recipe without it being disgusting, so I educate them. Moreover, it’s often an exchange, because many people have stories to tell about the spices they have tasted during their travels.
In addition, I pay attention to nature and the planet.
What do you like about the Capucins market?
I like the fact that it’s downtown because I love the city. I come from the countryside, but I’ve always liked going to town because it’s lively and it’s good for business. That said, I’m only here on Fridays. What I like is the life of the market, the atmosphere, and the conviviality, and I appreciate that the Capucins is a covered market, because, on other outdoor markets, it can be complicated with the spices when it’s raining. I would like to open a corner here — to have a small shop in the market — but it would take someone to work there, and it’s complicated to manage.
What do you like in your job?
The freedom and the diversity of the customers. I like to tell myself that you don’t have to be Moroccan to sell spices! You can have good things without cheating.
And what don’t you like?
The mentality of some stall owners, who can sometimes be jealous. It’s a kind of squabbling.
Do you have competitors in the market?
There is an herb seller but it’s fresh, so it is completely different. My main competitors are grocery stores.
The market concessionaire also wants to encourage traders with a fixed stand to be present, particularly during the week.
I think the prices are pretty decent here…
Yes, but I don’t rely too much on prices, I prefer to taste and make up my own mind. It’s one of the advantages of markets. Concerning spices for example, it’s better not to sell in sachets because you cannot taste and people throw away if there is more than necessary. On the contrary, my products are in bulk and so I offer people to smell the products before buying. In the supermarkets, you have to buy a whole jar even if you only need a few pinches for a recipe, and you throw it away, whereas I don’t force people to buy more if they don’t need it. In addition, the prices per kilo in the supermarket are very expensive. At the Super U for example, I saw that oregano was at €800/kilo whereas I make 20 grams at €4, which is €200/kilo, and it’s organic. It’s like pesto. I don’t understand why some people use so many preservative products, it must be expensive for them to use all these preservatives. I manage to do it simply with lemon and salt and it can easily be kept for two weeks. I make my pesto with products from the Capucins market: fresh basil, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, and pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts. I also make old house mustard.
Finally, do you have a recipe to share?
I don’t have a recipe to recommend in particular, but I put Cajun everywhere. It’s a spice that comes from Louisiana, where the Acadians settled. They grew their onions and thyme, and there they got peppers, mustard seeds, black pepper, and Cayenne pepper. They took things from America and France and made a great mix of it.”
Bouchra from Zanka 8
Bouchra, the owner of the Zanka 8 stand, prepares traditional Moroccan meals to eat in or take away. As I was interviewing her in the early morning, regulars, who seem to have become her friends, sat at her counter for coffee or mint tea.
Pierre le reporter: “Hello Bouchra, can you tell us about your background?
Bouchra : I’m from Lot-et-Garonne, in the South West of France, and arrived in Bordeaux at the age of 23, in 1998. I first worked in ready-made clothing. I started as a saleswoman, then I became manager. First, I worked at Cours Clémenceau, and then I held a corner for a major brand at Galeries Lafayette. In 2007, I was fed up and wanted to do something else. I had several possibilities in front of me, that is to say that I had the choice between setting up my own read-made clothing shop which I already knew how to do, and going into catering. I’m the eldest of a large family and I have always loved cooking and entertaining. Besides, I knew that I was able to build my company and do something that I liked. I thought this was the opportunity and I took the plunge. Basically, I wanted to open a small restaurant around Moroccan culture and French culture, but I couldn’t find premises because I didn’t have enough money. An opportunity arrived at Capuchins as the person who was here was leaving, and so I settled down. Before opening, I followed a 9-months training at the Blanquefort high school. This training was sponsored by Thierry Marx. I left this training and more than 10 years later, I’m still here. It’s great, because it gave me self-confidence and it showed me that on my own, with little financial resources, if I want, I can do it, even if it’s not easy.
What do you like about your job?
First of all the human relationship and the contact. I couldn’t work in an office, because I like to talk with people, meet people… Moreover, I cook my childhood’s recipes, and I can talk with people about the flavours and memories that my cooking evokes.
Is your cuisine influenced by your Moroccan origins?
Yes, that’s why I cook Moroccan food. My cooking is not too sweet, balanced in my own way, but it’s still traditional cooking ‘without fuss’. I don’t create any dish for example. I base my cooking on my childhood memories when I went on vacation there: the scents, the dishes, the flavours…
Do you have a catering business?
