An only-in-Paris day

July 25, 2009 at 10:27 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets, Wanderings | 2 Comments

I don’t leave Paris for another 3 weeks, but it’s already starting to feel like it’s winding down.  Maybe because everyone has pretty much left work for vacation, or because I just booked my plane ticket to Spain for next Friday, or because this is my last weekend in Paris (I’ll be in Spain for the next two, and we leave Paris on Saturday the 15th)….but in any case, I realized that there were so many things I had been meaning to do that I haven’t gotten around to yet.  And since most stores and things are closed on Sundays, this felt like the last real weekend day.  Where has it gone? Today was going to be un jour gourmand.

I woke up around 11 (yeah…) and by noonish was heading out the door.  I decided to test myself and not use my map book at all, just to see how well I knew the city by now.  The first neighborhood was the chefs’ supply district that I so loved last summer, and which I hadn’t been back to at all this year.  So off I went.  First to G. Detou (say it out loud in French and it’s pronounced the same as j’ai de tout–“I have everything.”  It’s a baker’s paradise just off R. Montorgueil, packed into a deceptively small space.  The first time I went in, I thought that I was in the wrong spot because the store that everyone had been raving about couldn’t possibly be the same as this tiny little shop.  And yet–it felt like they really did have everything, once you looked.  In bulk.  Mega-bulk.  For example, I had heard that they have pearl sugar (used for making choquettes, which are little puffs of heaven in choux-pastry form, studded with big chunks of sugar), and when I asked, the man working there proudly hefted out a 1 kg-bag of sucre perle when I asked.  Now, I really like choquettes, but this was the size of half a bag of flour, and even at just 2.20 euros, I couldn’t quite justify lugging it home, especially because I know myself and I’ll probably make choquettes twice in the next year–once when I come home to try and re-capture the greatness, and once before I move out of my apartment because I have to use up the damn pearl sugar.

Rue Montorgueil, my local market street

Rue Montorgueil, my local market street

Next it was on to the cook’s supply stores, which are quite close to G. Detou (this is all right near Les Halles, which until the late 1960s was the main Paris food market and the destination for chefs–hence why all this culinary greatness has sprung up there).  The stores are pretty amazing and last year I went frequently to gawk and sometimes to buy, but despite the fact that I live a ten minute walk away, I hadn’t been back yet this summer.  You can get everything needed to outfit a restaurant, from menu covers to fifteen kinds of madeleine molds to copper sauciers and Staub cast-iron pots big enough to curl up inside (and weighing about twice as much as a human adult).  They’re all great–A. Simon, Mora, Bovida–but my all time favorite (and everyone else’s too–including my grandmother, my aunt Pam, and Julia Child) is E. Dehillerin.  Where else can you find a wall of ladles, seven kinds of mezzaluna, and enough tartlet and candy molds to….well…make a lot of tartlets and candy.

Ladles, anyone?

Ladles, anyone?

There are lots of specialty shops on R. Monmartre near the cooking stores, including one devoted exclusively to the sale of foie gras.

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Where else on earth could you find a foie gras store?

I stopped at the Moroccan epicier (spice-merchant) for fennel seeds and a few other spices that are hard or expensive to get in the U.S., then it was over to the Marais, a neighborhood which I have gotten to know quite well this summer and which I can now navigate without a map, despite its maze of curving streets.  I stopped in at Mariage Freres, which is a tea merchant that is a step back in time.  The French may not be particularly famous for their tea, but Mariage Freres is one of the finest tea merchants I’ve encountered anywhere (including England, Madagascar, and Taiwan, all known for either growing or retailing tea).  You step in this store and just inhale the mingling scents of tea leaves, flowers, and herbs–it’s both familiar and exotic teas, displayed with a French sensibility.  The walls are lined with huge tins of teas, each box in its own cubbyhole, and the people behind the counter discuss the teas the way a sommelier discusses wine.  After smelling and discussing (in French) 12 Earl Grey varieties with the tea merchant, I settled on “French Blue,” which is très parfumé (highly fragrant) and pas amer (not bitter)–100 grams, or a medium-sized sachet, beautifully packaged of course.

I worked my way up R. du Temple towards Place Republique, in search of Le Goumanyot, supposedly the spice shop to end all spice shops.  I rang the bell to get in, and was greeted by a youngish, friendly guy who, once he sensed that I was serious about his products and liked to cook, gave me a full (at least 30 minutes start to finish) tour of everything they had to offer.  It was so much fun.  First, I smelled 15 or 20 kinds of pepper (and none of this chemistry-lab wafting business for the French.  He stuck his nose all the way into the container and encouraged me to do the same)

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Then he showed me (and let me smell) all his tea blends, which are house-made.  Then all the honey.  Then all the mustards.  Then to the house-made spice mixtures.  Then to the herb essential oils.  Then the vanillas.  Then the whole spices.  Then the saffrons.  It was total sensory overload, and so interesting to hear about all the different places where the products are sourced (he said, a bit regretfully, that he’s not the one who goes on scouting trips, though we talked a long time about Zanzibar and how much he wants to go).  I tasted saffron caramels, which were out of this world, and of which he stuck a handful in my bag when I left.  He had a more realistic-sized container of pearl sugar, which I bought.  I explored the cave, or wine cellar, which also has a tasting room.  We had a grand old time.  I’ve seen my share of spice shops, but nothing like this one, ever.

By this time, I had spent a decent portion of the day thinking about making choquettes and, armed with my bottle of pearl sugar, I was seriously craving them.  I stopped at a cute bakery and bought a bag of six (they are each about the size of a golf ball, hollow) to eat on a park bench while contemplating my route.  Eggs, butter, and sugar–how could they possibly be bad?

I wandered down through the 11th and near where I used to live, finding a cute cookbook store called La Cocotte (more boutique-y, and a bit less geared towards the serious cook, than La Librairie Gourmande.  Towards the Place D’Aligre, which was my market area last year.  Even though the fruit and vegetable vendors were gone since it was 5:30pm, all the stores lining the streets are permanent, and I found an Israeli wine merchant.  After tasting from multiple open bottles (and probably consuming a whole glass of wine in total–he kept refilling my cup), I bought a bottle of 2001 Burgundy, which I had tasted and for which he slashed the price because I spoke 4 words of Hebrew (the only 4 I still remember that aren’t better suited to the inside of a synagogue) to him.

I made my way home through the 12th, by the Bastille, and then down the quays where Paris Plage is set up (Paris Plage is an annual event in which the highway that was built into the Right Bank quays is temporarily converted to a giant beach complete with sand, beach chairs, umbrellas, and frilly drinks).  By the time I got home, it was past 7pm, I had been walking for seven hours straight, and my feet were–and still are–aching.

I loved today.  I loved that today could not have happened anywhere else in the world.  I loved that I took out my map book only twice, and that both times it was to find a specific address rather than to figure out the direction in which I wanted to go.  I love that I didn’t speak English until I ran into Grace at 7:30pm.  I, quite simply, love this place.

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2 Comments »

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  1. And we love it as well, although we have had only a smidgen (love that word) of your experiences. We have enjoyed ourselves vicariously through your escapades and words, which paint a picture as beautiful as any I’ve seen. Thank you for sharing it all with us!

    Mom

  2. Going to wash a jar to start my ‘coins-for-paris-2010’ fund. p.s. I have some places to take you in NYC.


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