Eating Like The French: Food Tours In The Capital
My last trip to Paris was sort of misinformed. See, French summers involve extended stays in the Cote d’Azur, complete with all sorts of vacation paraphernalia. Wines, beaches, parties; the French really know how to live it up. To be honest, I was kinda butt-hurt. With Paris mostly devoid of its populace, my brother and I were left to fend for myself. To explore Paris like a local, locals are necessary. This especially applies to the exploration of French cuisine. Good thing we found a walking food tour in Paris and booked the last available slots.
French food can be as complicated as you want it to be, but essentially it’s all about the basics. I’m going to risk an oversimplification here and say that for me, like many others, French food can be broken down into a handful of things: wine, cheese, bread, meats, macarons, and chocolate. What better way to experience Paris than walk through its iconic neighborhoods munching on the best the city has to offer? The Montmartre Walking Food Tour by Secret Food Tours was an exemplary choice. Good job Shameel!
A bit of context: we were paired up with a French guide and a group of maybe 11 people from all over the world. We were then supposed to walk around learning about and sampling ‘the best’ French food, while soaking up the iconic Montmartre neighborhood. 3 hours. 6 stops. 99 fun.
Without further ado, here are my highlights from the sensational and homely tour:
Baguettes and Crepes
Soft, crusty, and airy, Parisian baguettes stole my heart. We went to a boulangerie that served the best baguettes in Paris. Interestingly enough, we found out that the title for the Best Baguettes in Paris is coveted, chosen through a city-wide competition. The winner is the designated baker for the French president for a year, and cannot compete for a year. And you thought YOU were competitive.
I thought I knew what real crepes taste like. I was wrong. Real crepes are soft, floppy, buttery and light, all at the same time. We were told that the best crepes in Paris are never found in restaurants; the dingier the cart, the better the crepe. I had the lemon and butter crepe, which conveniently melted in my mouth instantaneously. None of that Nutella business.
Meat ‘n Cheese
I’m a sucker for an over-the-top meat platter. The French are big into cured meats, mostly pork-based. But there are some fun ones for us halal folk. We tried the duck pâté, which was a lot like foie gras: gamey, livery, and fatty. We also tried a rabbit rillette; the rabbit is heavily salted, cooked in its own fat, and then shredded. The end product resembles a coarse fish paste of sorts. Cured salami, ham, and blood sausage were also served, and were enjoyed thoroughly by our fellow tourists. We found the experience unique and almost coma-inducing.
To the cheese then, where everything is halal. Triple cream mozzarella, brie, Camembert, a crystalline Parmesan, goat’s cheese, Munster, you name it. We went absolutely ham (tee-hee), and the crystals on the Parmesan made me do a double take. This is where I felt bad for people who are lactose intolerant, though I didn’t feel bad for long.
You won’t be able to find cheese like this in Pakistan. Your next best bet? Amavi.
Macarons and éclairs
You probably all know about macarons and éclairs. What you probably didn’t know was that macarons were never meant to be double storied, and were served as a single biscuit for the longest time. You also probably didn’t know that the French require that for any pastry to be considered an eclair, the filling must match the icing. Don’t sue me, it’s what our French companions were adamant about.
We were taken first to a macron specialist tucked into a side street, where we all got to build our own assortment of five macarons to munch on. Rose, pistachio, strawberry, wasabi, fig. HEAVEN. This was followed by an chocolate éclair with chocolate filling. Chilled to the core and addictive, I would invest time to learn the art of the éclair.
At the end of the day we were beat but extremely happy. We learnt a few things about Montmartre, and few about the French. Good food, good company, and a whole lot to talk about after. Isn’t that what a vacation is all about?