You get very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food.
— Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
For most of my weeklong visit to Paris, I felt just like Hemingway did. It is impossible to not eat something every few hours in this city, which has the potential to convert any food-nonchalant into a food-enthusiast. The care with which the French put into developing, making, and presenting their food left an indelible impression on me and my stomach. Within six days, I visited dozens of restaurants, eateries, chocolatiers, patisseries, cafés… And not a single one of them was disappointing. It is hard for food to go wrong in Paris, but here are some snapshots of the most unforgettable places I went to:
1. Relais Gascon
Address: 6 rue des Abbesses
I will never forget the bowl of “Salade Géante” I got here, which is their signature dish. The géante part is definitely true (the serving was huge by French standards); but the salade part is more questionable: all the Salades Géantes are covered with a layer of golden potato slices fried with garlic. This was hands down the best potatoes I had ever tasted. They were fried to just the right degree of crispiness, and the garlic added to the richness of their flavors. The freshness of the other vegetables in the salad offset the oiliness of the potatoes. You can also add a variety of items to your Salades Géantes, from duck Magret to prawns to avocado. The restaurant is only a short walk from the Sacré Cœur, so you can climb the hill leading up to the basilica afterwards to make yourself feel better about having consumed so much fried potato.
2. Une Glace à Paris
Address: 15 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie
A superb ice cream parlor in Le Marais that has a wide variety of small ice cream cakes (that look as pretty as the normal cakes you find in a Paris dessert shop), including an ice-cream mille-feuille that looks like heaven. It is run by two chefs, one of whom had been named the one of the best ice-cream makers in France and a world champion in pastry-making.
One of the flavors I got was “medovik,” which is the name of a Russian layered honey cake. It was a perfect mix of sweetness, creaminess and crispiness, and one of the best scoops of ice cream I have ever had. My favorite thing about this boutique is that my three scoops came in separate bulb-shaped glass containers. Finally, one ice cream shop understands mixing up different flavors is blasphemy. It is attention to details like this that leave the deepest impression on me; years later I may have forgotten the taste of the Medovik. but I will never forget the care with which my ice cream was presented to me.
3. Patrick Roger
Address: 108 Boulevard Saint-Germain
As a chocolate lover, I just had to pay pilgrimage to this famed shop, which is like the Louis Vuitton of chocolatiers. When I saw foreigners bulk-buying chocolates in the shop, it really reminded me of Chinese tourists buying up Louis Vuitton bags on Champs-Élysées. Patrick Roger is not just a chocolatier, but also a sculptor (who sculpts with chocolate, of course). Check out this choco-chimpanzee that was on display in the shop I visited:
I couldn’t afford much more so I just got a little milk chocolate candy for 3 euros. But even if you don’t plan to buy anything, you should still visit shops like this because you can effectively see them as museums.
4. Sadaharu Aoki
Address: 35 Rue de Vaugirard (they also have other shops in Paris, Japan, and Taipei)
Aoki is a patisserie from Tokyo who believes in “thick fresh cream, a fresh flavor of matcha green tea and its sensitive green color, a crispness of pastries, a glaze of black chocolate.” Need I say more? His shop features all the staples you see in a typical Parisian patisserie (like easter eggs/animal sculptures made of chocolate, beautiful cakes, croissants)—except they all have a green version made of matcha. I can’t think of a better way to start a day than with a matcha croissant, and I can’t think of a better combination of dessert-making cultures than those of Paris and Tokyo.
5. Nice Things
Address: 119 Rue Vieille du Temple
Allow me to digress from food for a moment. This is a shop for clothing and accessories by the Spanish designer Paloma Santaolalla. I was wandering around Montmartre after lunch and was attracted by the name of this shop, which turned out to be extremely accurate. Literally everything in the shop was nice, and I had a sudden urge to ship the whole store home with me. They have a whole selection of clothes in blue and white, my favorite color combination. The pricing was very reasonable considering the degree of niceness—just a little more expensive than mainstream shops like Zara and Mango. Definitely one of the best deals I have encountered in Paris. I bought four items from the shop but regretted not buying more upon returning and discovering that on the online store, the shipping fee to the US is 20 euros.
6. 20 Eiffel
Address: 20 rue de Monttessuy
A small establishment, literally right beneath the Eiffel tower, that serves authentic home-cooked French food. Given the location, you would expect it to be touristy, overpriced, and crowded. On the contrary, it was none of those. The restaurant only has around 10 tables, and the six of us were the first to arrive on that evening (We still hadn’t adjusted to the 9pm European dinners). The hostess welcomed us as if she has been waiting for us to arrive all day. The food was divine. My heart still cries a little as I think back to the poached egg with bacon I had for the entrée, and the crème brûlée which was so good that I had a sudden urge to order another one, but then decided against it considering the three macarons, one small cheesecake, and two scoop of ice cream that I had during the day (just a typical day for me in Paris). It was only after we left the restaurant that we realized it was listed on the Michelin guide to Paris.
