The gigantic Rungis wholesale market is packed with flowers and food products coming from all French provinces and the entire world. It is more spectacular to visit it early morning when the activity peaks.
Waking up in the middle of the night. This is the price to pay to discover the world largest market of fresh products : the MIN of Rungis. Situated near Orly airport, 7 km south of the capital, it markets every year 1,5 million tons of food, 32 millions bunches of cut flowers and 19,4 millions plants in pot. A world of flavours and smells that is nicknamed the stomach of Paris because this wholesale market supplies 50% of the fishes and seafood, 45% of the fruits and vegetables and 35% of the meat eaten in the Parisian region.
[ Practical ]
- By road
7 km from Paris on autoroutes A6a and A6b.
- By public transport
Bus 216 departing from Denfert-Rochereau
Bus 185 departing from Villejuif – Louis Aragon metro station, end of line 7.
- Fishes and sea products : from 2 am to 7 am.
- Fruits and vegetables : from 5.30 am to 11 am.
- Dairy products : from 5 am to 1 pm.
- Meat, poultry and tripe : from 3 am to 9 am.
- Flowers : from 4 am to noon.
- My Genie in Paris
4 hours tour in small group led by a chef.
Price : from €200 per person.
- Visite Rungis
Tour on request for groups of at least 15 persons.
Tours for individuals every second Friday of each month.
Start at 5 am from Place Denfert-Rochereau and ends at the same spot at 9.30 am. Transportation and breakfast are included.
Price : €80 € per person.
Tel : 0892700119
Twelve thousands workers
That’s here, in particular, that the best cooks, caterers and grocers come to stock up because the products that one found there are renowned for their quality and their freshness. Opened in 1969 to replace the Halles that stood in the centre of Paris, the MIN of Rungis is a veritable town unto itself. Covering 232 ha, it boasts its own railway station, 21 restaurants, 10 banks, car rental companies, temporary works agencies, a pharmacy and of course hundreds of firms specialized in food production or processing. In total, 1 400 companies employing more than 12 000 persons are established there and each day 26 000 vehicles enter its compound.
The most important firms have their own storehouses. All the other ones are housed in buildings specialized by family products and having different opening times.
Reserved to professionals
To get an idea of their sizes, just know that it takes at least half an hour to walk through all of them without any stop. But there are so many things to see that it is rather the amount of time one spends in each of them. At least in the eight main ones that are open to visitors as the MIN of Rungis is reserved to professionals.
So, it’s normally forbidden to wander around on his own. However, in reality everyone can get in. But it is impossible to buy anything without a professional card and it’s better to be discreet. Indeed, regulars are not always pleased to see individual visitors as those can notice there is a huge difference with the prices charged in the Parisian shops. Veal liver is indeed sold at €9-10 per kilo, beef ribs at €8-9 per kilo, a pineapple costs 70 cents, a rose 33 cents,…
Besides, the MIN of Rungis is a maze of streets with busy traffic where it is not always easy to find the right way and park. So it is better to follow one of the “official” tours the MIN organizes once a month or on request for groups of at least 15 persons. It’s also much more informative because the guide is always a professional working in the market for years and he gives many interesting information as well as anecdotes. For instance one learns that the transactions amount reaches up to 7 billions Euros per year including one third paid in cash. Or also, that a tramp often seen around is, according to a legend, a Yugoslavian woman who missed her plane at Orly airport and since wanders around with her luggage. Some tour companies also offer to go around with a cook or a grocer, which give you the chance to watch transactions.
But don’t expect to see people haggling, it’s not the rule in Rungis.
The market activity peaks between 5 and 7 am, when all pavilions are open and that’s why tours never begin later than 5.30 am. They always start with the fishes and sea products building because it opens at 2 am and close by 7 am. Don’t forget to wear warm clothes because it is fully air conditioned and one moves around polystyrene boxes full of crushed ice containing all creatures inhabiting seas and rivers of the entire world : tropical fishes, shells, oysters, shellfishes, fresh water fishes, smoked fishes…. For some species Rungis has no competitor in France. For example that’s the case for the capitaine, a fish coming from the African shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Buildings devoted to tripe and meat trade are without contest the most spectaculars but they might be a bit of a shock for impressible persons and vegetarians.
In the first one livers, kidneys, veal heads, pork feet, tongues and many other offals are on offer in all shops. In the second one, hundreds of beef, veal and sheep entire carcasses are hung to hooks.
More reasonably sized and looking like a provincial covered market, the poultry building contains chicken, guinea fowls, ducks, rabbits, foie gras and all kind of games during the hunting season. It’s also the only one housing a bar. Everywhere else they are located outside in order to avoid an excessive alcoholic consumption. A bit further, the dairy products building is filled up with thousands of eggs and all French cheeses.
There is also a wide choice in the fruits and vegetables buiding where one can find non only varieties cultivated in France and Europe but also counter season ones coming from the Southern Hemisphere.
No doubt that you will discover among the stands some varieties you never heard about it and you have never tasted before. For instance the Chinese artichoke, the salicornia and other ancient vegetables that some farmers and cooks try to make trendy again. There are even edible flowers. In addition Rungis is renown for its wide range of quality exotic fruits and vegetables. To such an extent that even the big supermarket chains come there to stock up them while they import by themselves all other products. Beside, an area, the “carreau des producteurs”, is reserved for the Ile-de-France truckers who come themselves to sell their products. In winter there is no much activity but from spring one can found there salads, carrots, beetroots, watercress,…. as well as aromatic herbs in summer and pears and apples in autumn.
Lastly, the flowers building is a symphony of colours and scents that is packed with tulips, roses, carnations,… In short almost all flowers species are available including lily of the valley during the few days prior May 1st.
All around the tour lasts three hours and ends whit a breakfast that looks more like an hearty meal consisting of a wide range of food products sold in the market : oysters, cooked meats, smoked salmon, cheeses,… And if you like them, be aware that they are “à la carte” of all restaurants established in the MIN. Open to everyone and serving meals almost 24 hours a day, they offer quality dishes at decent prices in a quite unique atmosphere. There is no other place like Rungis where you can eat steaks accompanied by red wine in the middle of the night surrounded by farmers, truck drivers, traders and grocers.
April 20, 2012