Dining & Drinking, Paris
I dont remember being taught to eat the salad ( for example lettuce leaves ) as a whole, if they are big, we could cut into pieces . This is what I was taught in Australia. But yesterday when I asked someone why they devoured the lettuce leaf or other parts of the salad as a whole rather than cut it into small pieces, I was told thus:
it is impolite to cut the salad yourself, it is the chef's duty to cut the salad to small portions. so I have to eat it whole.
ah.. well. staying in France for longer periods of time, I have come to realize how different they are in many many aspects, to people who grew up in Australia or even England.
Shouldnt we pay the same attention when we are visiting other countries, or do we neglect it, because of our western arrogance over the poorer countries?
Dont see too many tourists here in Paris, may be not because it is not full of culture, but I think it is beyond the price range of most travellers, especially those who would go to discover culture in India or Vietnam or Laos ( dirt cheap compared to France )
It is very pleasant to find, often, shops that sell nothing but cheese. It would be good to taste them one by one, to become more knowledgeable and also enjoy these cheese not available in other parts of the world.
American medical experts advice that too much cheese is bad for you. I dont believe in that advice because the french eat a lot of cheese and they dont have as much sicknesses as americans do and i think it matters how the cheese is manufactured and what chemicals are added to it.
so stop by your neighbourhood cheese store, stock up, go home or take it to a friends house and enjoy.
Also cheese eaten with bread, comes later in the course of a meal, you dont stick a piece of cheese into bread and bite into it. you cut a small piece of cheese and eat it and follow it up with a small piece of bread. Like in all civilized countries, it is not considered polite to bite into the baguette or pain directly.
Yesterday, I went and bought a nice selection at Fromagerie Duval at 2 Avenue Gallieni in Courbevoie-Becon. Good service and affordable prices. Just across the street is a nice wine store, if you want to carry home a bottle (but then, you should have already a selection at home!)
One thing that jumped out at me whilst wandering the parisian streets was the way the locals sat in cafes. All in a pretty row!
It is very common to see tables in the window of a cafe with people sitting at them staring straight ahead out onto the street. All lined up as if in the front row of a cinema or theatre.
I guess part of the Parisian culture is to street gaze and people watch.
Breakfast for Parisians is not a sit down meal with fried eggs, potatoes and toast.
It is a visit to the local bakery and coffee or juice.
Take a look at the photo below. Much of it tastes better than it looks.
This bakery is located around the corner from Hotel Rouen, a hotel tip I have written about.
But regardless of where in Paris you are staying there will be one of these nearby. You don't have to hunt for the best one, they are all terrific. If they weren't they would be out of business as they are supported by the locals.
Like in many Capitals, all over the world, the metro, subway or underground is during the daily job a way to get fast to your job. No time to have a decent breakfast or even a simple coffee or a "jus d'orange", because, you don't have TIME.
In Paris the metro bistro's offers you some basics at a bistro called "Bonne Journée". Inviting places, but quality in a subway, i have my doubts;
Part of the absolute charm of being in Paris is the custom of enjoying an aperitif. You will see all Parisians doing this and you should take their cue and do the same.
Two types of aperitif are kir and pastis. Kir is made with a mixture of white wine and creme of cassis which is a black currant liqueur. It is pure heaven. To spike it champagne is added and then it's called a kir royal.
Pastis is an aniseed flavored drink. It's served alongside a glass of water and you mix them together. Usually it's about a 1:5 ratio (one part pastis to 5 parts water). The mixture will look milky hence it's nickname 'the milk of Provence'. Due to aniseed it is licorice flavored.
So order up one of the above and savor it slowly. It leads to the upcoming meal which is eaten slowly and itself savored. No rush at all when you're dining in Paris.
Parisians like their brasseries or, at least, Le Zeyer.
The morning I had my breakfast there, I saw locals. A bit surprising given the day (a working day) & that we were there in summery August. It is the time of the year when "Paris a le blues" according to French artist MC Solaar. It is emptied of its inhabitants (Juilletistes use to leave Paris for their vacation in July whilst Aoutistes do it in August.. now do all Juilletistes return in August ? Not sure). Anyway, one has to wait for Septembre & the rentrée to live Paris again.
