Thursday 18 May 2017

A Visit to Rungis: The Largest Wholefood Market in the World

Rungis is a food mecca for food professionals which was built in 1969 to replace the former city market of 'Les Halles'. It's the world's largest wholesale food market: 237 hectars (585 acres) of buildings filled with food, hosting over 1200 companies onsite. It's like a food city basically. From there some of the best products are sold to Parisian restaurants and food businesses (65%) while 25% go to the rest of France, with just 10% exported.

Since I was very young I've always heard of people talking about 'Rungis' and I've always wanted to see it. When I saw a visit of  Rungis was planned on my recent press trip to Paris, I was beyond excited as I actually had no idea you could book a tour of the market.

A guided tour of Rungis is priced at €85 per person and includes the transfers from/to Paris, a fully guided 3 hour tour and a hearty breakfast in one of the onsite restaurants. They also do tours for groups. Tours run on selected Fridays only it seems and the bus leaves from Paris at 4.30am.

During the tour you visit the five main sections: the fish pavillion, the meat/offal pavillion, the dairy pavillion, the fruit and vegetable pavillion and the flower pavillion. The tours start very early, simply because the fish and meat pavillions open at 2am and everything get sold out before 6am.

We started with the fish section and there was a buzzing atmosphere. You're basically walking around where people work, with pallets full of seafood being moved around frantically. Workers there seemed full of energy and it was brilliant to see all the different varieties of fish.

Then came the best part of the market, the one which is not for the faint-hearted, the Triperie Pavillion or offal section. As you may be aware in France we tend to use all the parts of the animal and in this section of Rungis you see all of them. Vegetarians be warned; we saw a guy who stands there taking the skin off a veal's head, putting the brain in a plastic box and halving the head.

In the meat section I saw so much Irish beef around, almost every single box I passed by at some stage was from Ireland (sure we have the best beef in the world on our little island, don't we?). Visiting the meat pavillion, seeing all the different cuts, as well as the poultry section was definitely one of the highlights.

With France being cheese heaven the dairy pavillion was obviously filled with beautiful cheeses. With endless wheels of Comté and Gruyère as well as countless smaller cheeses.

I'm not sure if this is usually included in the regular tour but we also visited Medelys, a fine food shop in the heart of Rungis. This was an amazing place where restaurants can get the finest produce from caviar to truffle, from chocolate to spices.

I think our tour was longer than the usual and by the time we arrived at the vegetable section and the flower pavillion I was pretty wrecked and couldn't feel my toes. It was nice to see but not as picturesque as vegetable and fruit displays that you'll find at retail food market in towns across France.

After a few hours the tour finished with a breakfast/brunch in one of the restaurants. We were served croissant, baguette, jam and butter, cheese and charcuterie and some fresh fruits with hot drinks and orange juices. It was a substantial breakfast, much needed and enjoyed after an obnoxiously early start and a cold morning of walking around. I was so hungry that I forgot to take pictures of my food, worst food blogger ever right?

Visiting Rungis was definitely one of my top experiences on the press trip to Paris. It's a wholesale market and the whole point of the tour is to see the scale of the operations and experience the unique atmosphere. There are lots of dead animals around, it's cold, it's noisy and it's busy, but I think anyone who are serious about food should see it at least once, especially chefs and food professionals visiting Paris.

Tour of Rungis International market can be booked here.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Paris Tourist Office (Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau) on this trip. As always, my opinions and love for French food and Paris are all my own!