Five Hundred Tons of Mussels Fuel Massive French Flea Market

September 7, 2018 Updated: October 30, 2018

Mussel shells heaped up in the historic center of Lille on Sept. 2 testified to the hunger of up to 2 million shoppers who flocked to the French city’s annual flea market, billed by organizers as Europe’s largest.

The event covers 1,235 acres across the city, with 56 miles of stalls manned by professionals and amateurs selling everything from bric-a-brac to plates of the region’s traditional “Moules Frites”—mussels with a side of fries.

The origins of the massive market go back to the 12th century but the mussels are a relatively new addition. The traditional fare was poultry until the 1950s, when disease decimated the local population.

The empty shells were traditionally piled up in the center of the city, and after several years of absence they made a return this year, with the waste used by a company based in Lille to make tiles.

The market is traditionally held on the first weekend of September but was canceled in 2016 following a spate of attacks in France, including a truck attack in Nice on July 14 that killed 86 people.

The deputy mayor in charge of the market, Jacques Richir, told Reuters that 5,000 security personnel had been deployed for the 2018 edition, though their presence was intended to be discreet.