Still, as I said, I saw locals at le Zeyer at 10am. Must be Parisians savouring their last days of vacations. Those who work shouldn't be out at a terrace at 10am. Amongst locals, I saw a French TV star. Elegant in her beige linen suit. Sans sunglasses, just busy chatting & having a café serré.
Unbeknownst to me at that time, Le Zeyer used to count the likes of Henry Miller as regulars when he stayed in the area during his 30s European jaunts. On the net, I also saw a painting of Le Zeyer, a bright one with the distinctive yellow awning, said to be painted by an artist who lived in the area. A great fauna ! Anyway, with its warm yellow-orangey-gold Art deco interior, it sure has a special and inspiring flair. I just knew about the painter & Arthur Miller being regulars there long after my first sitting at Le Zeyer in the early 80s & still some time after this afternoon in 2004. Even when you want to know about a place in a non-touristy Parisian arrondissement, Google would still find it.
Later in the afternoon: more locals, the terrace was full (I think my parents & I were the only tourists). We proceeded our way inside. Yet, we could still have a look onto the streets, stretch our sore feet & legs, watch the world passing by. People were chatting while sipping their Kros, Pastis, Tonic. Those who stop at a time could hear the polyphony aired in the room. It also happens that when a bit uninhibited by their alcohol intake, people talk to neighbours.
Belgium has brasseries (: breweries), so do Parisians. Parisians don't brew beer anymore. I have heard the sole case ever of a Parisian guy brewing his beer & serving it at his brasserie. Still, for me, Paris is the place for brasseries & Parisians love theirs. Maybe for the very reason I find them to be a good bargain: good food, less formal than restaurants.
For our stay in 2004, we used to have our typically French, half-baguette beurrée and café/ chocolat chaud breakfasts at Le Zeyer. The first day, it was around 10am. I was having my breakfast whilst the chef was studying the menu & his colleagues, displaying the fruits (strawberries, raspberries being placed in the fridge to be served at noon). Outside, the cute yellow awning stressed the impression of warmth. Another garçon was displaying oysters on a stack of ice. Those oysters & this seafood used to drawn us to Le Zeyer that day. It was a summer August stay in Paris. Still, it was fresh & quite relaxing inside.
Got to think... it was the same decades ago. In 1984, we used to live in the 14e for our 2-month stay. The same oyster & seafood display used to lure us when taking & stepping down at Alésia station.
Later on, after visiting les Batignolles, when my dad suggested we headed to this brasserie on Place Alésia, I remembered about the fruits... Mmmm.. so refreshing they were while chilling out after the long walk around Batignolles area.
Le Zeyer also has a roofed terrace where to sit soaking up the ambience, having some drinks (esp. a Kro, the French beer, a Pastis, a kir royal) and, for me, enjoying my dish of strawberries, suncurrants, raspberries at 4pm :-)... whilst one can have a look on the streets, on Place Alésia. Life is great. Life is cool.
Of course, breweries serve noon lunch and diner too. According to their specialty, one can have oysters, a regional cuisine, but mostly cuisine de brasserie, rather massive such as steak frites, a good grill, sometimes venison, fish, seafood...
To try one, browse the below web address .
Lo, the shiny brass comptoir! In any bar in Paris it is the cheapest place to get a drink. Go to the bar, order a drink, pay cheaper & drink it there. Prices go a bit higher if you go to a table & even higher on le terrasse, which affords fab people-watching.
This one is located at Tabac le Marly - 252 rue de Rivoli.
Back in Montmartre’s cabaret heyday in the late 19th century, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his fellow gang of merry artists and writers spent many an evening swimming in a hallucinogenic sea of absinthe.
Also known as the 'Green Fairy' , absinthe was an anisette-based liqueur with a bit of poisonous herbs that didn’t just get people drunk, but also apparently turned them mad.
So absinthe was banned and the party ended.
