This is the second installment in a series on the French-themed trip I took this summer, which included two weeks in Paris. In my first post, I fill you in on how I became such a Francophile. Thank you for coming by, and please come back soon to hear more about my adventures.
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I had the unprecedented opportunity this summer to spend more than a month on a French-themed trip. It fulfilled a lifelong dream I’ve had since first falling in love with the French language and culture in my childhood. I started my preparations by tuning up my rusty high school French. Time didn’t allow for taking classes at the Alliance Française, which is what I would do the next time. So instead I listened to the Pimsleur CDs in the car during my commute for a month leading up to the trip. While some of the vocabulary was either archaic or overly formal (nobody I spoke to referred to les e-mails as les courielles), it was definitely worth my time to listen to spoken French and to practice my pronunciation. I also purchased too many guides, I think six in total. Of those, I ended up packing three. One was the most recent edition of Time Out Paris, which provided the most detail of my three guides, but was too heavy to tote around on our explorations. The second was City Walks Paris, a set of 50 cards published by Chronicle Books, each of which outlines a recommended walking tour in various parts of the city. My family and I really enjoyed using these cards as a loose guide to our wanderings (it made us feel adventurous and more local), and the detail map on the back of each card was generally better and easier to use than any of the Paris city maps we had.
And as a food lover and blogger, I of course needed advice on the best places to eat in Paris. Who better to ask than David Lebovitz, former Chez Panisse pastry chef and American-expat-in-Paris food blogger extraordinaire? Alas, lacking the connections to ask him directly (he does not read this blog), I had to make do with reading his witty memoir with recipes, The Sweet Life in Paris. His amiable and chatty style makes you feel like he is ton ami, and I was so grateful for his “personal” recommendations I jotted down in my Moleskine notebook I brought along in lieu of my laptop. More than just my source for les meilleures choses a manger in Paris, I found The Sweet Life in Paris to be my best cultural guide, hands down, to les Parisiens. David does this through funny, self-deprecating anecdotes about his own personal follies as an expat in Paris, and he’s not shy about sharing. These tales are threaded through The Sweet Life in Paris, but for a brief introduction I encourage you to check out his “My Paris” post on his blog. On this he has distilled some essential tips to having your own Sweet Life in Paris, some obvious and others not so much. Par exemple,
“It’s taken me a few years to get used to the fact that I can’t run to the corner bakery for bread wearing sweatpants and flipflops, nor can I wolf down pastries on the métro without getting disapproving stares. So don’t be afraid to dress a bit better than you would at home and to practice a few words of your high-school French. Believe me, even the feeblest attempt at a little French will take you much further than you can imagine in Paris.”
“Don’t assume your waiter is rude just because he doesn’t introduce himself by name and tell you his life story and rush over to refill your water after each sip.”
“There is a perception the French are rude which is probably because you never come across anyone rude in America. In Paris, it’s imperative to say ‘Bonjour Madame/Monsieur’ when entering a shop or restaurant, and ‘Merci Madame/Monsieur’ when leaving. There is an equally incorrect perception that Americans are impolite since they don’t acknowledge the salesclerks in their shops, which is like being invited into someone’s home and stepping inside without saying hello.”
For more, read his hilarious post on being called a “Stupid Boy.”
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So with the words of my trusted guide and mon ami imaginaire, David, in my head, I dragged my husband and kids along on several food treks, hunting down some of David’s favorite places in Paris. These are just a few of the many that were well worth the trip. I’ve listed them with their street addresses, arrondisements, and closest Métro stop. For opening hours, check before going, as these seem to change on a whim, particularly in August. (Live and learn.)
Angelina 226, Rue de Rivoli (1st; M: Tuileries)
This is the place to go when you’re looking for an elegant salon de thé near the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre. Angelina is best known for its rich, dense hot chocolate, called Le Chocolat Africain on its menu. We enjoyed that along with a sampling of macarons, and were lucky enough to be seated next to a table of women who were having a tea party straight of La Belle Epoque.
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Au Levain du Marais 28, Boulevard Beaumarchais (11th; M: Bastille)
David likes this neighborhood boulangerie for its croissants, which he thinks are the best in Paris. And who am I to disagree? They were flaky, buttery and crispy, perfect with jam or chestnut paste. We also picked up a beautiful tart for dessert, filled with pistachio cream and topped with red fruits.
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Pierre Hermé 72, rue Bonaparte (6th; M: Saint-Sulpice or St Germain de Pres )
This is an iconic place to get macarons. We braved a surprise rainshower and lined up with other tourists outside the tiny shop near the Jardin de Luxembourg to see what the fuss is all about. The display was dazzling and the flavors exotic. We tried olive oil and vanilla, jasmine, milk chocolate and passionfruit, and salted caramel.
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Poilane 8, rue du Cherche-Midi (6th; M: Saint-Sulpice)
I knew that the rustic, round loaves of miche bread here were famous, but I did not know until later how crazed people around the world can get about le Pain Poilane. Apparently there are forums and fan pages dedicated to the subject. We found the Poilane bread to be very good, especially heated or toasted. But to be honest, I think we’re spoiled by the bread at Tartine in San Francisco, which, lucky for us, is not only just a few minutes away, but– dare I say?– far superior to Poilane’s.
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I did not have a chance to visit another one of David’s recommendations, A La Mere de Famille (35, rue du Faubourg Montmartre), a legendary traditional gourmet shop which sells pain d’épices, a honey-rich, dense spiced bread, among other French classics. I had a chance to try a slice of pain d’épices elsewhere, served alongside paté. I found it to be sweeter and less spiced than I had expected. I was intrigued by David’s take on the classic recipe– his version has the untraditional but faultless addition of rich chocolate. Reading the description made me think of the chocolate chai I so enjoy sipping, so I had to try it out. I’ll be sharing the results in my next post, coming soon!
© 2011 Linda Shiue