Someone said Paris is a moveable feast. Indeed, you’ll discover that the city that embodies beauty and romance is truly a feast for the senses.
It’s especially a city to taste: an espresso and croissant at a sidewalk café, a simple picnic of fresh bread, cheese and local wine exploring the fruit and vegetable markets and perhaps a sweet indulgence at one of the city’s legendary chocolate shops.
For the French, eating is as much a way of life as keeping alive and the purchase of the varied and abundant regional produce is all part of the city. Unlike many cities, Paris doesn’t really have a shopping centre and whenever they can, locals prefer not to stock up at a supermarket for the week but to shop carefully at various food shops for the next meal or two. When I grew up in England, this is also the way I saw my mother shop every day for the evening’s dinner.
Almost every neighborhood has its own market streets that usually contain a bakery, cold and smoke meats, cheese shop, wine shop, pastry shop, and at least one chocolate sweet shop. It was a way of life to go into each and have a chat. Dining out in French restaurants is a nice splurge, but you can’t beat the epicurean delights of a Paris gourmet picnic enjoyed in one of the city’s many beautiful parks.
My younger sister went to University in Paris and I visited her often. The family would go see her for a weekend monthly. Here are some of our favorite picnic spots:
- Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of the city
- Jardin des Plantes, founded in 1620 as a herb garden for Louis XIII
- Places des Vosges, one of the most charming neighborhoods
- Parc des Buttes Chaumont, lovely views of Montmartre.
The first essential is bread and the French should know. They consume 10 billion baguettes annually. Bread shops are ten to a penny in Paris but for something special, visit Poilane, 8 Rue de Cherche Midi (Metro-Saint Sulpice) to buy the other French bread.
Inside the most famous boulangerie in Paris, founded in 1932 by Pierre Poilane, bread making is a passion and a tradition. The baguette may look strange tucked under the arm, but the large round sourdough loaf of the Poilane bakery is historically the bread of the people, the same bread that fed centuries of peasants. Upstairs is a library which houses 2,500 books devoted to the subject of bread. The richest source of its kind in the world.
The French like their bread crusty, but while a long skinny stick shape increases the crust to crumb ratio, it’s not purely French in origin. The renowned French bakery chain, Retrodor, says the baguette (literally stick ) emerged in the l9th century combining a fine Viennese flour and a low acid fermentation called polish or Polish. This is described by American bakery guru Rose Levy Beranbaum as a light crumb with large holes and a crisp, but tender, crust.
A standard baguette is between 24-28 inches long made with soft, creamy long protein flour, water, salt and a little yeast. It requires minimal kneading, a wet dough, and long fermentation. In the 1960’s traditional baguettes began to disappear with the introduction of mechanization but France’s 1993 bread law stipulated strict guidelines for the production of artisan French bread restored the baguette to its rightful place of honor.
Next on the shopping list is cheese. Fromagerie Alleosse, 13 Rue Poncelet is one of the best cheese shops in Paris. The cheeses mature in the cellars. Of course, after you have the bread and cheese, then you must buy a bottle of Burgundy.
Some other favorite places to visit: Rue Lepic, the original Montmartre street market and the most authentic in Paris. Rue Montorgueil, one of the most beautiful market streets with a fine selection of foods, Boulevard Richard Lenoir/Marche Bastille, arguably the best market in Paris and Boulevard de Magenta/Marche St. Quentin, this iron and glass covered market built in l866 is a maze of corridors lined mostly with gourmet food stall
Maureen Jones is President of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street in Los Altos. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure. All Horzions is a member of the Signature network.