Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Paris in Spring 2- "street" food

My sister and I were pleasantly surprised by the nice-ness of the Parisians we encountered (with one exception, which I'll describe in a later post). I mean, we didn't think they would be nasty or anything, but we keep hearing about how the French despise the English, the Americans and English-speaking people. I found them quite friendly and accomodating, though not as warm as the neighboring Italians. My sis and I joked that maybe they're so nice to us because they keep mistaking us for being rich Japanese tourists, who visit France in droves.

My sister and I visited Paris at a good time; the city wasn't choc full of tourists unlike in summer and all the shops are open. So, in a way, we got to experience Paris fully. I think it helped that the small hotel we stayed at is located in a residential neighborhood (the 9th arrondisement). Paris is a truly beautiful city. Each day, my sister and I would marvel at the intricate, old apartments that line the streets of Paris. The older buildings are prettier. I have to say that French modern architecture that we saw in the outskirts of Paris were rather ghastly!

Paris is also a true blue food heaven. The streets are littered with patissiers, boulangers, boucheries, fromageries, fishmongers, cafes and restaurants. It seems that Parisians still shop for food every day to ensure freshness. Small mom-and-pop shops that specialize in different food items still flourish (thank goodness!), although we also saw many modern convenient supermarket chains around town.

My favorite food neighborhood in Paris is Montmartre. Known better as Amélie's neighborhood and a nightclub district in the 18th arrondisement, it is a quaint Parisian area rife with narrow streets that are littered with various specialty grocers in the daytime. We walked down Rue Abbesses, only to be welcomed with the sights, sounds and scents of fresh fruit stands, baked breads and pastries, wonderful cheeses, and cafes. It looks like a residential area except for the droves of tourists coming to see Amélie's neighborhood, the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur or the Moulin Rouge just a few steps away. It's one of those neighbourhoods where you'll see people walking around holding a partially-eaten baguette, wrapped with only a small square of baker's paper.

Besides the adorable little cafes lining Rue Abbesses, I loved the little shops selling various goodies. We saw a long line outside of a bakery and decided to get in it. The lines are a pretty good gauge of how good a place is, no? I mean, it's got to be pretty good if there are so many people clamoring for it! The bakery is Le Grenier à Pain and like many others, my sister and I were attracted by the heady scent of freshly-baked breads. We didn't get their baguette (silly us!); instead, I went for a delicious pistachio madeleine and my sis had some mini pigs-in-a-blanket (I'm sure there's a more elegant name for it in French though I don't know what it is) and a chocolate chip-studded mini bread that looks like a cheese stick. The breads were very yummy and the perfect snack for our stroll through Montmartre.

Walking down Rue Abbesses, we saw many people holding a pretty pink cake box tied up with a flourish of red ribbons. Our curiosity piqued, we tried sussing out the source of this mystery, only to find a quaint little tart shop, Les Petits Mitrons. Best known for their tarts (both sweet and savory), they also sell pizzas and little pastries and chocolates. After our little feast from Le Grenier à Pain, I can only thank God that Les Petits sells their tarts in slices too, so we can have a taste! My sis got a classic apple tart (that we consumed before we could snap a pic) and it was yummy. We found it a little too sweet and unlike tarts we've had in the US, Les Petits' doesn't have a layer of custard between the crust and the fruit. We particularly enjoyed the glaze on the fruit and can understand why so family French families in the neighborhood decided to make it a part of their Sunday ritual.

Another pretty friggin' awesome place we went to was this legendary ice cream place, Berthillon. After hearing that it's the best ice cream in Paris, how can I, an ice cream addict resist? The ice creamerie also has a cafe with an outdoor section for customers to people-watch (how French!).

They have a little freezer in front for orders to go and this was the offering of the day.

With the exception of cannelle and noix, we pretty much deduced what the ice cream flavors were. My sister got a scoop of caramel and I foolishly tried cannelle, only to realize after the first lick that it's cinnamon. I don't hate cinnamon or anything like that, just that it's not my favoritest spice ever. Still, the ice cream was pleasantly creamy, smoothly gliding over my tongue as it melts. It was also not excessively sweet, which was surprising because believe me, the French love love love sweet. Maybe it's because it was cinnamon flavor; my sister's caramel was decidedly more sugary.

