Hip Eats and Backstreets – a Paris Food Tour.
One of the best ways to get under the skin of a city like Paris is by taking a walking tour. For my money, the best walking tours always involve food – not just because I love to eat but because with a food tour there’s usually a mixture of heritage and history, together with what local people are enjoying right now. Food provides that cultural link to current local life. And it’s fun. But where should you start in Paris, a city famous for its gastronomy? Perhaps St Germain – the literary heart of Paris and home to a particular type of café culture. Café Flo and Les Deux Magot were both known as cultural hubs attracting philosophers and writers. Or the nearby Latin Quarter, once bohemian Paris now, despite a large student population, rather more gentrified and famous for the wealth of restaurants, bars and café. Where do Parisians hang out these days? According to Leo, our guide from Eating Europe, the 10ième is a good place to find authentic local food and experience an authentic Paris food tour. It’s an area I know – after all, both Gard du Nord and Gare de L’Est are in the 10ième. But it’s not one I’ve explored at all till now.
I’ve already done a few of the food walking tours offered by Eating Europe, in both Prague and in London and I’ve always enjoyed them. Their first Paris food tour was launched in September 2018 so I was delighted that I could join the small group and expert guide to explore a part of Paris I really didn’t know well. No Notre Dame or Eiffel Tower here – the food tour is in the Shoreditch of Paris, the 10ième, an up and coming area, mixed business and residential with a wealth of quirky shops, restaurants and bars. Leo, our charming and knowledgeable guide explained that this part of Paris was historically not so popular or expensive because during the Industrial period prevailing winds meant that the arrondissement, like all of those to the North East, was often choked with smoke and fumes from the chimneys of factories.
Now of course, like most cities, Paris has cleaned up. We started our tour meeting in a charming neighbourhood park, the Jardin Villemin, just a few minutes walk from Gare du Nord. If you do end up with time to kill in the area, this would be a lovely place to hang out. It’s a historic site too; there was a military hospital here around the time of the Franco-Prussian War which was established in a former convent, Le Couvent des Récollets. The idea was that, strategically close to Gare de l’Est, returning soldiers from the front could be treated quickly. A good place to start for me, easy to find and clearly somewhere that local people used rather than a tourist destination. And not the kind of place you’d normally pick out from a guide book.
A few minutes from the park is the Canal St Martin. Constructed between 1802 and 1825 by order of Napoleon I, the canal was intended to supply the people of Paris with fresh water and help reduce diseases like dysentery and cholera. Financed by a tax on wine – you might say building the canal was turning wine into water? Of course, it was also used to transport goods and it is unclear how much the canal really helped improve the health of local people. Part of the canal was subsequently covered to create those wide boulevards but not the stretch in the 10ième arrondissement. It’s an area to head for on a sunny day and sit on the banks with a bottle of wine and perhaps with a Croque Monsieur from our first stop, Fric Frac.
I’ve tried plenty of variations on a Croque Monsieur before – a classic melted cheese and ham sandwich which is sometimes toasted and sometimes fried, but never one quite like this. Here the dish is elevated by using locally baked bread from Frédéric Lalos and exclusive recipes developed by local chefs. They use proper Parisian ham and there are a whole range of options if you want to pimp things up a bit, including the delicious veggie ‘Winnie’ with goat cheese, Bechemal, roasted dried fruits, honey and herbs. Sitting on the side of the canal and feasting seemed like a great way to start our food walking tour.
Things only got better though. A few minutes away we found TSF Epicure, run by the charismatic Sophie who explained that the name of the delicatessen was because it was Sophie’s Folly!
A lovely kind of madness though, it’s somewhere to shop for those authentic French specialities without the tourist mark-up. There are hams, cheeses, all kinds of confit meats and plenty more. We enjoyed a beautifully balanced charcuterie board with that special French Saucisson that just doesn’t seem to exist in the UK. French baguette and glass of wine added to the deliciousness.
This is the kind of food I always look forward to eating in France – and it really didn’t disappoint. Wafer thin slices of jamon de Paris, saucisson, rilletes and more, all washed down with a good glass of wine. The perfect French food experience.
