In the "Simply Sara Eats " series, I recount the my favorite food and drink discoveries.
Hosting friends and family from the US in Paris presents me with a quandary every time. Do I take the opportunity to try new restaurants or do I gravitate towards places I know are solid choices to get a proper food experience in France? While I occasionally try out a new place or two, I inevitably can't hold back my excitement to share some of my favorite bonnes adresses. My aunt and cousin were here in the beginning of July and as I reflected back on their trip, I recounted some of my favored Paris haunts.
Here are five food experiences I love to share with any guest visiting Pars:
1. Going to a outdoor market.
Walking through an outdoor market is one of my favorite activities. There is something that attracts me to markets as they allow me to see how locals shop and what they eat. It offers a window into a pocket of real life that you can't get if you stick to the well-trodden tourist paths of say, the Champs-Élysées. It is a sensory experience to see the colors of flowers, smell the pungent cheese stands, hear the vendors calling out the prices of produce, and taste some of the food. I love markets so much that they serve as a safe haven for me even outside of Paris when I'm traveling (like when I was feel lonely and weary in London).
When my aunt and cousin were here, I knew I wanted to give them a chance to wander around a French market. One of the best for this is Marché Bastille, which is open on Thursdays and Sundays. It is quite large and features everything - produce, fish, meat, cheese, scarfs, prepared food, flowers, kitchen wares, clothing, toys, souvenirs, jams, juice, and more.
A walk through an outdoor market also gives people a taste of how the French view food. There is more honesty about what food actually is and where it comes from. Heads are still attached to the animals on display to demonstrate freshness. Food is presented in a more natural, raw state. There's an honesty about where the food we eat comes from, and an understanding of what it is supposed to look like in nature rather than dolling things up with artificial coloring.
Besides, you never know what you may find walking around...
Make the most of the trip to the market and purchase picnic supplies for later, and/or stop at one of the stands for a quick and inexpensive lunch (the Lebanese stand is my favorite!).
Located on Boulevard Richard Lenoir from the bottom of the street (by the Bastille metro) and continuing northward to where rue Saint-Sabin intersects
Market is open on Thursdays and Sundays, from 8am until about 1:30pm
(Read Oui in France's post of how to behave in the market before you go!)
2. Sampling macarons from Pierre Hermé
The French really know how to make delectable desserts that looks too gorgeous to eat. While there are so many pastries to try, one that I make sure every guest gets a taste of in Paris is the macaron.
Macarons are gaining some popularity in the US, perhaps vying to be the next dessert craze after cupcakes and frozen yogurt finish their reign. If you're not familiar with them, let's clear this up tout de suite - they are comprised a meringue-like cookie sandwich with a filling such as buttercream or ganache. Not to be confused with the tasty but not nearly as intricate (or interesting) coconut macaroon.
There are lots of places to purchase macarons in Paris, but no one visits me without going to my all-time favorite, Pierre Hermé. His classic flavors are wonderful, like the caramel au beurre salé or the popular Mogador (milk chocolate and passion fruit). Or be adventurous and prepare to be blown away by some of his creative flavor combinations, like his olive oil and vanilla macaron or the foie gras combinations he makes at Christmas time. My obsession this summer is his new Jardin sur la Baie d'Ha Long, a Vietnamese-inspired macaron with coconut cream, lime, ginger, and coriander.
If I got carried away just now, please hear me out as I sum it up: Don't leave Paris without stopping by one of the various locations and try a macaron!
Multiple locations throughout Paris, see website for locations and hours
3. Eating dinner at a classic French bistrot
Some of my favorite restaurants in France are down-to-earth, classic French bistrots. There's a simplicity to a bistrot that makes me feel comfortable and at home, without sacrificing outstanding food for that comfort. There are a few in Paris that I love, and one of them is the Café des Musées in the Marais.
It's always a good idea to make a reservation in advance, even if it's the same day. Every time I've made a reservation, I've been seated upstairs in the pretty dining room with big windows looking out to the street. Otherwise there is a dark basement you can sit in and still enjoy the wonderful food, but the ambiance is nowhere near the same experience.
Besides the fantastic food, pretty dining room, friendly staff, and central location, there are a few more things that make this restaurant accessible to any guest that comes to visit. There are English menus and wait staff who speak English. And the menu has options for anyone. The steak and fries is a solid choice (and excellent one at that) for those getting used to all the meat options in France. Vegetarians/vegans can be assured that there is a seasonal vegetable entree option. And everyone leaves full and happy.
They are open for lunch as well, which I also recommend. Every day they have a different lunch special, which is a starter and main entree for €15. It's a great deal if you are flexible to try out the daily offering!
49, rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, France
Phone: 01 42 72 96 17
4. Getting a taste of Italy
I know, I know, this is a little controversial. Why do I love to take visitors in Paris for an Italian meal instead of a French one?
There was a time when I thought the very idea of going to an Italian restaurant in France was a meal wasted. Not anything against Italian food (or any other food from another country), but why spend precious time in Paris and not enjoy French food at every opportunity?
Then this came into my life: a cart at the entrance of L'Osteria Dell'Anima where a woman stands cranking out fresh pasta before your eyes. Often while speaking Italian to the other staff.
This little hole-in-the-wall restaurant on rue Oberkampf makes the best pasta I have had in France. And as visitors kept coming over from northern New Jersey, I realized for many of them it was the closest they had ever been to Italy (or at least on that trip). And it is a known fact that every north New Jerseyan loves his/her pasta and pizza with a passion. Not convinced? Watch this funny SNL skit that a friend recently introduced me to - the first minute or so will paint a better picture for you.
Homemade pasta, fresh produce, and Italian wine/beer/liquors. Oh, and a pasta dish averages for €12-€17, making it a relatively inexpensive dinner option. Need I say more?
Make a reservation as there are about 10 tables in restaurant. And please only pass along this recommendation to dear friends and immediate family members - it's one of my secret spots in Paris and I still want to get a table there easily!
37, rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris, France
Phone: 01 43 38 40 03
Hours (from TimeOut) Closed Monday, Open Tuesday-Sunday from 12pm-2:30pm / 7:30pm-11pm
5. Drinking wine in Paris
Next to bread and cheese, wine rounds out the base of the food pyramid according to the French. So no trip to Paris would be complete without a stop for a un verre de vin.
One place that I can't get enough of is Le Baron Rouge. Located in a residential section of eastern Paris, Le Baron Rouge is a perfect hang-out for a glass of wine and a light snack (think cured meats, pâté, cheese, and oysters, when in season). Wine by the glass is priced very reasonably, often ranging from €2 -€5.50 or so. The staff is friendly and can make great wine recommendations.
While this spot is not unknown, it is a great mix of tourists and locals alike. There isn't much seating, so you will likely find yourself standing around the large barrel with others. On nice days, the crowd pours into the street as locals get off work and head here to unwind after a long day. Just note that Le Baron Rouge closes at 10pm, making it a great before-dinner apero stop!
Le Baron Rouge
1, rue Théophile Roussel, 75012 Paris, France
Phone: 01 43 43 14 32
Hours (as listed by Google maps): Monday 5pm-10pm, Tuesday-Friday 10am-2pm / 5pm-10pm, Saturday 10am-10pm, Sunday 10am-4pm
Bon appétit and santé!
Do you have any Paris favorites?