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Apr 1, 2009 01:45 AM

Top 10 food experiences in Paris

I don't mean what are the Top 10 restaurants. Instead I mean what are the essential food experiences you should try when you visit Paris to get a sense of the city and French food culture.

I was struck by a recent post asking about economical food in Paris, lots of good advice, but it seemed to miss the essence of experiencing and enjoying the city. Certainly you can buy a cheap bottle of wine and sit in a park with some cheese and bread, but isn't Paris about sitting at a pavement cafe and watching the glamourous people?

Here is my list (in no particular order) my bakers dozen of essential food experiences. What have I missed - you can see I couldn't hold it to only 10?

1. Eating in a big old Brasserie, the more Nouveau or Deco the better. Essential to have surly staff in long white aprons.

2. Relaxing with a couple of early evening drinks on a cafe terrace. Ideally in one of the main people watching areas like St Germain du Pres or the Marais.

3. Relaxing with a coffee and croissant on a cafe terrace in the early morning watching the city wake up and go to work

4. Enjoying a quite meal in a good local brasserie. Ideally one with a strong reputation and a glowing write up in Le Fooding.

5. Experiencing a neo-Bistro (although the term is past is use by date) with one of the star chefs who has broken out of the Michelin tyranny (Regalade, CLJ, etc.).

6. "Palace Dining" - blowing an absolute fortune to experience 3* Michelin food in an opulent/luxurious hotel restaurant.

7. Street food - falafel in the Marais or Crepes on many street corners

8. Shopping in a real market (I don't count rue Cler as it is a shopping street not really a market - there is a big difference).

9. Voyeurism in the grand food halls - Bon Marche, Lafayette, Hediard, Fauchon etc.

10. A real cheese shop - there are only a few great ones, don't be miss out by being satisfied by the average one on the street next to your hotel.

11. Bread - shopping for fresh breads in one of the artisanal bakeries.

12. Cales/Pastries - grazing through the great patisseries and sampling the myriad of cakes, tarts and macaroons.

13. Chocolate - experiencing the crazy flavour contents from some of the worlds master chocolate makers (cheese fillings for example)

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  1. What a great post! Here are mine:

    1) Buying a baguette, breaking off the heel, and munching it on my walk home.

    2) The cloud of milk foam on top of a noisette.

    3) Buying seasonal "locavore" produce in the market. Making crazy, exotic non-French dishes from it. Also, the free lemons that my produce guy gives me because I'm a regular.

    4) The special cocktail snacks that come with a coupe de champagne.

    5) Tucking into a lunchtime plat du jour that's hearty, hot and house-made.

    6) Chalkboard menus. I can't help it, I am a sucker for these. Also, any kind of formule. It's just so... tidy.

    7) Hot, toasted Poilane bread with melted butter. Also eating their walnut rolls for breakfast.

    8) St Malo fromage frais or yogurt with a spoon of wild cherry jam, that I bought from an abbey in Aveyron.

    9) Having my vegetables weighed at Monoprix and chatting with the guy whose job it is to weigh them.

    10) The cheesy, gooey aligot at Cafe Le Mistral in the 20th, which isn't going to win any gourmet awards, but we love because my husband has been friends with the owners for 20+ years.

    1. Not having to figure out how much to tip.

      Get stuff on rue Poncelet - picnic in Parc Monceau.

      Window shopping on Place Madeleine.

      Chablis mustard from Maille.

      Real cheese.

      Juveniles' foie gras au torchon.

      Pimente d'Espalette. (sp?)

      A warm baguette that's half gone by the time you get home.

      Madeleines from Lerch. Oh no! He's been gone for quite some time. :(

      And finally --- The most overrated food experience in Paris -- Berthillon ice cream.

      2 Replies
        1. re: jock

          You mention BBerthillion being overrated. Please suggest better srbet or gelato places.

        2. - A tartine beurré and a petit crème (grand crèmes are for tourists and deviants) at the bar while reading the paper.
          - A paté and cornichon sandwich, standing at a bar, washed down a panaché "bien blanche"
          - A freshly shelled hard-boiled egg, standing at the bar, with a second panaché
          - A lait fraise, at four in the afternoon, again standing at the bar
          - A cold "menthe à l'eau"...always at the bar
          - Perfectly ripe Camembert
          - Certain goat cheeses that get to a perfect state of maturation that even after years of living here I haven't learned the name for
          - Oysters, at 4 in the morning at the Pied de Cochon, even though you know it's a tourist trap but you're drunk and with good company.
          - Professional, but unobsequious waiters who aren't interested in becoming your friend, don't want to know "how we're doin' today?", and who's life's mission isn't to keep refilling your water glass
          - Offal and tripe
          - Amoral attitude to things epicurean (think cholesterol, fat, foie gras, pasteurisation, tobacco, alcohol...)
          - A Mauresque, only one, never two, sitting on a sunny terrace
          - A good green salad dressed with 2 or 3 ingredients.
          - The girls when the weather gets nice...Does this count?

          5 Replies
          1. re: vielleanglaise

            My top picks would be...

            Dragging a cart full of fresh food and fine wine from Montorgueil back to the apartment and enjoying it on the balcony on a pretty evening with my college sweetheart (that is worth the entire cost of the trip!);

            Hot coffee, fresh baked baguettes with cheeses and jams and blood OJ for breakfast; and,

            Walking to Ile St. Louis for lunch would be third.

            The "costs a fortune thing" I found offensive, but HEY! What do I know?

            1. re: vielleanglaise

              This is a very good point. More in Paris than anywhere else, extraordinarily pretty women seem to bloom as soon as the weather is nice. One really wonders where they are the rest of the time.

              I'm sure that counts.

              1. re: souphie

                Reading restaurant menus as you walk the beautiful streets.
                Oh, souphie, weather related beautiful scenery, exists in New York, as well.

                1. re: sethd

                  I know, but its very, very different. And the contrast is less stark, I find.

              2. re: vielleanglaise

                What a wonderful thread! I took a mini trip to Paris in my head just reading it and remembering. ;)