The 10ième is a multicultural part of Paris and there are plenty of interesting restaurants and cafes to try. The link between North African cuisine or Maghrebi and the French dates back to French colonisation of countries like Algeria and Tunisia. North African immigration to France means that today Couscous is often listed as one of the top ten most popular dishes in France. A bit like the infamous Chicken Tikka Masala in the UK I guess?
L’Amalgame, a tiny six-table restaurant is a great place to experience some very special couscous. The owner’s wife makes hand-rolled couscous from scratch every day – a process which takes hours of kneading, rolling and steaming a semolina base. The end result as I discovered, is something as far away from the packet variety as fresh pasta is from dried.
Imagine a big bowl of steaming couscous, laced with fresh vegetables in a lightly spicy tomatoey broth. Heat things up to your own taste with a little extra harissa blended into the broth.
Then add freshly grilled merguez sausages for a perfect warming main course’. While there’s nothing fancy here, it’s the sort of food I’d travel to find for the comfort factor of something which tastes homemade.
Next, a stop at Yann Couvreur, to buy something for later (it’s kept a secret – there’s an art to pacing this kind of food tour which Leo has down to a tee). I’m tempted by the pretty boxes and end up buying some praline foxes to take home (they’ve lasted for less than a week!).
This Parisian pastry chef learnt his craft in some of the top restaurants and cafés of Paris and is now creating his own identity. His pastry is tailored for a contemporary palate, not so heavily sweetened and his creations are intentionally lighter (though probably still not diet friendly!). And his elegant Patisseries are in parts of Paris where tourists seldom tread. What is for sale is priced to be within reach of normal Parisians while no less delicious or refined. But of course, the rental cost of the properties might just help keep the prices out of the stratosphere.
Any French food tour wouldn’t be complete without a wine tasting and cheese. Paroles de Fromagers is a 17th-century cheese cellar in the heart of Paris where you can learn more about French cheese and enjoy a glass or two of wine too. What I enjoyed most was the passion of the people here.
Apart from tastings, they run workshops where you can make your own cheese. I’m intrigued by that as an alternative to the cooking classes I love when I am visiting a new country. Apparently, in less than 3 hours you learn how to make a fresh cheese that can be aged, homemade butter and mozzarella. Definitely one for the next time I visit Paris.
I’d tried all the cheeses we were offered before – a deliciously runny Brillat Savarin, crottin de chevre, Brie de Meaux, Beaufort and tomme de Savoie.
The tomme de Savoie had me diving into nostalgia and memories of a childhood in France. Such is the effect of good food. It was just as well we had to move on or I’d have been trying every cheese in the shop.
Finally, we walked through Place de la Républic and on to the pretty gardens of Square du Temple, Elie Wiesel to enjoy our sweet treats from Yann Couvreur.
By now we’d left the 10ième and were in the Marais, the 3ième. This park was the site of the commandry of the Knights of the Order of the Temple in the 13th century and then of their execution when they were seen as a threat to the Crown. Now it’s a peaceful landscaped garden, perfect to sit and enjoy two classic pastries from Yann Couvreur. My favourite, Paris Brest (a kind of praline choux filled with cream) and a little lemon tart with that light sablé pastry that, as if by magic, all French pastry chefs seem to know how to produce.
It’s probably just as well the tour was at an end as I’d eaten enough over the 3 hours to not need any supper at all that evening. And, I’d learnt far more about the city and Parisian life past and present on this Paris food tour than I’d ever had done by walking around alone. Leo was brought up in the 10ième and told us that he’d seen the area change a lot in the last 20 years – a kind of gentrification if you like that meant it was now a desirable part of Paris to live. Along the way, we learnt so much that I haven’t been able to share here, about the architecture of Paris, it’s history and about the lifestyle of today’s Parisians.
If you are visiting Paris yourself do consider taking the food tour. You’ll experience a part of the city that you might not know – and you’ll feast like royalty while you learn. Oh, and you’ll walk just enough to be able to convince yourself the extra calories were necessary! What better way to spend an afternoon?
Why not pin this post for later…
For more about Eating Europe Food Tours and to book Paris Hip Eats and Backstreets, check their website
For this trip to Paris, I stayed at Le Pavillon des Lettres. Check my review for more information about this charming boutique hotel in the 8ième Arrondissement.
Pavillon des Lettres
12 rue des Saussaies
Disclosure: I was a guest of Pavillon des Lettres and of Eating Europe – all content is editorially given