Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Discovering Paris: Tips for the ‘outdoor’ foodie

Paris by foot, and b(u)y food!
It is said that you could explore Paris over several lifetimes and never experience all that this city has to offer.  While Paris remains faithful to the literature, songs and films it has inspired, the city is in a state of constant renewal, which makes rounding each street corner an exhilarating adventure yielding unexpected (and edible) discoveries!  I’ve been to Paris multiple times and am not ashamed to admit that a sparkling Eiffel tower under a clear night sky still gives me butterflies.  However, I now have the luxury of by-passing the tourist-infested monuments and museums to instead seek to unravel other dimensions of this iconic city.  Given that my current séjour in Paris is bathed in butter and sprinkled in sugar, I must balance consumption of my own pastries with finding Paris’ hidden culinary gems.  With my hectic school schedule and that of my partner, Nick (who’s studying French), we decided to maximize the spare time we had in our first couple of weeks by exploring some of Paris’ neighbourhoods by foot.  This meant lots of fantastic ‘outdoor’ food discoveries and less time in cafés and restaurants.  For the pocket-book conscious, this is also a great way to save a few euros in this expensive city.

The search for the perfect croissant
I challenge anyone reading this blog to think of a more delicious way to start your day in Paris than the perfect, flaky (on the outside), tender (on the inside), buttery (but not greasy), hot-out-of-the-oven croissant.  Now that I’ve described what you should be looking for, how do you find a delicious croissant in Paris?  Certainly, mediocre boulangeries and patisseries abound and stay in business because of unassuming tourists like you and me!

When we first arrived to Paris, my partner, Nick, consumed more croissants than either he or I will admit (okay, so did I!).  But at 1.00 euro a piece, it was not an overly expensive investment in order to find the best croissants in our neighbourhood.  If you don’t have the time or money to invest, however, here are a few tips on finding the perfect croissant in Paris:

1)     There are 2 types of regular croissants; those made with butter and those made with margarine.  If a croissant only costs 80 centimes, it was most likely made with margarine and won’t be as flavourful as those made with butter.  A butter croissant should usually cost around 1.00 – 1.20 euro and is darker/more golden brown.  If you aren’t sure which is which, ask the person behind the counter.
2)     If you see a line up outside a boulangerie/patisserie and fresh croissants emerging from the oven in a cloud of steam, you’ve probably hit the jackpot and will have a fabulous croissant experience.  Wait in line, it’ll be worth it!  Croissants should be eaten fresh out of the oven. 
3)     If you don’t have the time, appetite or metabolism to go from boulangerie to patisserie in search of the perfect croissant, and you happen to be near Pierre Hermé, Maison Kayser,  or Ladurée, then try their upscale delights.  I have yet to visit any of these personally (it’s on the list!), but these are names I hear thrown around the LCB hallways on a regular basis (either for their exquisite quality, or for being over-rated!).

Organic artichokes, Batignolle Market
Learn about a culture through its markets
My absolute favourite activity on any trip to any part of the world is a visit to a local market.  To me, markets represent the heartbeat of a city (and a community) transcending borders and time.  They are a feast for all of our bodily senses and flourish when diverse, colourful, and vibrant.  If you want to know a culture and eat the freshest products available, visit a local market.  Bustling markets can be found in every Parisian neighbourhood, which makes it challenging to decide which market to visit, as each has a distinctive flavour and appeal, and most compete for your business on week-end mornings. 

Nick and I visited the Batignolle market last weekend.  Batignolle (17th arrondissement) is a beautiful neighbourhood to wander through on its own with some great indoor eats, but a visit to its organic market will have you salivating.  The aroma of caramelized onion crêpes is followed by that of beautiful roasted chicken, which makes way for the pungent smell of dozens of different types of goat’s cheese.  Your eyes dart from left to right taking in the bright red of wild strawberries, the purple and green of fresh artichokes and figs, and the yellow of newly cut flowers.  The market dances and sings with vendors urging you to try their products.  What makes the Batignolle market exciting is that all of the products are locally produced and organic.  Organics are becoming increasingly trendy (and available) in Paris with bio shops popping up everywhere. 

Array of cheeses, Richard Lenoir market
Another fantastic market that’s worth a visit is the Richard Lenoir market off of the Place de la Bastille (11th arrondissement).  Triple the size of Batignolle, this market also includes stalls with kitchen equipment, wine (generally, the winemaker him/herself is selling!), award winning confit de canard (duck), and much more!

A few tips for your next market day in Paris:

1)     If you want to beat the crowds and get the freshest food available, go early (I never seem to make this happen on a weekend!).
2)     Don’t visit a Parisian market if you are in a rush.  Many elderly Parisians and other social individuals use market day as an opportunity to share conversations about food and life with local vendors they have known, often for years.  Take the time to practice your French, listen in on interesting and lively conversations about how to prepare this legume or that cut of meat, and enjoy the atmosphere.
3)     Do a quick, initial tour of the market to check out prices, what’s available, and where the line ups are before you purchase anything.  Generally, those market stalls that are the busiest with locals are the best.
4)     Try new things!  Often, vendors are happy to provide you a sample of a product before you buy.  Be respectful of their generosity, but also, don’t be afraid to try new things as you’ll regret going home with an empty bag and an empty stomach!

Discovering the perfect ice cream and gelato
A croissant for breakfast, a picnic feast of fresh market finds in one of Paris’ many beautiful parks and you’re ready for an afternoon pick-me-up in the form of a cold taste-explosion!  Last Sunday it was sunny in Paris and I set out on a mission to find the best gelato/ice cream in the city.  After a bit of online research, I found two options that sounded like winners.  Berthillon is very well known as the best ice cream in Paris – at least that’s what all the guidebooks say.  By the length of the line ups (a block long, all foreign tourists), I assume the ice cream is heavenly, however I wouldn’t be able to place my seal of approval yet as each time I’ve passed Bertillhon, the crowds of people have been enough to keep me walking.  Instead, Nick and I ended up in Le Marais at Pozzetto for some Italian gelato.  I barely have words to describe how stunning my gelato experience was.  Flavours include the classic cream, pistachio, and fruits such as lemon, and melon.  But if you are a fan of strawberries, you must absolutely make a special trip to taste their wild strawberry gelato.  Simply divine and the perfect end to a perfect day as an outdoor foodie!

Stay tuned for part 2 of my Cordon Bleu bootcamp and more Paris food discoveries!


  1. Your mom and I left our medieval abode in Avignon last fall on a day trip to Aix en Provence. It was way too early that morning to get breakfast before catching the train. We were surprised to find that Aix was all but shut down for an international Ironman competition. In our pursuit for breakfast we had to detour in underground pathways to re-emerge above and away from the chaotic goings ons of Ironman. We finally found a patisserie and took in the aromas of freshly baked croissants. We were famished and gobbled down a couple of croissants each very quickly as they melted in our mouths. What a delectable treat! We departed Aix much later that day after several more explorations of the ancient city within the modern. Our bags contained more croissants to be eaten before reaching our destination. We haven't had the privilege of tasting such good croissants since that day! Steph, you need to return to Canada and teach your mom the art of baking the true French croissant. Happy baking SWEETIE!
    Dad xoxox

  2. You note another important aspect of a good croissant - melt-in-your-mouth! Thanks, Dad!