When I was in middle school we had two foreign language options, Spanish and French. I don’t know why, perhaps it was due to the all the Madeline I watched as a child, but I picked French. When I entered high school, I found out that every two years or so our French teacher would take students to Paris for about two weeks during the summer. I immediately started saving any money I made because I was determined to go; however, September 11th happened and our county school system suspended all foreign trips with students indefinitely. About eight years later, I was living in London and my flatmate and I realized we both had taken French in high school, had never been to Paris, and wanted to go immediately. We booked a ticket on the Eurostar and for three days we ditched our fairly easy-going travel mentalities to squeeze in as many sites as possible. Even though it was freezing (it was January), we zipped around Paris and saw the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Montmartre (Moulin Rouge + Sacré Cœur), Bastille, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower (though it was closed due to ice). I vowed to come back and spend some significant time in Paris and it finally happened last fall. I needed to conduct a pilot archaeobotanical study on my material from Oman and the best place to do it was the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Research location win! My now-husband and I packed our bags and moved to Paris for two months. I got to spend more time exploring, but more importantly we ate…a lot. Here I share some of my favorite French foods, shops, and restaurants that I experienced during my time in Paris.
Photo Credit: Neil Conway via Flickr
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love butter. They might also tell you that I’m obsessed with French butter, specifically le beurre aux cristaux de sel de mer aka butter with sea salt. French butter without sea salt is already delicious, which is likely due to the generous butterfat percentages (usually 82% unless salt is involved) and the grass-fed cows. When you mix in flaky sea salt crystals, the result is a concoction that is rich, creamy, and bursting with flavor. You can find butter with sea salt crystals in most French supermarkets. If you’re looking for a next-level butter experience, Paris has a number of specialty butter shops. Either way, just try it!
Photo Credit: Via Flickr
Madeleines are buttery, soft, and the right amount of sweet. I have a huge soft spot for Bonne Maman Madeleines. The original butter madeleines are probably my favorite, but I recommend trying the chocolate dipped ones at least twice.
While France is known for other alcoholic beverages, I do love beer. Fortunately, there is an emerging craft beer scene in France. In Paris, we stayed in airBnB’s in two different locations. We got lucky because there was a beer shop next to both places. During our first month we stayed around Butte aux Cailles and Biérocratie was our beer shop. There was a pretty decent selection and I can only imagine it has grown since last year. It’s a cozy shop and the owners are super friendly and knowledgeable. They even gave us a recommendation for a beer store in our next neighborhood, which was La Moustache Blanche around Bastille. La Moustache Blanche had a wide selection of beer and there was even a fridge filled with chilled beers if you need a beer immediately. The owner was also friendly and gave good French beer recommendations.
For a comprehensive overview of beer shops in Paris, click here.
If you want no-fuss, affordable French comfort food that won’t leave you hungry afterwards, I would recommend Chez Gladines. There are a number of locations. The original, Butte aux Cailles location is usually packed around dinner. They don’t take reservations so come early or try another location that does take reservations. I’ve ate at the original location and the one near Bastille (Gladines Charonne). Both were delicious; however, Gladines Charonne was definitely not as busy. All locations offer a number of Basque specialties and typical French dishes. I’ve particularly enjoyed the Pavé de Canard Sauce Roquefort and the Escalope de Veau Montagnarde.
This restaurant was in our first neighborhood of Butte aux Cailles. There is definitely something special about this place. It’s a neighborhood spot and you will see a lot of locals. I remember we came a little too early for dinner (don’t even think about getting dinner before 7pm in Paris) and we decided to leave. On our way out, we met an older gentlemen who was sitting and having a drink. He told us that we should come back later because the food is good. We did. The food was really good. I still dream about their confit de canard. Their prices are definitely fair and it’s a great, local place to have a drink and enjoy some delicious food.
For me, the boulangerie (French bakery) is where the magic happens. I loved walking around Paris and smelling the freshly baked baguettes and sweet treats. It’s safe to say that I went to a boulangerie almost every day. I recommend going to artisan boulanger, which means that the bread you buy is made in the shop. If you’re going to live in Paris for an extended period of time, I recommend finding a local boulangerie you like and then a backup (openings days and times vary). It might take a few tries to find your local place(s), but that’s half the fun. Once you start trying different boulangeries you will notice the variation and gain a better understanding of what you prefer. Of course, you can eat your way through boulangeries during a short visit too. There are lists out there for the best boulangeries; however, I picked my boulangeries like a local. I went to ones near my house and found the ones that I liked. I asked around too. Here are some breads to try:
Photo Credit: Andreas Kusumahadi via Flickr
The baguette is iconic and rightly so. If you’re anywhere in France, this is a must have, but not all baguettes are created equal so be sure to ask around. Most boulangeries serve at least two types of baguettes – baguette normale and baguette tradition. The baguette normale (also called baguette ordinaire) is usually cheaper, a little bigger, and leaveispned with yeast. In all honesty, I did not find a great baguette normale in Paris and it seemed that only tourists would buy them. My baguette of choice in Paris was the hand-formed baguette tradition. These baguettes are slightly more expensive (no more than 50 cents more) and are totally worth it. When you tear open a baguette tradition, you will see air bubbles of all sizes and no two baguettes will look alike. The crust offers a nice crunch and the inside is chewy. If you get one that’s come right out of the oven, you’ve hit the jackpot. For a full guide on how to pick a baguette, click here.
Pain aux Raisins
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pain au chocolat as much as the next person, but when I’m in Paris I need a quick breakfast, I reach for a pain aux raisins (perhaps it’s that illusion of consuming some fruit). There is some variety in how a pain aux raisins can be made. The dough can either be made with the same pastry dough for a croissant or a brioche-like dough that is usually made for pain viennois. The filling usually consists of raisins and a pastry cream. It’s shaped to look like a snail and can be found at most boulangeries.
Tarte Poire Chocolat
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You will find a variety of fruit-based tartes in boulangeries; however, my hands-down favorite has to be a tarte with pears and chocolate. Before coming to Paris, combining pears and chocolate was not on my radar. During one lunch at the Museum, I saw one of my colleagues eating an unfamiliar chocolate dessert. I asked her what was it was and she said it was poire au chocolat. She went on to explain that that this dessert is often made into a tarte and I should definitely try it before I leave France. I did. Many times. It’s now one of my go-to desserts.
Photo Credit: Saaleha Bamjee via Flickr
The popularity of macarons has boomed over the past couple of years and I’m happy to say that I’m on the bandwagon. A macaron consists of two moist meringue-like cookies that sandwich a smooth filling (e.g. ganache, jam). Traditionally, the cookie was made with almonds, egg whites, and sugar, but now they come in a variety of flavors. There are a lot of places that make their own macarons and I have not tried all of them (yet). When I was in Paris, my favorite macarons came from Pierre Hermé. There were a lot of flavors and the macarons were moist, chewy, and perfect.
There is a lot of great food to eat in Paris. The variety seems almost endless. The important this is to dive in and try it out. Happy eating!