Yes, I can do things on demand, because I don’t want to be locked into on-site catering, which is my main activity. My primary activity is to bring the market to life, on site. However, some customers who know my products call me for events, such as birthdays for example, and we see what we can do together.
Was your training specialised in Moroccan cuisine?
Not at all! It’s like the mama. She is not trained, she does dishes that she knows because she likes it. The training I did taught me the culinary basics, but above all hygiene and safety. We have the right to do things at home and not in catering because we are addressing a wider audience. The goal was to know the hygiene procedures, such as respecting the cold chain.
Where do you supply?
Here, at the market. I don’t have a lot of room for stock, so it’s handy. I choose according to the prices and the quality of the products. On Fridays, I do big shopping, because I don’t have time to do them on the weekend. The Capucins is a semi-wholesale market, as restaurant owners come here to buy their ingredients.
What sets you apart from other Moroccan restaurants in the neighbourhood?
It’s first of all the quality of my gazelle horns! Besides, I add candied lemons in some dishes, which is kind of my creation. I add certain ingredients to the basic preparation, such as spices. Finally, I make an adapted pastilla because I don’t like the basic recipe.
Finally, would you have a typical Moroccan dish to recommend?
Yes, the chicken tagine with candied lemons and vegetables.”
Émilie from Elliniko
The Elliniko stand only offers products directly imported from Greece. Their cooked dishes typical of Greek gastronomy make you travel. I met their manager, Émilie, who appreciates the atmosphere of the market.
Pierre le reporter: “Hello Émilie, can you tell me what you do at Elliniko?
Émilie: I’m not the owner of the stand, but the manager. The owners are currently in Greece. They opened this stand because she’s from Greece and her dad was a restaurant owner there. Their taste of gastronomy is developed. We work with families who live in Greece and who cook for us. We adapt the recipes and they cook. All dishes come from Greece frozen and are cooked here. Regarding the producers, we work with regular producers, but we also try to vary the products, for example for the delicatessens, or change when we find better products. For example, we recently did a tradeshow in Greece. We try to keep a reasonable price and with imports, it’s complicated, because of the cost of transport.
Are you related to the owners?
No, I have been working at the Capucins market for 5-6 years. Before, I had a Breton creperie here that no longer exists, and I also worked a little for a bakery. Before that, I was a pharmacy assistant, so nothing to do with the market. Came here by accident and love it. For me, it’s not like going to work, because there is a special atmosphere.
In your opinion, is the atmosphere good between the stall owners?
Yes, it’s like a family and it’s really nice. The atmosphere between the stands is good and positive. We are united, for example when there are problems, we help each other. Besides, there is a good mix of cultures and a social mix. You meet a lot of different people. The funny thing is, if you ask stall owners, you’ll see that there are plenty who haven’t been doing this from the start. For example, I have a colleague who was a journalist before. This diversity enriches the exchanges.
What is your speciality?
What we sell the most are these triangular puff pastries with spinach and feta, the Spanakopita. We sell plenty of them! As a main course, our beef and pork meatballs are very popular.”
Oriol from Mes Souvenirs d’Espagne
Behind My Souvenirs of Spain, there is a family from Barcelona. By offering quality products and cooked meals to take away or eat in in a space with elaborate decoration, they delight fans of Spanish cuisine. Oriol, the son, is passionate about his job and likes to talk about his products.
Pierre le reporter: “Hello Oriol, can you introduce yourself and describe your background?
Oriol: my name is Oriol Estrader Nadal, because in Spain, we also have the name of the mother. I am 23 years old and I have lived in France for 10 years, almost half of my life. My parents were journalists in Spain and they retrained when they arrived in France. Their project was to create a Spanish grocery store with catering and to do this, they called on the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bordeaux. They entered a competition that offered a prize to the winner and they won. The prize was to be sponsored by the Capucins to open a stand here. At first it was just one stand. People ate directly at the counter, with stools around it. We have always had a bit of delicatessens because being Spanish, we know what the good Spanish products and the good brands are. Today, we have been at the Capucins for 7 years and 3 years ago, soon 4, we opened a stand in the Saint-Martin covered food market in Paris, near Place de la République. Our concept is to do on-site catering, take-out meals because we cook everything on site, and we also offer imported products such as olives, charcuterie… All our products here are gourmet. Thus, we will no longer speak of the delicatessens, but of qualitative grocery. You will never find this quality in the supermarket. We mainly target people who are melancholic of Spain, that’s why we are called ‘Mes Souvenirs d’Espagne’. In addition, we are caterers for companies. For example, we just made 2000 pintxos for Station F, the start-up incubator. We also work for Back Market. We are developing little by little, with positive and negative aspects… I am young, but I don’t party on the weekends, because I am here working, but it’s an investment for the future. We are happy, everything is fine, the customers are coming back. We must continue in this direction.
