Street food in Paris



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Tonight I have a very good meal at tiny Bonjour Vietnam in the Latin Quarter. I can’t figure out what a Bonbun is (their specialty), nor could the waiter describe it to me. I run into this frequently. They have a menu with English translation, but there are still specialty words that you don’t understand, and they don’t speak English. The waiters usually point to the menu in this case like you’re an idiot, and say, “It’s in English!” I have to laugh, though. A couple walks in a few minutes later, and wants to order carryout. Even though she’s speaking French, I can tell the woman asks, “What’s a Bonbun?” It definitely does not register with the waiter that this is also what I wanted to know.

So instead I have the crispy duck with ginger, orange and cilantro. Excellent, very flavorful and not drowning in sauce. I’ve found much of the French food here to be rather bland, so I’m glad to eat something with strong flavors. The restaurant is also cute inside. It even has much more comfortable chairs than the typical French bistro. But I pass on dessert, because I don’t remember ever having had a good dessert at an Asian restaurant.

Besides, just around the corner is Aup’Tit Grec, the amazing street creperie on Rue Mouffetard, and I’ve been intrigued by one of the crepes on their menu: Nutella, Banana, Coco and Grand Marnier. So I head over there, and for the first time ever, the line is short. Probably because it’s 10:30pm and the dinner crowd has thinned out.

Now, if you’ll recall, last time I was there, I distinguished myself by giving the chef 20E and leaving, thinking I had given him 5E. He had someone chase me down the street to give me my change. He’s honest, that P’Tit Grec, and truth be told, intelligent and rather good looking.

Well, my stupidity last time at least made me memorable. When I walk up I can tell immediately that he recognizes me. He says, in English, “How are you tonight?” and smiles. I tell him I was thinking tonight I’d give him 40 Euro. He laughs. So I order their high-end dessert crepe. He starts skillfully preparing the crepe. Damn that Nutella looks chocolate-y and fine. But then he adds the rest of the ingredients, and I’m wondering what the white flakey stuff is. And I suddenly realize that “coco” is not cocoa. It’s coconut, and I dislike coconut. But I just decide to go with it. It’s already on the crepe, and besides, I was a “problem customer” the last time. I hand him a five, and say in French, “This time it really is five.” He laughs again and flashes a big smile. It’s a nice smile. His teeth are very white.

Sometimes you can re-try things like coconut, and sometimes they’re all right. In fact, better than all right. This crepe was flipping fantastic. Women frequently compare dessert to sex and I usually think it’s a bit crude, but tonight I was Meg Ryan, saying “Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!”

Except I wasn’t faking it.

I now might be just a little in love with the chef. Anybody who can make a dessert that amazing must be husband material.

I also feel like after having crepes here, I can never go back to the sloppy falafels in the Marais. I know the falafels there are legendary. In fact, they fight over “falafel claims” at the many falafel stands there, i.e., “Best on the Street,” “Best in the World, ” etc. And I do think the falafels might be a bit more healthy. But they’re nowhere near as delicious as the crepes. Nor do I think the guys at the two falafel stands I’ve tried are nearly as nice as the guy at Aup’Tit Grec. He also spends more time preparing the food, and you can taste the difference.

If you come to Paris, you’ll see people walking all over the Latin Quarter and the Marais with street food. You should use the natives as your guide: if they love it, you should at least try it. (Well, other than macaroons, which are gross.) You won’t be sorry about the street food … some of it is sublime, but all the street food I’ve tried has been quite good.

Cafe Pepe/My face hurts from smiling



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Normally I’d start a restaurant review by describing the place then making a recommendation.  But in this case, I’ll start with a two-word recco:

Just go.

I had walked by this place a couple nights earlier and it smelled great in there. However, I wasn’t in the mood for Mexican food, so I figured I’d come back. Tonight was the night.

I get there about 8:30, and it isn’t crowded. I try to order some guacamole, but the waitress doesn’t know what it is. Duh. It’s not a Mexican place as it would likely be in the States. It’s a Spanish place. And they speak zero English, nor do they attempt to. French or Spanish; that’s it.

Forget about the food for a minute. This place has live entertainment. Even on a Tuesday night in August in Paris. And it’s really good. Two guys, maybe in their late 60s, playing acoustic, old school. Singing, too. And all of it very well. It’s so lovely, I grin from ear to ear. At least when I’m not chewing. And when I’m doing that, I sway from side to side a little, or nod my head to the beat. Fabulous.

I’m so happy that I wonder why I gave up my dream of becoming a musician. And I also wonder how on earth I’ve never become a groupie. Musicians are hot. And they are really good kissers. Even the ones who smoke, and that’s the only group who gets that exemption from me.

The twosome serenades from table to table, not really pushing hard for the cash. They leave me alone for a while, probably because I’m dining alone. But then they come and ask for a request. I choose Volare’. Always loved its flat-out cheesiness. They do a bang-up version, including a slow intro and build. Awesome. Then I wonder if every American asks them for Volare’, and feel a little lame. And then I don’t care. I’m happy. It’s important to just be happy sometimes.

