Though I’ve been shopping at La Graineterie du Marché for well over two years now, I’m still not quite sure how to describe it. Perhaps the best thing I can do is to provide a partial list of things I’ve bought there in recent months: brown-paper sacks of basmati rice, polenta and mojettes (a dried white bean similar to cannellini); green tea with dried fruits and flowers, perfect for drinking iced; gloriously aromatic ras el hanout, dotted with dried rose petals; pine nuts, walnuts and almonds; candied orange peel.
Before learning his name, I used to refer to the proprietor, José Madani, as the hippy bird guy. It wasn’t meant to be unkind: José sports longish, graying hair, has a tweeting bird by the front door of the shop and sells many health food staples: grains and pulses from bulk bins and a wide variety of nuts and seeds. There’s even a sign requesting customers to use their own bags. But a few things make the store very different.
Firstly, despite a more-than-superficial resemblance to the health food stores that began to open in the 1960s and 1970s, Jose’s shop is part of an older tradition: the graineterie and epicerie. Akin to the general or dry goods store, it aimed to provide the full complement of dried and preserved foods, along with some household products. The graineterie at the Marché d’Aligre has been in continuous operation since 1895, making it the oldest of its kind in Paris. And while the current shop is not fully comprehensive in its stock, bird feed, seeds, gardening equipment and enameled picnic ware are all available in the back room, and at least a dozen varieties of herb plants for sale on the pavement.
A second distinction comes from an unusual attention to provenance and quality: the nut oils come from an old, family-owned business, the pain d’epices (gingerbread) from Dijon’s most renowned supplier, the jams from an excellent, small-batch producer, also from Burgundy. Each bin is labeled with its place of origin and cooking direction, from the humble (couscous) to the expensive (tarbais beans) and the exotic (sticky black rice). The nuts and seeds are always fresh, a sure sign of high turnover and quality control.
Finally, there is a strong aesthetic sensibility, building both on original features such as a terracotta tiled floor and the colours and patterns of the wares. Pretty china saucers act as signs in the bean bins, shelves devoted to jam are a spectrum of oranges, reds and pinks, even simple sacks of tisanes and flour draw in the eye. The effect is a pleasant middle-ground—very rarely found—between the disorderly visual feast provided by ethnic groceries and the studied minimalism of so-called “gourmet” groceries.
Should you need any further enticement, he is also a huge fan of New York City, which he describes as "fantastique!"
La Graineterie du Marché
8 place d'Aligre 75012
Tuesday-Saturday 9-1, 4-7; Sunday 9-1:30
Metro: Ledru Rollin or Bastille