Northern France Tourism : official website

Black & white postcard, souvenir of the flea market on the Grand Place

Pedlar for a day...pedlar for ever

“Bradeux” or pedlar, a title that 15th century servants were happy to bear, enabled them to make a small profit by selling old wares, damaged furniture and objects, clothes, crockery, objects that came from their masters. In the 19th century, the middle class and the street vendors arrived from other horizons and became the new non-professional, occasional traders, Today you can buy and sell anything - everyone of us can become an exceptional pedlar one day. Regulars reserve their place well in advance every year, and set up their tent or motorhome not far from their stand. In keeping with tradition, they sell their miraculous catch at low prices in a fun and festive atmosphere.

Painting by F. Watteau: Scene of the flea market, Place du Théâtre in Lille
  • The flea market painted by François Watteau
  • © Ville de Lille

Mussels and fries - the culinary scene

And be warned! A break for “mussels and fries” during the flea market is an absolute must. Missing it would be a shame, even a sour note. This extravagant ritual is part of the scene. One of Lille’s enduring culinary emblems since the 15th century. Practically all Lille’s restaurant specialised in mussels revive this popular tradition, proudly including it on their menu. Pedlars, bargain-hunters, and visitors eat almost 500 tonnes of molluscs and 30 tonnes of fries - the figures sum it up. The flea market means infinite “mussels and fries”! In fact in the streets there are piles of empty shells in front of the restaurants. A surprising spectacle if you are not a local. But make no mistake - it’s the tradition.

A mountain of empty mussel shells in front of the “Aux Moules” restaurant
  • A slag heap of empty shells
  • © Daniel Rapaih - Ville de Lille

Preparation

30 minutes

Difficulty

Easy

Cooking

10 minutes

Cost

€€

Ingredients

2kg of mussels ● 80g of unsalted butter ● 100g onion ● ¼ of a bunch of flat parsley ● 2 cloves of garlic ● 30cl of lager ● 6 pinches of table salt ● 10g of coarse salt

Method

  • Clean the mussels: remove the threads attaching them together, then wash them twice in clean, cold, salted water. Store them in the refrigerator.
  • Peel and dice the onion. Wash the parsley, remove the leaves and chop it finely. Keep the stalks.
  • In a large saucepan, sweat the onions, without colouring them, in half of the butter and a pinch of salt. Add the parsley stalks, the whole garlic clove and the bay leaf. Add the beer and when it boils, add the mussels and cover, then mix and add the parsley. Continue cooking for 2 minutes. 
  • Remove from heat when the mussels are open.
  • Serve immediately with fresh fries!
A lady gets ready to taste mussels and fries with a beer.
  • The “mussels & fries” break
  • © Laurent Ghesquière