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Nov 24, 2010 12:06 AM

Tourist friend visiting me next week wants onion soup in the Marais

I can't remember ever ordering a gratinée myself, so I don't know where to take my friend with the memory (?) of wonderful onion soup here 20 years ago. These days it appears to be offered at places that probably use canned soup and an excessive amount of cheese on top to sell to tourists.

He doesn't want, and cannot afford, a fancy restaurant. Perhaps a café or even a take-out. I was thinking of the marché des Enfants Rouges, with its many food booths, but don't know if anyone sells onion soup there. My apt is near the rue St. Paul, so the closer the better to there.


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  1. Poor Randy, you guessed right.
    Onion soup is a tragedy.
    It has disappeared. The few that can be found is dish-washing water with onion and cheese.
    But it is very easy to make. (Is it so easy that chefs despise making it?)
    Would you consider making it at home?
    Your friend seems to want a tourist fantasy. Enfants Rouges is a good and inexpensive place for that. Café des musées on rue Turenne too.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Oh, yes, I could make a soup easily. But even if were 10 times better than the ones we could find dehors, it could not meet the fantasy.

      I'll check the menu and hours first at Café des Musées as it's closer.


      1. re: RandyB

        Look around Les Halles for any remaining trace. There may still be a few.
        I don't believe Café des Musées would have it. It is really an old-fashioned dish and no longer a Paris thing. For the same reason I doubt le Marché des Enfants Rouges would have it either since it is so associated with tourists and the place is not (yet) touristy enough.
        Forget about Le Marais. Everything is branché there.

        Really, as Parigi wrote, onion soup is a tourist fantasy of the past and disappeared about 30 years ago for a historical reason: it was closely associated with the Les Halles bistrots which never closed at night and where partygoers would get their restoring onion soup between 3 and 6 am before going home to snore.
        They would brush sleeves with the big brawny forts des Halles (butchers) in stained aprons who would take up two seats each and slurp down a huge bowl of fresh ox blood with chopped raw onions before starting their day's work. I saw them when I was a kid, before the early '70s when the Halles were destroyed.
        After that, onion soup became a free electron, unattached to any cultural basis except tourist demand, and dwindled and disappeared accordingly. It is only made at home now and still rarely. It is typically a pre-1980s dish.
        Now if you find onion soup in a bistrot you can be sure it will be based on stock cubes, perhaps a dash of Viandox, grated French emmental and stale baguette. A poor thing, to be found mostly where the tourists gather. Lately I saw two tall blondes digging their spoons into the thick cheese crust of their onion soup bowl at Palais-Royal, between the corner hotel and the Civette du Palais. The thing looked dreadful. They looked totally oblivious of that. I realized I hadn't seen a live onion soup for years.

        Les Halles as I wrote above may be a possible source. Look around the big brasseries on the Northwest side of the former hole, near Dehillerin and the rue du Louvre. Look South in the network of small streets between the hole (now a sort of park) and the rue de Rivoli. Look North and East around Saint-Eustache and rue Rambuteau. Chances are that some bistrots will serve it. It is possible that Le Louchebem and perhaps Chez Clovis might have it. I would be surprised if you couldn't find at least one onion soup near Les Halles.

        1. re: Ptipois

          Le Pied de Cochon serves it, but I've never tried it. A little less touristy, and less expensive too, I think that the Tambour on the rue Montmartre serves it too. Again, I've never tried it there.

          1. re: vielleanglaise

            I had it at Pied de Cochon 11 years ago (I think it was...) Though not the best I ever had, it was a pleasant experience. We tied it in with a visit to Dehillerin.

          2. re: Ptipois

            Wow, what memories. I remember les Halles from my childhood, too.

            You are right about both Café des Musées and Enfants Rouges. No onion soup. I passed by Chez Omar, where couscous costs 24€. When I was a student here, couscous was my cheap meal (after the Resto U, of course). At the Moroccan traiteur in the Enfants Rouges, a very generous couscous is 7,50 - 9,50, even more generous if you take it away.

