Taste of Europe Part Deux: Paris
My last article was about my food experiences in London, and now it's time to talk about the amazing food I ate in Paris. France has a reputation of having exquisite food, and after spending a week in Paris I can confidently say that this reputation exists for a reason.
Although Paris is extremely touristy, I worked very hard to find the most authentic foods I could, and I am proud to say that my hard work paid off. I made a list of foods I absolutely had to eat while I was in Paris, and I successfully ate my way through all of them.
Breakfast never failed in Paris. The boutique hotel we stayed at provided breakfast each morning, which consisted of fresh baguettes, croissants, cereal, ham, cheese, fruit salad, yogurt, coffee, fresh juice, and tea. Day one of breakfast I went overboard and ate enough food for three people instead of one, but I had to try everything first, right?
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in France, so most restaurants and cafés get busy around noon or so and then close until after six or seven o’clock in the evening. Restaurants in Paris are very expensive and touristy, so I tended to steer away from them at lunch.
I did have a baguette sandwich from a boulangerie that was very tasty, but the best lunch I ate in Paris wasn’t classic French food. The best lunch I had was falafel (fried chickpeas), and I got it from L’As du Fallafel in the Marais District of Paris.
Backstory: My mom’s friend loves falafel and has eaten it pretty much everywhere under the sun. Out of all the places in the world she’s tried falafel, she swore that L’As du Fallafel in Paris has the best falafel she’s ever tasted. Even better, two other people from my trip heard from friends that this place was the best. With so many personal recommendations, there was no way I was leaving Paris without trying it.
Wow, were they right—the falafel was phenomenal. It was perfectly fried and not too greasy. I’m very particular about fried foods (as I mentioned in my London article) so this falafel was really impressive. My falafel came in a pita pocket with fresh cabbage, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, roasted eggplant, yogurt sauce, and lots of spicy sauce—per my request; I love spicy food.
The falafel was moist, fluffy, and well flavored. It wasn’t overly salty, and the bed of refreshing veggies complimented the fried falafel perfectly. The spicy sauce gave it an extra kick, which was balanced perfectly by the cool and tangy yogurt sauce. My falafel was so good that I contemplated getting another one (I probably would have if I wasn’t so full from my first one). Added bonus: it cost only €5.00. If you ever go to Paris, L’As Du Fallafel is an absolute must-eat. Even if you’ve never had falafel before, I know you will fall in love with it at L’As Du Fallafel. Falafel is also vegetarian, so it gets extra brownie points for that.
My next Paris must-eat: crêpes. Crêpes (thin pancakes) are very popular street food in Paris, and crêpe stands are just about everywhere. I ate ten crêpes in seven days—this may seem a bit excessive, but I see it more as a testament to how delicious they are. They’re just so great—they’re quick and easy to make, and can be savory or sweet depending on what you put in them. Nutella® (chocolate hazelnut spread) crêpes are very popular in Paris and quickly became my favorite.
Savory crêpes are also tasty—made with cheese, ham, veggies, and/or eggs. I had a dinner of crêpes one night, consisting of a savory crêpe with ham and cheese followed by one sweet crêpe with butter and sugar, and two crêpes with Nutella. I was so full afterwards, but I couldn’t resist my crêpe temptation.
After concluding a busy day of touring at the Louvre, I decided to get a quick meal around my hotel and call it a day. I sat down at a restaurant called Les Barjots (247 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine 75012 Paris) that, interestingly enough, served both French and Baltic foods. I asked the waiter what he recommended, and he immediately selected the tournedo (center cut of the tenderloin muscle; known as filet mignon in the U.S).
It was the most delicious steak I’ve ever had in my life (except for my dad’s steak). The filet looked almost too pretty to eat. It was a perfect portion of steak on my plate, accompanied by crispy frites—which were round instead of long and thin. The filet was topped with the French delicacy foie gras entier (sliced goose liver) and a mushroom, both underneath a curtain of wonderful sauce (perhaps some type of gravy made from the steak juices).
My beautiful filet cut like butter and was so juicy and tender. As every bite melted in my mouth, I just kept thinking it was too good to be real life. The foie gras was smooth and creamy and was the figurative icing on top of my divine carnivorous cake. The mushroom added a subtle layer of beefy flavor to my already-flawless filet.
The frites were every bit as good as the steak—crispy on the outside, soft and warm on the inside, and not overly salted. The dish came with a raspberry reduction drizzle, and the sweetness was a pleasant contrast to my steak and tied all of the flavors together. I could write a book on how good my filet was. Yes, it was that good.
My steak cost €22.50, which might seem pricey for a meal but a steak as high quality as mine would cost about the same or more at most restaurants in Paris--and it probably wouldn't include foie gras, either. It was also something I was willing to spend more money on, which made it all the more special to me.
My other favorite dinner was also a meal that I stumbled upon. I was walking around La Madeleine, a church in Paris that I wanted to visit because my sister’s name is Madeleine. The surrounding area is full of touristy cafés (menus were all in English), so I decided to walk away from the church and just wander around the streets of Paris instead. I was walking down an empty street when I saw a sign on the sidewalk that had written on it what looked like a menu offering different types of meats.
I looked inside the store window and it didn’t really seem like a typical restaurant. I started walking away to find somewhere else to eat when I felt a sudden urge to turn around and go back. I decided that this place could either be a great random discovery, or it could be a complete bust. Either way, I was alone in Paris and my instincts told me to be spontaneous and walk inside.