7. Le Grand Épicerie de Paris
Address: 38 Rue de Sèvres
A large department store that only sells food—what’s better than that? This hundred-year-old shop is the “food counter” of the world’s first department store, Le Bon Marché. Girls Guide to Paris said that this shop alone is worth a visit to Paris, and I almost agree. You can practically fix all your food souvenirs with one single visit, and stock up on snacks that you won’t be able to find in America. They have at least five giant shelves for chocolate alone, and a whole floor devoted to wine.
8. Café Blanc
Address: 10 Rue Croix des Petits Champs
We came here for a lunch break from museuming in the Louvre, since it is only a short walk from the Louvre. It was so popular that we had to wait a little for a table (even though it had two floors), and all the conversation we heard was in French—always a good sign. The Magret de Canard I ordered was so flavorful that I thought to myself, finally someone in the Western world knows how to cook meat properly. Growing up I had always been fed Chinese meat dishes in which the spices and condiments were completely infused in the meat, but the meats I had in America were usually so bland that I need to add salt and pepper to them. Trust me, you will not need salt and pepper at Le Café Blanc. Perfect stop for Louvre-day lunch that allows you to escape all the tourists and overpriced shops at the Carrousel du Louvre.
Address: 31 Rue de la Parcheminerie
If you are tired of having French cuisine day after day and want to get your Asian food fix, definitely head to Lengué, a Japanese izakaya located in a quiet alley in the busy Latin quarter. The food here transported me to Tokyo, and there was absolutely no evidence of doctoring the food to pander to Western palates. Unlike most Japanese restaurants in Paris, there is no sign of “restaurant Japonais” on its exterior. There is simply no need to remind the visitor that it is a Japanese restaurant, an all-too-obvious fact given the décor and ambiance of the place. The okonomiyaki was just as savory as the one I had in a famous eatery in Osaka, and the miso eggplant just as authentic as the one I had in Asakusa. We finished off with black sesame ice cream that was exquisitely presented and decorated with little pieces of chocolate and crispies. Any girl would also fall in love with its fruity Japanese cocktails, which were perfectly sparkling and sweet.
10. Claus L’Epicerie du Petit-Déjeuner
We stumbled upon this German-style breakfast place while walking to the Louvre (it is only a 5-minute walk from the Louvre, so definitely recommended for pre-museum breakfast). The hot chocolate I had here was the best I’ve had in Paris—yes, even better than the one at Angelina. It had just the right balance between richness and sweetness, and the portion was just nice for me. As I enjoyed sipping it to the last drop while standing in line to enter the Louvre, I wistfully remembered the hot chocolate that I sometimes ordered in American cafés, which was inevitably a huge serving of diluted and bland chocolate mixed with water that I threw away after only a few sips. The fact that I came across such great hot chocolate without any prior research is a testament to the hidden joys that Paris has to offer.
Speaking of hidden joys, here are a few general tips to traveling in Paris:
There is no need to buy the Paris Visite (unlimited public transport pass for a few days) unless you’re going to visit areas outside of Paris. Paris is super walkable and you will always discover things that pleasantly surprise you. Like the other time when we accidentally walked through the Louvre while heading home at night. Or the other time when we stumbled upon the Panthéon without any planning. Wear sneakers or your most comfortable flats. Your feet will thank you at the end of the day.
Bring your largest suitcase but only pack 1/3 of it when coming to Paris. Fill the 2/3 with clothing, accessories, trinkets that you will buy in boutique stores that can’t be found outside of Paris. Buy a pair of new shoes, and use the shoebox to contain food souvenirs that crumple easily, like cookies and macarons.
Most desserts you will find here should be treated as ephemeral pleasures: macarons have a shelf life of only 4 days (if you put them in a fridge, that is), and chocolate can melt/break easily if they are not properly stored. Forget about shipping a suitcase of macarons home to slowly enjoy for the semester; buy small pieces and eat them immediately.
Be discriminate while buying maracons. In a country where even McDonald’s sells macarons, you want to filter out the substandard ones and only spend your money on the crème de la crème of macarons, like those at Pierre Hermé. They even gave me a flyer for the “Spring-Summer Collection 2016” for their macarons; as we looked at this flyer, we imagined little colorful macarons walking down the runway in the limelight, to the clicking noise of hundreds of cameras.