A few years ago it re-emerged in a legal version that tastes the same (a bit like pastis, which was the original absinthe alternative), minus the poisonous bits.
Of course, the new versions have different names, such as 'Versinthe'.
You can purchase it in most liquor stores in France, although it’s still sort of a novelty so don’t expect to see it served in the corner café.
There’s a method to serving it that involves a water tank with a spout, a flat silver spoon with holes in it, and sugar cubes.
If you’re interested in an introduction to the whole tradition, stop into the Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin, 9th; right around the corner from Pigalle), a former cabaret known as Le Don Juan with a lovely bar specializing in absinthe.
Try popping in after dinner when the night staff aren’t too busy and can give you the full presentation. (And guests at the hotel even get a little color booklet about the history of the beverage)...see website below for more info.
I am going to include (in my Paris tips) some recipes of the foods I enjoyed most while here.
This is as much for my own record (because I tend to lose recipes) as it is for those of you who like GREAT FOOD...cooking and/or eating it!!!
1 2/3 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1/2 t. salt
10 TBS cold butter, cut into pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 t. vanilla ext.
2 1/4 C sugar
4 Bosc pears, peeled
2/3 C blanched sliced almonds
1/3 C icing sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
2 1/3 C milk
3 eggs, ltly beaten
1/2 C flour
2 TBS cold butter
1/2 cup crushed amaretti or macaroons
1. Sift flour, sugar, salt in large bowl.
Cut in butter.
Stir together egg yolk & vanilla, then work into flour mixture until resembles coarse cornmeal.
Add 3 TBS. ice water, 1 TBS. at a time, mix 'til dough holds together.
Form into ball, cover with plastic wrap, & refrigerate for 1 hr.
2. Heat oven to 400°.
Roll out dough to 14'' round on a floured surface; ease into 12'' tart pan (removable bottom). Prick all over with a fork.
Cover with foil, fill with pie weights (dried beans) & bake for 20 mins.
Remove foil, weights & cool. Keep oven ON.
Bring 4 C water & 1 1/2 C sugar to boil in a large pan over med-high heat.
Reduce to low, halve pears, & poach until tender, 20 mins.
Remove, cool, then cut out cores.
4. Grind 1/3 C almonds & icing sugar in a food processor until fine.
Scrape seeds from vanilla into milk & bring to boil in a small pan over med heat.
Combine eggs, rest of sugar, & flour in a large pan. Slowly whisk in hot milk, & cook, whisking until thick, 3–6 minutes.
Transfer to a mixing bowl, add almond meal & butter. Stir until butter melts.
5. Spoon cooled custard into tart shell.
Lay pears, stem end inward, in custard & bake until crust is golden brown, about 30 mins.
Sprinkle amaretti & remaining almonds on top, dust with icing sugar, & broil until brown, about 2 minutes.
Serve warm, with crème anglaise if desired.
In France, this golden crown of puff pastry with a creamy almond filling is the traditional dessert for Epiphany or Twelfth Night (January 6), the day the three Kings visited the baby Jesus. To add to the fun of the celebration, little charms are traditionally baked into the cake – we use small beans. The lucky person who gets the piece of cake with the charm wins a crown and is king for the day.
In the older days, the person who was King was expected to buy a round of drinks for the assembly! Some people were poor, and if they found themselves with the bean in their mouth they swallowed it! It is said that this is why nowadays pottery or porcelain charms are used.
Some of these charms are beautiful and are collectors' items. Most pastry shops have their own collection for the year, and will sell them off when January is over. Even a few years ago these "galettes" were only on sale for a few days on either side of January 6th; now they can be found right through January
(d) Fancy a coffee, newspaper and mingling with the chic Parisians? Then head to the world famous Café Flore (172 Bv. St. Germaine) or Deux Magots (170 Bv. St. Germaine) and...you WILL find a lot of singles (Parisians and foreigners) who don't mind chatting and getting to know you better. It's just like what you would see in the once-popular HBO TV series "Sex In The City" i.e. the kind of fabulous places the gals from SITC would hang-out. And don't worry... this is not some cheap pick-up joint. Many are habitués (regulars) but these two 'literary' (and very expensive) cafes attract tourists from all over the world.... from New York to Tokyo, Berlin to Singapore and Australia. :-)) Hey, some of them would even be thrilled to join forces with you to explore a bit of Paris or simply take a walk. My best friend and I have had some great moments at these cafés. Ah, c'est la vie...