The store--Le Chemin des Vignes--turned out to be a wine shop that also served food. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and completely empty, since most people typically go to wine tastings around noon. The young woman who worked there was vacuuming, but when she saw me come inside she turned it off and I asked her if she was serving food. She looked a little confused, but she said she had food but she needed to finish cleaning first and offered me a glass of wine while I was waiting.
She recommended a glass of Rosé since it was so hot outside, and it was actually very good. It was nice and light but not too sweet. Rosés from Provence are the ones that most people are familiar with, but this one came from a small vineyard in a different southern region of France.
She prepared a charcuterie and fromage board that had different types of meats and cheeses. The food was fabulous—the meats and cheeses were from the center region of France, which is where the owner of the store is originally from. It was the one meal I didn’t take pictures of, which is unfortunate because it was so enjoyable.
I don’t remember all of the names of the cheeses, but one resembled Camembert (similar to Brie), another was a kind of bleu cheese, and one was a very sharp semi-soft cheese. The chèvre (goat cheese) was thick and creamy, which is very different from the crumbled goat cheese that is common in the U.S. The last cheese was a soft cows milk cheese that had a similar flavor to Gruyère but was much bolder. The meats consisted of thin cured ham, salted pork belly, and pâté (popular French spread made from ground meat). A slice of butter was also on the board to spread over a piece of baguette in between meats and cheeses.
It was so simple—meat and cheese. Some were meant to spread over a baguette; others were just eaten plain. The young woman who served me was very kind and sat down and had a glass of wine with me after the owner left, since we were the only people in the shop. She told me about each of the meats and cheeses and explained how to eat them.
When she saw how intrigued I was by the different flavors of each meat and cheese and where they came from, she went back to the kitchen and returned with another dish that looked like meat. She told me she wanted me to try it (free of charge), and she would tell me what it was after I had tasted it. It turned out to be rillettes (similar to pâté), which is made from heavily salted ground meat that's been cooked slowly in fat until tender enough to be shredded and made into a spread.
For dessert I had strawberry soup (fresh strawberries cooked in a sugar and citrus syrup). It was a sweet way to finish my meal after eating a good amount of salty animal byproducts. She served me a complimentary flute of champagne, which went splendidly with my fruity dessert.
That experience was not only amazing because of the food and wine—which can’t be found anywhere else—but also because I had the chance to talk to someone who was from France and ask her about her experiences in Paris and the rest of her country. She had excellent knowledge of wines and the food she served me, and was very hospitable and wanted me to try new French foods once she noticed how much I enjoyed the food.
It’s hard to find wines from small vineyards in Paris since it is such a big city; usually you have to go to the countryside or smaller cities to find the one-of-a-kind wines I had the opportunity to taste. It was an unforgettable eating experience, and I would definitely recommend Le Chemin des Vignes (à 8ème arrondissement; their second location) if you want to taste wines in Paris that you can’t find anywhere else.
My glass of wine and charcuterie/fromage board cost €18.00 all together, which is very reasonable for Paris and the food definitely should be shared by two people (I was so stuffed for the rest of the night that I didn't eat dinner). The strawberry soup was pricey and cost an extra €8.00, but she had already served me rillettes, champagne, and an extra glass of rosé free of charge, so I didn't ask about the price when she offered it. Otherwise, I wouldn't have ordered it.
The first dinner I had in Paris was a French bistro classic croque-madame, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich topped with melted Gruyère cheese and an egg. A croque-monsier is the same sandwich but without the egg on top. My reasonably priced €7.50 sandwich came with a side of good quality Dijon mustard and a delicate bed of fresh greens. I found it at Café Pierre (202 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine 75012 Paris), a true French café—not a single word of English on the menu.
(Café Pierre was recommended to me by my hotel concierge--they always know the best places to eat and are happy to share their knowledge. All you need to do is ask!)
Hot Chocolate from Angelina’s
Angelina’s famous African hot chocolate is a splurge but it is so worth it. For €6.95 you are served a personal pot of velvety smooth hot chocolate, which you pour into your cup at your leisure. It's served with a dish of freshly-whipped cream to serve as a sweet, heavenly cloud atop your luxurious cup of chocolate divinity.
This isn’t cocoa powder and milk—when I poured it into my cup it was like a stream of pure melted chocolate right before my eyes. I almost didn’t believe there was milk in it. It was so chocolately and rich I could barely finish my first cup, let alone a second cup. It was liquid perfection in chocolate form.
If you love chocolate I would definitely say it’s worth the money. If you get filled up quickly by chocolate, I would recommend ordering one serving and asking for two cups to share. Angelina's is located at 226 rue de Rivoli, Paris.
I could go on and on about the incredible food I had in Paris. I’m already up to four pages and counting. I found as my trip went on that the best experiences were those that were unexpected, and the food was no exception—I found the best food when I wasn’t looking for it. If you ever go to Europe, take some time and wander around by yourself. It’s amazing how much self-reflection can come from doing that, and people-watching at a café is always a nice way to spend an afternoon.
I definitely plan on going back to France to visit the smaller towns and enjoy the food, but Paris is definitely a place I have to visit again. My next stop is Rome, and I can guarantee I will have tons of delicious food to write about.
Any food-related questions? Email me!