Paris: The City of Lights…and hungry people
Well, we’ve been traveling for over a week now and although I had every intention to write before now, you know what they say about the best of intentions….they’re quickly overcome by a bottle of wine and good French cheese. However, we have just spent a rainy day trotting around Marseille and that fresh Mediterranean air soaked into my shivering skin, so this is as good a time as any to start writing. I guess the best place to begin is with Paris.
We arrived in Paris with absolutely no idea where our hotel was in relation to the airport. That’s okay though, we took the first train into the city, found a metro stop that seemed to be relatively close to where we wanted to be, and then carted our luggage by foot to the hotel…..for about four kilometers. Uphill. If I could tell you that I did it barefoot I totally would. Mike kept saying, “It’s okay babe, we’re almost there! It’s bound to be…uh….really close now….” It wasn’t. But that was a good precursor into our next four days when we managed to get blissfully lost in every possible part of the city.
Paris was frenetic and energized. I fell immediately in love with the Metro, considering that I’m used to the Toronto subway lines which are…uh….lacking, to say the least. That blessed Metro goes EVERYWHERE!! Really, no matter how lost we got (note: very. And often.) there was always a Metro station within just a couple of blocks, so we could always find our way home.
The thing about Paris is that it was the first stop on our trip, and although we gave ourselves more time to be there than in any other city (there’s just so much to do, how could you not? It’s impossible to see the main highlights of Paris in less than 5 days) it still wasn’t enough – possibly because we spent half our time touring museums, and the other half trying desperately to find somewhere to eat.
They say that the women in Paris are unbearably glamorous, thin, and sophisticated. That’s true. But as for the ‘thin’ part, it can be explained away by the fact that it’s impossible to find a restaurant during the better part of the day. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are Boulangeries, Boucheries, Patisseries, Bistrots, Brasseries and Cafes lining every street. Except that each one was only open for a couple of hours each day, and damned if we could figure out what those couple hours were.
On our second night we went to five different places, with no greater intention than purchasing dinner, and all that each one of them were serving was drinks…which means that by 10:30 pm we were well on our way to hammered, but still very, very hungry. I think this is the TRUE French paradox in action: despite the proliferation of delicious meats, cheeses, breads, and fatty foods at their fingertips, the people don’t stay thin by focusing on moderation. They do it by trudging from resto to resto trying to buy dinner and failing. I will always think of Paris as the hungriest city I’ve ever been in.
Alright, so it’s not exactly like I starved to death those first few days. The shops that are open during the day had a remarkable assortment of delicious sandwiches prepared on fresh baguettes, and there was a glut of Petite Casinos (a cross between a small fruit market and a convenience store) where we frequently bought supplies to keep us trucking along. We also took a suggestion to try one of the most popular street foods, a kebab wrap (like Donair or Gyro) with fresh cut fries.
As you can tell, we didn’t like that at all. I can only attribute such gluttony to hiking up to Sacre Coeur and back in the midday heat.
Apart from the growling bellies, we did manage to have some rather memorable dining experiences in Paris. As you can imagine, I was all over feasting on the local specialties. One of our most enjoyable meals was at the bistro where we ate lunch after visiting the Rodin museum. I ordered the Salade Landaise, which generally contains fresh field greens, often tomato and steamed green beans, Foie Gras (with our without toast points), smoked duck breast, and chicken gizzard. Mike steadfastly refused to try the gizzard (his loss, I’d say. It was absolutely tender, flavorful, and a damnable pleasure in the mouth), but heartily enjoyed his first taste of Foie Gras – which I like to think of as the butter of the meat world.
Mike ordered the Rhumsteak au Poivre. Or rather, Mike let me plead, cajole, and convince him into ordering the rhumsteak, which I had been keening for at every Bistro we passed, since it was invariably on the menu. The rhumsteak is basically a rump steak which is aged, grilled to order, and served with a sauce – in this case, peppercorn. Sure, that doesn’t sound too exciting, but OH MY GOD was it good. Being a fiend for side dishes, Mike had to fend me off of his potato gratin which was thin layers of potato baked with what tasted like a pound of butter, a quart of cream, and two heads of garlic. My mouth waters at the thought.
After an afternoon of touring museums, it was also delightful to escape away to Harry’s New York Bar in the Opera area, and sample their infamous Bloody Mary’s and…absinthe. Because when in Paris, why not also try on the persona of a depressed low income earner with a proclivity towards self destruction? Good old absinthe.
On Saturday we went to a market in Bastille called Marché Bastille which was absolutely delightful. I’m a veritable cheese fiend, so market shopping had my name all over it. And the fish? Oh, la la la la the fish. Langoustines (which are almost impossible to find in Canada) as large as small lobsters, and so many varieties of fish that I can only find frozen – if ever- were here at our fingertips. It truly made me yearn for a little kitchenette in our hotel room. I would have gratefully sacrificed our two foot square bathroom if only I had a small oil burner that would let me buy and prepare some of that remarkable seafood.
The sum total of cooking that I’ve done this trip is putting together our picnic style buffets, which are usually scavenged wares found while walking the streets. It’s everything that you would expect – a variety of local cheeses, some charcuterie, warm and fresh baguette, and whatever vegetable looked particularly alluring that day. Although Lyon is really the true home of charcuterie, in our Parisienne picnic lunches we have feasted on some remarkable paté, rillettes (salmon and duck, ou saumon et canard), cured and dried sausages, and an assortment of delectable thinly sliced cured meats…and smoked duck breast. Much to Mike’s chagrin I keep sneaking duck into our basket, in various forms. Lots of duck. So much that I swear we’re going to come home quacking, but that’s okay by me.
The radishes here are my penultimate favorite, with their mild flavor, watery texture, and pleasantly peppery bite.
But really, the best food that we’ve eaten so far was in Lyon – more about that to come soon!