Although supermarkets are now readily available, going to a real market is something that you just shouldn't miss. For most Parisians, it's a normal part of their shopping, buying fresh food twice a week. It also explains why they generally do not need mammoth refrigerators and freezers (besides the cost of the electricity to run large appliances in Europe).
There are food markets every day of the week in various neighborhoods throughout Paris.
Shopping at a market will help you feel like a local and is a good way to keep on a budget. You'll also get to try foods you may never have seen before - so be ready for the adventure.
Here is a great list of, not only food markets, but specialty markets including organic and flower markets.
Your hotel or apartment should have a list available of places to go right in your own neighborhood. Just ask!
As you walk through one of the markets, you will easily understand why the French are so healthy. It seems unbelievable to many Americans how much fresh, healthy food is readily available and affordable.
Be ready for sellers to yell about their goods as you walk by. Many times, they'll have samples. We found that they often went "heavy" on the order, or threw in something yummy they were getting rid of at the end of the market day.
Be prepared to speak French or have your phrase book. We did not find many of the vendors in the neighborhood markets who spoke French. But with a great smile and enthusiasm, they are more than willing to help you get what you need!
The other thing that may shock you is whole fish with the heads still on, whole foul hanging up, and food made from the bits and pieces we often think of as scrap.
But if you think about it, this should not surprising. In the "olden days", people's access to food was limited and refrigeration was unavailable. Every bit of food was precious and needed to be fresh.
Buying things with feathers and heads allows the discerning French housewife (and now, the cook of the family) to be sure they're getting fresh food of good quality and economy. It is educational to watch, especially a woman of an older generation, discuss her purchases before she buys it. My aunt knows whose cheese is the best, which butcher to go to, and which vegetable stall to buy from.
The French have a very healthy relationship with their food. Food is nourishing, enjoyable, and social. The market helps them to not lose perspective of where and how they get their food. And it preserves a respect for those who grow it.
The wonderful young woman who helped us at the Halles Bio Wagner organic market in the Marais district