            Moving further down rue de Turenne, I stopped at the Royal Turenne café. I often have a coffee there, just for people watching. Their English menu offers "home made" onion soup for 7,80€.

            I think I'll just send my friend (alone) to the boul Mich - la Huchette area. I'm sure there are lots of places selling onion soup, and I won't have to watch or "have a taste."

            1. re: RandyB

              "boul Mich"

              O that soooo dates you, dude.
              Yeah send him to the Latin quarter. Why have 2 victims instead of 1 ?

              1. re: RandyB

                I would really worry about anyone being sent to the La Huchette area* for eating. Whenever I use those streets as a convenient cut-through from Saint-Michel to Maubert I am appalled by everything I see. Just the stale frites being refried are faint material. Yes he will find onion soup but for the sake of his life launch him in the Les Halles district where he'll be less likely to be poisoned.

                * With the exception of the Chez Hamadi couscous joint which is a real restaurant, but no onion soup there.

                1. re: Ptipois

                  " I would really worry about anyone being sent to the La Huchette area* for eating."

                  That is why I agreed with Randy he should send his friend along there instead of his going with him, hence: "Why have 2 victims instead of 1 ?". However a visitor who cannot be talked out of his recherche du onion soup perdu, et ce, in the middle of the Marais, may find his bonheur in la Huchette.

                  Pti, your description of the old Halles makes me want to weep. So the onion soup was a proletarian byproduct of the old Les Halles market and disappeared with it… Looking for it is sort of like looking for Irma La Douce?

                  1. re: Parigi

                    >>> Looking for it is sort of like looking for Irma La Douce?

                    I should say so.

        2. Just got back, my best experience and a moderate$$ is L'alivi. 27 rue du Roi de Sicile. Not sure they have onion soup, but the food they have will make you forget about onion soup.

          1. Why does everyone who's staying in the Marais think that's the only place to eat?
            I have had a wonderful, non-dish-water onion soup at Chez Grenouille that was the best I've had since they closed Les Halles (yes I was there then) but it's in the far 9th a good 9 subway stops away:

            3 Replies
            1. re: John Talbott

              The 9th? That's pretty far west of the Marais, maybe near Rouen?

              Seriously, though, I only said the Marais so we could walk. But I'll mention Chez Grenouille to my friend. Thanks, John.

              1. re: RandyB

                "The 9th? That's pretty far west of the Marais, maybe near Rouen?"

                Uh, Randy, dude, I think JT is just this side of going postal.

                1. re: RandyB

                  What's wrong with Rouen? It's a lovely place, cute city, nice regional cuisine...

              2. Randy-- Terrific onion soup is to be had at the Cafe du Tresor, just off Rue Vielle du Temple on Rue du Tresor. Quite an informal place, and you need to be selective, but onion soup is one of the excellent dishes there. As well as steack tartare, if you fancy that. Nice environment as well.

                Cafe du Tresor
                5 rue du Tresor,
                corner rue Vielle du Temple

                3 Replies
                1. re: menton1

                  Thanks menton1. I know the place, but have not eaten there. I will definitely check it out.

                  I did check out Cafe Grenouille tonight, after seeing the Jacques Brel bio0musical (fantastic for Brel lovers). No onion soup on the menu, John.

                  1. re: RandyB

                    "No onion soup on the menu, John."
                    I don't think it was a "special.' Too bad. Thanks for the uptodate.

                    1. re: RandyB

                      Bouillon Racine has it on the menu. Avoid all the veggie places, like Potage du Marais, they use water as the base, and it does taste like pricey dishwater.

                  2. So, Randy, where did you wind up going?

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: menton1

                      Tonight chez moi for a peasanty cassoulet, preceded by Gillardeau No. 2's. A far cry from onion and from soup...

                        1. re: Parigi

                          Sounds just about perfect! We could be there in about 12 hours!