Part two of a four-part series on my experiences and observations in the City of Light.
Paris: The Food
Most of you know that I eat to live, not live to eat, so this may be a disappointingly lackluster post. Jayson and I are not foodies and eating fancy meals at chi-chi restaurants was not a priority on our trip. There were some edible treats, however, that I did get excited about.
Our first stop on our first day in Paris was at Laduree, the famed bakery on the Champs-Elysee. With five locations in Paris, 19 locations in the rest of Europe, and 18 additional locations throughout the world (with New York City being the only US location), it is best known for the double-decker macaron, selling 15,000 daily. We went in and I stopped to take it all in – the beautiful tea room, the incredibly pretty displays, and, of course, the array of visually stunning pastries at the counter. I knew I wanted a macaron but choosing which flavor was difficult. There were at least 25 to choose from, so I went with the Violette and Jayson chose the Caramel a la fleur de sel (soft caramel with sea salt). What I love about macarons is their texture and punch of flavor in every bite. The Violette was delicious, sweet and rich in flavor. After a bite, Jay and I traded. He liked mine better, so we finished each other’s. The caramel was yummy – not as sweet, with a hint of salt. I’ve had lots of macarons, and Laduree’s are definitely the best I’ve tasted.
I loved that breakfast was served at our hotel until 11:00am. It was nice to sleep in and not worry about missing it! We went downstairs each morning and picked out fruit, yogurt and cereal. On our table would be a basket of bread – baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat – with a plate of spreadable cheese and Nutella accompanying it. They would also serve tea, juice, and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate). I was in heaven!
I noticed many people eating baguettes on the metro. Most popular was jambon et fromage (ham and cheese). Ham is a staple on French menus, as evidenced in the French specialty croque-monsieur, which is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with béchamel sauce. Jayson ordered it when we visited Les Deux Magots in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area of Paris. This café is where the literary and intellectual elite of the city used to gather (think Sartre, de Beauvoir, Hemingway, and Picasso). Let’s just say Jayson wasn’t impressed. He was unenthusiastic overall with French food, so we ended up eating at many Italian restaurants, which were everywhere. In fact, Jayson had the best lasagna he claims he’s ever had in his life while we were in Paris. As for me, I had lots and lots of salade chevre chaud (salad with warm goat cheese) with baguettes, so I was perfectly content.
When Jayson and I were in Amsterdam years ago, we marveled at how the waitstaff at any restaurant would leave us alone for hours on end to enjoy our meal. The same was true in Paris. They would serve our drinks, take our order and bring our food, and then we were on our own – for HOURS if we wanted – until we caught their eye to ask for our check. Europeans value the social aspect of the meal: conversations, catching up, time spent with loved ones. There is no rush to get us paid and out the door and turn tables to increase business. We didn't feel pressured to eat as fast as we could and get the heck out. We were conscious of this and had to force ourselves to slow down and really enjoy our time together. It was lovely.
Another observation about the endless outdoor cafes: the chairs are lined up side by side facing outward. Everyone gets to look out at the people passing by while they enjoy their meal. One more reason why I love the French – they encourage people-watching (my favorite sport).
One morning we walked to an outdoor market. It was a long, narrow set up of numerous closely-packed stands, all the way down the block. Scarves, bags, flowers and FOOD of every kind. The cheese was the most tempting – blocks and wheels of every cheese imaginable. The locals had their small wheeled baskets and it was nice to experience a slice of life different from ours. I wished we had a neighborhood market I could walk to twice a week for fresh food and produce.
Another glimpse into local life came when we were walking back to our hotel one afternoon. We noticed a group of people gathered on the sidewalk and realized that a school was letting out for the day. Parents were happily waiting for their children with a chocolate croissant in hand as an afternoon snack for the walk home.
But my favorite food moment had to be laying on the grass looking up at the Eiffel Tower while eating a pain au chocolat. Perfection.
OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.