The French Market: America's Oldest City Market
During my last trip back home to New Orleans, I spent the day shopping and walking through the French Market. Since I had last visited the market, major renovations have been completed. Growing up in New Orleans, I have such fond memories of the French Market. As a child, I recall many
impromptu trips across the Crescent City Connection (Mississippi River Bridge) when relatives were in town. It was always later in the evening when my parents, aunts and uncles were ready for a change of scenery after much laughter and conversation. My sister, cousins, and I would be busy giggling and playing board games when one of the adults announced that we would be going to Cafe du Monde. This occasion was such an exciting adventure and treat for us kids, going out later than usual and getting to eat sugary-sweet, hot beignets! When I was in high school, going to the French Market was a cool place to go shopping for sunglasses, jewelry or purses with friends. The morning after my wedding, many of my family members and friends met at Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets, sharing stories from the beautiful French Quarter wedding the previous evening. And now, being at the French Market, I appreciate it more than ever, as it is filled happy memories but also because this market has been through quite a lot in its 200 years of existence from wars and fires to hurricanes and floods.
Existing in the same location since 1791, The New Orleans French Market originally began as a Native American Trading Post. The market was and is conveniently located just steps from the mighty Mississippi River making it an ideal site to trade and sell goods. Following the Louisiana Purchase, the port and market boomed as it was opened to traders worldwide. A melting pot of cultures and ethnicities poured into the city and the market alike. French, Spanish, Italian, Sicilian, African, Dutch, German, Irish, Cajun, and Creole are just a few examples of the variety of vendors that came to sell their goods in the French Market settling in this port city to feed their families fresh off the boat. You can imagine why New Orleans boasts a culture unlike any other American city with its influences from all over the world. You can see this not only in the architecture, music and cuisine but most importantly in the people. People of New Orleans are proud, loud, and light-hearted. Mostly proud of their roots, their New Orleans roots and the roots of their ancestors, New Orleanians are truly in touch with their heritage celebrating the culture of their ancestors through stories, recipes, and photographs. My roots in New Orleans come from my Sicilian ancestors, without their brave journey to the port of New Orleans, the Macaluso Family would never have evolved into what it is now.
Going to the French Market is an event filled with lively characters, musicians, artists and culinary delights. As you walk along the open-air colonnade past the French Market's oldest tenant, Cafe du Monde, you will find a series of stalls selling food, spices, and produce. Racks of Cajun spices and hot sauces fill the shops within the market. Zapp's chips, Louisiana-made chips kettle-cooked in peanut oil, line the shelves here with flavors like Cajun Crawtators and Cajun Dill Gatortators. Sweet treats are readily available such as Aunt Sally's delicious pralines, a French confection made from sugar and pecans.
After the long stroll through the food portion of the market, you come to the Flea market where merchant booths sell anything from jewelry and New Orleans knickknacks to voodoo dolls and bedazzled alligator heads. As I walked through, I came across a booth selling granite tile coasters with photos of well-known New Orleans restaurants, bars, and stores from Milk Studio (milkstudio.com). The artistic team Mindy Kleinke and her boyfriend utilize old photos, menus, and newspaper or magazine clippings to create their one-of-a-kind New Orleans coasters and magnets. I immediately knew that would be the perfect New Orleans item to bring back to my Philadelphia apartment. I bought four coasters, each boasting places that both my husband and I love and have frequented during our days in New Orleans, Camellia Grill, Franky and Johnny's, Maple Leaf Bar, and Tipitina's.
With souvenirs in hand, my trip to the French Market was complete. Musicians and artists surrounded the market entertaining everyone that passed. An artist drawing a fleur-de-lys on a large pumpkin was working diligently. A random swing dance contest took place just outside the market with couples of every age showing off their talents. People were smiling, laughing and being friendly. I guess they were happy because they knew they were in the heart one of the greatest cities in the world, and certainly my favorite place.