Episode 8: Food and Shopping in Bordeaux

Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by Marian Jones

Food and Shopping: two of the major reasons for visiting Bordeaux! This guide lists some of top-notch products from Bordeaux’s Atlantic coastline and the rich agricultural land surrounding it and highlights the areas of the city and some of the restaurants where you can enjoy them. Then we do the same for shopping, listing specialities, pointing towards the shopping streets and markets you should look out for in different areas of the city. Don’t forget, there’s already been an episode on Bordeaux’s wine.

Bordeaux food specialities

Seafood is high on the list, especially oysters from the nearby Arcachon Bay, served on a bed of crushed ice and – a local tradition – with an accompaniment of hot sausages! Look out for lamb from Pauillac and beef from Bazas, and for the annual treat of asparagus from Blaye, whose appearance in the markets means spring has arrived. Cèpes de Bordeaux are the local porcini mushrooms and lamproies on a menu signifies eels from local waters, often braised with leeks and red wine and served with garlic croutons. Caviar is farmed along the Gironde Estuary too. The cooking term à la bordelaise usually means ‘cooked in wine’, red for meat dishes and white for fish.

The best-known sweet treat are canelés, little sandcastle-shaped cakes made with flour, egg yolks and rum, whose crunchy outside reveals a creamy interior. Almost as well-known are dunes blanches, choux-type buns filled with vanilla-flavoured cream and named after the area’s white dune landscape. Bouchons de Bordeaux are almond-flavoured pastries and Fanchonettes are boiled sweets with various fillings such as almond, chocolate and fruit. La soupe aux cerises – literally cherry soup – is cherries cooked in red wine, sweetened and flavoured with vanilla and star anise. Sometimes other red fruits are included.

A good range of Bordeaux Food Tours is listed here. You will be taken around the city, told a little history on the way, and stop off for various foodie treats, at the best of the local markets, shops and restaurants.

Bordeaux is such an easy city to wander in search of restaurants, whether you seek a terrace in a shady square, an authentic bistro or a Michelin Star venue. If you visit in May, you can enjoy the annual Épicuriales Festival, when a host of excellent chefs open up temporary restaurants and offer gourmet cuisine at discount prices. Areas of the city with a great choice of restaurants include the Place du Parlement, an elegant square with a central fountain, where there’s a wide choice of restaurants, both around the square and in the surrounding streets. Alternatively, try in and around two other popular squares, the Place St Pierre and the Place du Marché in the Chartrons district.

The city’s oldest restaurant is Le Chapon Fin (which translates as ‘the Fine Capon’!), a Bordeaux institution dating from 1825, where the emphasis is on ‘la tradition de la haute cuisine française’, but where a lunchtime menu (set menu) can be enjoyed at very reasonable prices. Other classic Bordeaux restaurants include the Grand Hotel in the Place de la Comédie, the Brasserie Bordelaise in the Rue St Rémi and, the Café du Levant which is a stylish brasserie in art-nouveau style – think cast iron, glass and coloured murals – at the St Jean railway station.

If you seek something a little more modern, then while visiting the Cité du Vin, try the 7th floor restaurant, called simply Le 7, which serves excellent local cuisine and – bien sûr! – wines and where you will enjoy stunning views over the city. Alternatively, at the nearby food hall, Les Halles, you can wander food stalls and stop to enjoy local specialities.

Bordeaux’s golden shopping triangle

The posher parts of Bordeaux shopping can be found in the Golden Triangle, three exclusive streets of elegant 18th century mansions, many of them now shops and businesses. They are the Allées de Tourny, the Cours Clémenceau and the Cours de l’Intendance, all very central and close to the Place de la Comédie and Notre Dame Church. Here you will find the city’s smart cafés, and shops selling luxury goods and upmarket food and drink. Think Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Jo Malone and Baillardran, where the windows are full of cannelés.

