Paris is a gourmet capital — food and wine are vital parts of French culture. But as a visitor it can be difficult to experience the bounty like a vrai Parisien. First off there's the language barrier and second, sometimes small Paris stores can seem just a bit… intimidating. (J'ai peur… I'm afraid!)
To discover the best of the famous French foods — think truffles, oysters, caviar and cheese — you have to be adventurous. Here are some ways to get inside the culinary culture of Paris.
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Entering a Paris food shop, especially a small one, might seem intimidating at first. But just remember the golden rule — always say "bonjour" as you enter and "merci, au revoir" when you leave. If you're asked what you're looking for, just say "Je regarde" — I'm just looking. Once your intention is known, take your time to explore the shelves and displays.
There are well over two hundred independent cheese shops in Paris — the country's love affair with this famous French food knows no boundaries. It was Charles de Gaulle who said it was impossible to govern a country with four hundred types of cheese. Well, today there's something like one thousand different cheeses in France, due to the interest in artisanal foods. So you'll need to take your time when you visit a fromagerie. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to sample. Then pick a few different varieties — Comté, Brie de Meaux, and Camembert are top favorites. If you're feeling bold try a rich époisses, a zesty Roquefort, or a classic Crottin de Chavignal made with goat's milk.
At eight kilograms per person, the French are hands down the biggest butter eaters in the world. Even at le supermarché there is a head-spinning selection: unsalted, lightly salted, fully salted, AOC-listed, grass-fed — at least a dozen different types. One of the most coveted hails from Normandy, a creamy concoction made from fresh unpasteurized milk, called beurre cru. You can buy specialty butters in both supermarchés and fromageries.
French butter has a higher fat content than we're used to — that's why it tastes better !
The unofficial national symbol of France, the baguette unites the country and the culture. The French — every man, woman, and child of them — manage to eat an entire baguette every day. A meal without a baguette is unimaginable. But they have to be fresh — the best-before lifespan of a baguette is only six hours. But that's not a problem since boulangeries churn out fresh baguettes all day long. To get the real thing, look for "Artisan Boulanger" on the shop's signage. This means that the bread is baked on the premises.
Parisians judge a baguette by color and texture — the crust should crackle to the touch and the interior (called mie) should have lots of elasticity and irregular holes. Ask for baguette tradition or baguette de campagne — made on the premises, hand-formed, and often made with a sourdough starter.
In France, chocolate is an art form, a national obsession, and there are artisan chocolate shops throughout Paris. Look for praline (roasted almonds and hazelnuts) ganache (chocolate with cream, butter or milk), nougatine (a mixture of milk, sugar and butter), and pate d'amandes (ground almonds with sugar).
France produces over 150,000 metric tonnes of fresh oysters each year. (That's 287 million pounds, over four pounds for every man, woman, and child.) And les français eat 90% of the production by themselves. Along with foie gras and caviar, oysters define the essence of the good life in Paris. Order platters of fresh oysters, cracked open and served on a bed of ice with seaweed garnish, and with it, a crisp Sancerre white wine.
Many Paris restaurants, bistros, and brasseries will have an outdoor seafood display manned by an oyster shucker. Step inside to order une douzaine ou deux (a dozen or two).
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Paris is home to several gourmet grocery stores that warrant a special visit. La Grande Epicerie de Paris is found on the Left Bank and features a mouth-watering array of specialty chocolates, fleur de sel, olive oils, mustards, cheese, baked goods, fresh produce, fresh seafood, and a half dozen cafes and restaurants. This is the place to stock up on gifts for friends or to complete your culinary cupboard.
On the Right Bank is Fauchon, a luxury food shop that has been around for over a hundred years. It dominates an entire corner on Place de la Madeleine. You might recognize their bold fuchsia and black packaging on all their cookies, bon bons, jams, and chocolates, though what they are really famous for is their eclairs. On the opposite corner of Place de la Madeleine is where you find the Fauchon cafe… and even their hotel!
Not only are the wines of France the best in the world, you can find them for sale in every bodega, grocery store, supermarché, and epic gourmet hall. One of the best places to procure wine in Paris is at the biggest wine store of them all — Lavinia. Three floors of wines of the world, expert help (English-speaking sommeliers), and a café on the second level where you can order glasses of wine for as little as three euros.
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Wherever you go in Paris you will discover that delicious food isn't just for special occasions and doesn't always come with a luxury price tag. The best food in Paris is everyday eating, everyday cooking, and everyday pleasure.
Every quartier, in fact practically every corner, has one or two good-quality boulangeries, although you may have to try two or three to find the very best one. So shop locally! Every year in Paris there is an open competition for the best baguettes in the city. Here are recent bread winners — good places to start your search.
About French Food
• Food & Wine Activities…
• 10 Top Cheeses of France…
• 10 Best Pastries of Paris…
• Food Markets in Paris…
• The Best Baguette…
• 10 Best Cheese Shops in Paris
• 10 Foods Not to Miss…
• Paris Food Stores…
• The Aligre Market…
• The Best Paris Ice Cream…
• Famous French Foods…
• Easy French Recipes…
• French Dessert Recipes…
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