Another famous French food is the crepe. I've made some at home before, but due to the limitation of my small non-stick pan, I was never convinced it was really French. My home-made crepes were also too thick, I thought; nothing like a paper-thin French crepe. So when we saw a line in front of this man's creperie-on-wheels in the St. Germain area, we just had to have one! I mean, check out his expertise! He has two crepe irons going at the same time to get in the groove!

Fortunately, we didn't get a crepe near Notre Dame, where the crepes were already pre-made and stacked for uber tourist-trap convenience. I mean, how good can it be if you didn't know when it was made. Maybe an hour ago? Or yesterday? So if you're in Paris and wants a crepe, stay away from the touristy areas. Crepe fillings include the savory four cheeses and mushrooms to sweet classics such as butter and sugar, Nutella and fruit jams. Nutella and jam seemed to be the most popular one, and who can resist Nutella anyway? I mean, check out this guy skilfully filling and folding the crepes!

As I expected, the crepe was much larger and thinner than my homemade ones (duh!). Filled with melty Nutella and soft bananas, it was a party in my mouth. I can only imagine going back to that crepe stand every day if I lived in the area.

Another "streety" food that we enjoyed immensely was the falafel. You wouldn't expect it but apparently, Paris has many fantastic Middle Eastern/North African cuisine offerings, thanks to immigrants from these countries. We tried the falafel that supposedly had Lenny Kravitz's stamp of approval, because of course, we trust Lenny Kravitz!

Besides that, my Parisian friend had recommended L'As du Falafel. I mean, if the New York Times had reviewed and recommended the place, how bad can it be, right? So my sis and I trekked to the beighborhood of Marais, got lost a couple of times, and finally found the holy grail leading to this falafelerie. It's rather funny that right across from L'As du Fafafel was anotther famous, fancier-looking falafelerie, Mi-Va-Mi. Could it be that they're owned by the same person? Who knows? Anyway, one big mistake we made is we didn't order the original falafel sammich, but instead decided to go for the meatier schwarma because we felt like meat, dammit! How can you not want meat once you see this huuuge chunk of meat displayed shamelessly, teasing your eyes and nose and taste buds?

And boy, was the schwarma good! Check out those chunks of chicken bursting from the pita! And the cabbage! And the sauce! This thing is so big that you need a fork to eat it, unless you don't mind (or want!) the sauce schmeared all over your face, that is, haha, which might not be so bad *winks* We were quite glad we only got one sammich after seeing just how humongous this thing is! At 7 euros a pop, it had better be humongous! It was very delicious; the chicken chunks were nice and juicy and tender, the veggies crisp and fresh, the sauce was tangy and slightly spicy at the same time. I would definitely go back to L'As du Falafel again but I wouldn't mind trying out their competitor either.

I thoroughly enjoyed Paris' street food scene more than its fine dining, at least, what we got to experience of the "fine" dining anyway (which wasn't that much). I love that there are so many delicious options for eating on-the-go, whether it's the classic Nutella crepe, a bite of falafel, or a perfect cup of cappucino.

Le Grenier à Pain
38, rue des Abesses, 75018 Paris

Les Petits Mitrons
26, Rue Lepic, 75018 Paris

29-31 rue saint Louis en l'ile, 75004 Paris

St. Germain Crepe stand
Near the St. Germain metro stop, right across from a Starbucks

L'As du Falafel
34, rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris


glamah16 said...

Thanks for taking me back in time. When I was student I loved to sit outside to eat ice cream.And my favorite crepes and falafel sandwhiches. Memeories.

glamah16 said...

I spent like $28 including tax. I plan to do it every two weeks as its just us. The boxes start at $18 and additional if you customize. Check out there web page to see all the options.They also have meats,fruit, dairy etc. I can easily spend $28 randomly in Trasure Island, etc.So this will control my excess spending and force me to work with what I have.

Sylvie said...

I'd so love to go to Paris, but I'm pretty sure I'd come back at least a stone heavier.

Deborah Dowd said...

How wonderful to have that kind of street food to enjoy, and thanks for sharing it with us- just like a mini-vacation without the calories!

Click to Join the Foodie Blogroll

Click here to join