Within the triangle is the Galerie des Grands Hommes, a classy ‘shopping centre’ dating from the 19th century, when it was built as an iron and steel market hall, with a spectacular dome which is still there today. Inside is a wide choice of shops and lining the circular road which surrounds it are lots of cafes and restaurants. The 8 streets radiating out from the centre are all named after French philosophers, including two locals, Montaigne and Montesquieu, and Rousseau and Voltaire. That’s where the grands hommes, or ‘great men’ reference comes from.

Bordeaux’s other main shopping streets

La Rue Sainte Catherine Europe’s longest shopping street. It’s 1200 m long and stretches from the Place de la Comédie to the Place de la Victoire. Originally built in the 19th century, along the route of a Roman Road, it was pedestrianised in the 1980s and is now a lively place to find chain stores and eateries. The highlight is the Galéries Lafayette, an elegant art déco building and sister shop to one of the great Parisian department stores. Clearance sales are held along the Rue Sainte Cathérine twice a year, in February and July and you can rummage for bargains in stands set up all along both sides.

In La Rue des Remparts, you’ll find a mix of famous names and independent boutiques, and if it’s independent craft shops which interest you, try the Rue du Pas-Saint-Georges.

markets and vintage shopping

Les Capucins, nicknamed ‘the Stomach of Bordeaux’, is the oldest and best-known food market in Bordeaux. You can mix with the locals and buy anything from artisan bread and local cheeses to seafood and deli treats, plus of course lots of fruit and veg. The signs are of interest in themselves and include one shop advertising itself as a ‘spécialiste champignons’, another proclaiming that ‘ici toutes nos viandes sont françaises’ and a third patiently explaining that in Bordeaux you don’t ask for a pain au chocolat, but rather for a chocolatine. Another Bordeaux institution is the oyster bar, Chez Jean-Mi¸ and there are other food stalls selling more seafood, tapas and other snacks.

Smaller markets which you might come across include the one in the Place Pey Berland, set up in 2021 to revive the tradition of market stalls clustering round a church and the Halles de Bacalan, on the Esplanade du Pontac opposite the Cité du Vin, where a choice of food stalls make it a great lunch stop.

Rue du Loup, in the Saint Pierre area, is good for second-hand and vintage shops. In Rue Notre-Dame in the Chartrons district, you can browse a bohemian mix of antique dealers, wine merchants, art galleries and independent craft shops. Le Village Notre Dame, at number 61, is a cluster of antique shops where you can unearth such varied antique objects as paintings, clocks and silverware and furniture. The St Michel district is home to a popular Sunday morning flea market, as well as housing an arcade-style collection of 20 or so vintage shops at 15, Place Canteloupe, in a former banana-ripening factory. There you’ll find art deco objects, silverware and vintage furniture.

specialist shops

The unrivalled specialist wine shop, L’Intendant, was covered in Episode 06. For local cheeses, try Derulle Fromagerie, Madame Fromage or Fromagerie Beillevaire. Saunion on Cours Clémenceau is a chocolate shop which has won national awards and the Baillardran on the Cours de l’Intendance is the place to buy your canelés.

Another nationally-famed Bordeaux shop is the Librairie Mollat, the country’s largest independent bookshop which has 18 km of shelves in a labyrinth formed from five former mansions in the Rue Vital Carles leading off the Place Pey-Berland. It has numerous specialist sections and 50 knowledgeable sales assistants to advise you. For second-hand books, go to the Quai des Livres on the Rue Victor Hugo, a smaller shop, but still book-stuffed, the sort of place where you can’t imagine what you might find, but you know there’ll definitely be some treasures. And finally, don’t forget that the Tourist Office has its own shop, selling souvenirs and books about Bordeaux, including some in English.

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links for this post

Bordeaux Food Tours
The Épicuriales Festival
Le Chapon Fin
Grand Hotel, Place de la Comédie
Brasserie Bordelaise
Café du Levant
Les Halles
Le 7 (Restaurant at Cité du Vin )

Les Capucins Market
Galéries des Grands Hommes
Librairie Mollat
Quai des Livres

Previous episode 3 Bordeaux Art Galleries
Next episode St Emilion and other day trips from Bordeaux

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