The seminal image is of a man on a bicycle carrying a loaf of bread - a long crispy baguette - there is something elementally suggestive about his prowess - but after all its just a loaf of bread; then there is country bread - for the hearty farmer - the pain de campagne - hardy with a certain grit; the ficelle - for those looking for finger baguette - for that quick bite - a chomp on the road; the batard - a broader baguette - great for garlic bread or slabs of jam and butter. For the more health conscious there is pain complet made from whole wheat flour and my favourite - pain aux cereales - where you have a hearty french version of muesli in a loaf of bread. For the more individual there is pain de seigle - rye bread - nice with cheese; or for something fluffy and soft - pain au mie - square bread better for sandwiches; and pain au lait - soft rolls from milk and butter.
No market would be complete without a good display of sausages and charcuterie. Rows upon rows of sausages, dressed, sewn, plump, dry, red to black, - each one tempting the viewer to taste to sample. From cooked ham - jambon cuit to cured ham - jambon cru (dried, smoked or salted). The efficacious rillettes - pork meats stewed endlessly in its own fat; and the delicious patés placed in large bowls as a course in themselves in the traditional restaurants. The boudin noir - for those seeking a french version of a northerner's dream - black (blood) sausage, great with baked beans and lentils. The long spiral of saucisse de Toulouse - a great winter warmer or for over the barbecue. The more adventurous enjoy the dilectable taste of andoiulletes made from chopped pigs stomach mixed with an array of seasonings, onions, herbs and often can be quite chewy!
In amonst the chestnut festivals that abound in Autumn, there are the displays of the oddly shaped pumpkins (Potirons or "Citrouille) and squash, ready to made into winter warming soups, or wholesome side dishes. Nice in April celebrates the Cougourdon at the Courgourdon festival. There is a strong movement in France for organic food and the weekly markets in villages are often the best way to find vegetables and fruit, that are free of pesticides and other nasties. For more information about Organic food and agriculture biologique look on Wikipedia.
One of the most colourful and interesting displays at the market is the olives, dried fruit, nuts, and other mixes stalls. In colourful containers, with exotic and intense names - they are a must to taste, experiment, and to take home. The art of living in France is to taste from many different pots, to take the leisure in exploring and experimenting. Olives provide the excuse to rant back to pre roman times (some olive trees still remain from roman times at the Pont du Gard for example), to suck and bite these oldest of fruits at almost any time of the day, with aperitifs or during the course of short one course meal or a marathon 16 course dinner. For great olive shopping visit the Oulibo, near Bize Minervois, between Beziers and Carcassonne. The delightful strong mixture that is of garlic and anchovy - specially from Collioure - known as Anchoiade = perfect on toast - and I suppose one could says its like a fishy version of marmite! Tapinade is the olive version - of olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil, which also goes down well on French bread, and glass of white, rosé or red wine at any time of the day or night!