I applaud and give them some cash. I’m slightly annoyed by the people who just continue eating and don’t bother to acknowledge each song. In my view, each one is a little gem and a gift. But only slightly annoyed; life’s too short. Next song they play is a little instrumental that is just breathtakingly simple and perfect. I ask, in French, for the name of the song:  “Maria Elena,” the more handsome of the two guys says. I make a note of it. (Later, I listen to about 15 versions of it on YouTube and don’t think any of them are as beautiful as the one I heard tonight.)

Throughout the night, the owner and the waitress (maybe his wife or a co-owner?) also clap periodically in the air. No reason for the clap; they just feel like it. If you don’t love the ambiance of this place, you need to get your heart checked.

Now, on to the food. I ordered the tapas plate, which was very good. Generous portions, nicely arranged, piping hot. A little too much fish, but that’s my fault, because I couldn’t read the menu very well. They thought they had it in English, but there were no subtitled descriptions and all the hard words were still in Spanish. In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered a paella, because apparently that’s their specialty along with sangria. But the mojito was also good, as was the peach tart.

Halfway through the meal, there’s a switcheroo, and the charming duo leaves. Another guy in his 40s, perhaps, starts playing on a little stage with a mic behind me. He’s got a synthesizer and a horn, as best I can tell because my back is to him. His music selection is more energetic, and he also sings. Think La Bamba for tone, though I’m pretty sure his compositions were original, since they passed out a CD afterward for sale. The new performer is also a very good musician, but I enjoy him less. A little too active for dining and it all blends together for me. Bring back the first two guys.

Well, wishes come true. As I’m settling my bill, the first two guys come back. They do another song or two, and then very regretfully, I head out. I don’t like to get back to my apartment after dark. So I thank the owner, then the musicians again, flip them some more cash, and walk into the beautiful cool night, still smiling.

Cafe Pepe. Just go already.

5 Rue Mouffetard, Latin Quarter. Highly recommended. Metro: Place Monge.

On grocery stores in Paris


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Yesterday, I made the acquaintance online of someone who’s spent a lot of time in France.  He insisted that Parisian grocery stores were exactly like American ones, other than the labels being in French.  Ummm, no.  At least not in Paris proper.

During my two months in Paris, I rented an apartment with a nice kitchen.  I went to grocery stores nearly every day in many different districts:  3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th.  There were a couple Monoprix that were large, but still only about half as big as a typical American grocery store.  This, as best I can tell, is mostly a matter of real estate.  Real estate in Paris is already built up over nearly every inch.  And, of course, it’s very expensive. So, huge shops like Galleries Lafayette and the Hotel DeVille Bazar exist, but they are definitely not the norm.  Also, even those stores are divided up into smaller ones. Paris is just more intimate like that.  No giant Victoria’s Secret stores, tiny little lingerie stores.  With amazing lingerie.  But I digress; that’s another post.

Grocery stores in Paris don’t carry much produce, because Parisians get their produce at open-air markets or from tiny street vendors.  They don’t carry much meat, because the French go to l’boucherie (a specialty butcher store) for that.  They don’t carry much bread and zero bakery items, because the French go to l’boulangerie for that.  Wine, ditto.  They do tend to have quite a bit of cheese in the stores, but still less than you might find in a better American grocery store.

That’s pretty much how routine shopping in Paris goes.  Everything is in a separate small store.  It takes forever.  Little to no English is spoken by any of the staff in grocery stores.  And other mini-catastrophes await you.  The credit card readers usually take several swipes, always scaring me that maybe my card had stopped working.  In some stores, you have to weigh your own produce and print your own label for it, and they make horrible gestures at you if you don’t know it.  Wifi is awful, so my translation app was useless.  This left me at the mercy of my pocket translator, which didn’t have super specific items in it like you need for grocery stores.  Just getting coffee cream was a challenge.

This same guy insisted all the grocery stores have great deli counters with tons of great sauer kraut.  Again, not so much.  I saw zero deli counters in Paris.  I saw a few prepared foods at Carrefours Market and some packaged appetizers, etc.  Perhaps this guy was in Bizarro Paris, since I can’t fathom where he was finding these huge American-style grocers.  All I can say is that after visiting many, many different grocery stores all summer, most grocery stores reminded me of a 7-11.  The real action is at the farmer’s markets all over town, the best of which is Bastille.  Go there, buy fresh, ask for a taste … or be prepared for what I’ve listed above.

Me, I viewed grocery shopping as another adventure, much like the rest of the time I was in Paris with my limited French.  When I couldn’t comprehend something, I usually just said yes, and decided whatever the outcome, I’d view it as a lovely surprise.  Most of the time, it was lovely.  Quite lovely.  So be open.  Paris has many surprises, and you’re not there to just have everything be like back home, are you?


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