So, go ahead and order a petit crème (that's - coffee with piping hot milk, baby).
(e) Sushi bars are another fun way to meet nice, cool and chic single diners. The current 'in' sushi hangout must surely be Lo Sushi (8, rue de Berri 75008). It has a revolving sushi bar where diners help themselves to the delectable sushi et sashimi that catches their fancy. I like it this way... The decor is better than the sushi, but amazingly this restaurant is a BIG hit with locals and foreigners alike.
Who recommended us this place?
A sales assistant from Chanel (the branch located along the Champs Elysees) highly recommended this joint to us. 100 brownie points to her.
(f) If you're interested to meet interesting people living in Paris, you should also consider popping into a wine bar (only the chic wine bars, pur-leeese!) where people have the same taste preferences or share a sense of sipping adventure. Food and wine in France tend to be the bond that binds like-minded people together!
(g) And finally, chill out at a cybercafe in Paris. Wait. Not just any other cyber cafe. The latest 'in' spot is The Web Bar (32 rue de Picardie 75003 ). Head there if you want to surf the Net, check your email, meet cool dudes (French and foreigners). Do I look like I'm kidding you? Go, see and you'd know what I mean. Not only will you find computers here but also a full schedule of poetry reading nights... concerts....art exhibits.... ooh la la! You'd also probably notice 'Hm, who is that cute guy at the next terminal (er.. PC, I mean. Not the airport terminal, you twit!). This, my friend, presents the PERFECT opportunity for you to exchange e-mail addresses! I said - EMAIL addresses. So, don't go having any other wild thoughts, guys! Our favorite joint (without our boyfriends and husbands). Shhh!
(h) O.K., this is the absolutely final-final tip for the day: Shakespeare and Company (37, rue de la Bucherie) is one place you shouldn't miss. It is located just down by the River Seine. You can find used books, a really kewl atmosphere bursting with mind-expanding 'reads.' A perfect hang-out for geeks.... er, I mean... chic folks like us.
... We were enjoying it, people watching when two of our neighbours stood up. One man in a shirt & pants with paints on it (probably an artist), the other in a clean but equally casual attire. They asked whether we were Malagasy. To the question, we replied "Yes". From that, a conversation started. The presumably artist was drunk & very volubile about his Malagasy connection whilst the other one was more quiet. The latter was, in fact, a keen lover of Madagascar. He also owns a pharmaceutical company. His business requires frequent travels to my island. These two guys happened to know a Malagasy writer who was very active in fighting for Madagascar's Independence. We talked about Madagascar's situation. Inevitably as there was a time in 2001-2002, the country had experienced a political crisis ensuing the 2001 presidential elections.
Funny to talk to strangers about this great man (the Malagasy writer, not the drunk man) who joined his efforts to others (me included) during the crisis. Despite the fact that the writer could read what I wrote about the crisis, to raise awareness about the situation (as an activist within an online community) & that he had sent an encouragement to me via a common friend, I felt it weird to talk to strangers about a cause dear to me. Even if I had the feeling those two guys shared the same opinions as mine (we all wanted the dictator to step down as he lost those elections). Even if they know where the writer lives (he & the drunken man are 14ème arr. locals) & that I was dying to enter in contact with him again [during the crisis, an error made me mistaking his e-mail address for another one. My e-mails never got across]... despite all those favorable signs, I felt only to close ones I'd talk about such thing... but that's Paris effect. Can be a cosmopolitan city but out of the places & areas tourists use to rush & flock in, people still take some time to talk to each other at a brasserie terrace, watching the world going by, sipping the nth pint of beer, glass of kir...