“Le Marché du Soleil” — An Afro-Caribbean Market by Samantha Gilliams

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Outside of Bao
Photograph by Samantha Gilliams

Bao Marché “Le Marché du Soleil,” an Afro-Caribbean market located in Bobigny, just outside of Paris, sells ingredients for the preparation of African and Caribbean cuisine. Sona and Kossi Muluana, a Franco-Congolais brother–and-sister team living in the Île de France, opened the store in 2012. Because they know that African and Caribbean people living in the suburbs often have to travel into Paris and visit multiple locations to find the ingredients for authentic home-cooked cuisine, the Muluanas wanted to provide them with a one-stop shopping experience on the outskirts of the city.

Bao is situated in the Centre Commercial Bobigny, an indoor shopping center with clothing stores, restaurants, and other small markets. Even though Bobigny is a suburb of Paris, it is very simple to get to via line 5 on the metro.

Inside the Centre Commercial de Bobigny
Photograph by Samantha Gilliams

I found the area around the metro stop (the buildings, roads, etc.) to be a bit run down, and the shopping center to be quite vacant (perhaps because it is August, when most locals are away on vacation). However, upon entering the center, I could hear upbeat Caribbean music coming from one of the stores. The beats were coming from Bao!

When I entered, I received a kind smile from the cashier. I then began to take a look around. As I was unfamiliar with Afro-Caribbean cuisine, this experience was a moment of discovery for me.

Façade of Bao
Photograph by Samantha Gilliams

A variety of fresh, frozen, and canned tropical fruits, root vegetables, spices, halal meat, and fruit juices are for sale here. One foreign fruit I recognized was plantains ̶ big, banana-like fruits. Starchy and savory, they are a delicious side dish when cooked to caramelized perfection.

Fresh Tropical Fruits and Peanut Butters
Photographs by Samantha Gilliams

Numerous jars of peanut butter and peanut pastes on the shelves immediately caught my attention! American expats know quite well that peanut butter is not an easy food to find in Paris, so to see the wide assortment available at Bao left me in awe.

I was also interested in all of the different types of bouillons and arômes that lined one of the shelves. These are dehydrated vegetable and/or meat flavorings that come in the form of cubes or concentrated liquids. In many parts of the world, they are used as a base for soups and stews or to enhance flavor.

Bouillons and Arômes
Photograph by Samantha Gilliams

I was surprised to see such a wide array, so I decided to look into their use in Afro-Caribbean food. It turns out that they are also a common base in West African cuisine. In fact, these arômes are used to replace the homemade fermented, roasted, milled seeds and/or beans that were originally used in the traditional recipes (to learn more, check out: http://eatyourworld.com/blog/african_cooking_whats_with_the_maggi_cubes).

Bao is the third “foreign” (non-French) market that I’ve visited in the past several weeks (Tang Frères [Chinese] and Velan [Indian] are the other two). I found that all have the ingredients needed for the preparation of authentic dishes and the discovery of taste sensations from around the world, right in the tiny kitchen of my Paris apartment!

Address: Centre Commercial Bobigny
2, boulevard Maurice Thorez
93000 Bobigny

Samantha Gilliams is a rising senior at the American University of Paris. She is currently serving as a summer intern for the Wells International Foundation.

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