Did you receive a training, for slaughter for example?
No, but I grew up in this environment. I now know all my products perfectly because we are in direct contact with the suppliers and I know my suppliers. I have the know-how transmitted by the parents, the authenticity and the will to do things well. If you take a liking to it, you become passionate and it becomes your job. In addition, trading in a market has a very interesting side, because you’re in direct contact with the public. We are not in a supermarket. Here, there’s a connection between your and the customers. It’s not just the purchase.
Which products would you recommend?
Lots of products! Everything comes from Spain and is directly imported. In the alcohol, wine and beer department, it’s 100% artisanal, 100% Spanish. I even have the best beer in the world of 2012, which comes from the region of Valencia, flavoured with honey and rosemary. We market Lolea sangria, we are even distributors. It’s a sangria that has been a hit in Spain, it’s the first to have been revisited because originally, sangria is a popular product that you see in ferias, made from bad red wine. They made something artisanal, qualitative, with 5 different varieties of wine and with very attractive marketing. Plus I have imported olives with 5 different varieties of brine. It ranges from jalapeños to mojo piquante from the Canary Islands, truffles… For meat: Iberian sausage, lomo, Iberian chorizo, dried beef from León, chistorra from the Spanish Basque Country, sobrasada from the Balearic Islands. I also have a whole range of olive oils. Today, we market an oil that we are the only ones to sell in France. It comes from the region South of Zaragoza. We also have a vintage olive oil that is only sold in the best restaurants. We also have rice to make paella, arroz bomba, which grows in Valencia. In addition, we have spices such as pimiento de la Vera, from Extremadura, piquillos peppers, Navarra appellation peppers, asparagus, artichoke hearts… There is also everything we cook on site and that people can eat here or take away, for example, the homemade gazpacho, the classics like croquetas with ham, the tortilla de patatas, the aubergine tortilla which is a bit lighter, the empanada gallega, which is a pie from Galicia… The catering concept is Spanish cuisine cooked on site and people see how we prepare what they will have on their plate.
Do you cook yourself?
We are the ones cooking. At noon, there is a team that comes to join me and we serve inside and on the terrace outside. During the week, it’s quieter, but on weekends, it’s very lively.
Who are your clients?
It’s very versatile. It could be Spanish tourists, of whom there are many in Bordeaux and who are melancholic of Spanish cuisine after eating only croissants and oysters. They come here because they know it’s one of the only places in Bordeaux where they eat like at home. But most of our customers are French people of Spanish origin or who have lived part of their life in Spain, and who want to find products that they don’t find here: Trevelez ham, bellota ham, the small café with tortilla pintxos in the morning like in Spain… You can come with the family, eat tapas… Most of our client base, apart from companies of course, are French people who have lived or grown up in Spain, who have this melancholy of places and want to relive this culture without moving.
Finally, do you have a favorite recipe or dish to share?
So a recipe… You put me in trouble if my competitors listen to you… I can give you a dish that we make for lunch here. It’s not very elaborate, but it still does the trick, it’s huevos rotos. Everyone revisits it, which means that today there are thousands of varieties of huevos rotos. The concept is to make patatas bravas first, so we cut the potatoes into small pieces without being too small, so that we can smell the potato. They are cooked in olive oil for 40 minutes and when they are cooked, they are fried for the customers. Thus, they are melting inside with a good taste of olive oil and crispy on the outside. It seems easy to bake a potato, but it’s not that simple. Then we add the chistorra, the sausage from Navarra which is exceptional, two fried eggs, bellota ham and pata negra cut into small pieces. It is a combined dish that delights young and old, which reminds me of Spain and above all which is quite easy to make.”
I would like to thank all the stall owners who made me the pleasure of answering my questions. These exchanges made me discover a world that I knew little about.
Everyone contributes to make the Capucins market a place of encounters and discoveries, around a tajine, tapas, or even a plate of oysters from the bassin d’Arcachon!