Paris: Day 8

May 16, 2018 • 11:30 am

Yesterday was Eat Cheese in the Park Day, with vague plans of ingesting a falafal sandwich in the Marais sometime thereafter. A visit to the lovely area of Le Marais, home of the falafel in Paris, did occur, but the copious pre-ingestion of cheese prevented further meals.

A morning walk revealed the finals of La Fête du Pain Paris (Festival of Bread of Paris) in a huge tent right outside the cathedral of Notre-Dame. This multiday festival, which involved the best bakers in the city making bread on the spot using moveable ovens, culminated yesterday in the award of the best baguette in the city. The winner was the son of a Tunisian immigrant, Mahmoud M’seddi, who, along with the award, has the privilege of being the sole supplier of baguettes to the headquarters of the French Presidency.

Here is part of the contest:

And today’s New York Times article about the winner (click on the screenshot to read it):

Groups of school children visited the tent, many getting a chance to be Baker for a Day, making their own breads and having them baked in an oven:

And so to the Rue Cler Market, where resides my favorite cheese shop in Paris, Marie-Anne Cantin, which sells dozens and dozens of different types of cheese, all perfectly matured in their cellar. Here are three of the four displays: two inside the store and one in the window (I’m not showing the counter with butter and fromage frais). I wish I could convey the aroma of this store in a post!

The goal was to pick five types of cheese to have as a picnic (with a crusty baguette, of course) in a nearby park. Our choices: Epoisses, a 40-month aged Comté, a perfectly ripened Camembert, a small oozing disk of St. Marcellin, and the aged goat cheese Pélardon. A nearby park with a view of the Eiffel Tower had a bench perfect for the picnic. The St. Marcellin, always one of my favorite cheeses when ripe and oozing, was pronounced the winner. Here’s a bite of cheese underneath the bough, a loaf of bread, a dearth of wine, but still Paradise enow.

Le Marais is one of the loveliest and most historic areas of Paris, with many fine buildings. It’s also the home of Paris’s Jewish community. Here’s the Agoudas Hakehilos synagogue, built in 1914 by the Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard, who also designed, among other things, the famous Art Nouveau Metro entrances.

A remnant of the days when most Parisians didn’t have bathing facilities, and so went to one of the many public baths:

The Marais is also the best place to get falafel. There are many stands, but L’As du Fallafel is the most famous. I wanted one badly but was too full of cheese to eat the overstuffed 6-Euro sandwich. It’s served with hummus, eggplant, and all the trimmings. It’s also kosher. While other places go unpatronized, there’s always a line here:

The menu; the thing to get is at the top: the “Fallafel Special”.

Many customers start eating their sandwich within seconds of getting it:

When I lived in Paris, the Jewish restaurant Chez Jo Goldenberg was famous, not just for its food (I never ate there) but because it was subject to one of the most notorious anti-Jewish terrorist attacks of the late 20th century, that of August 9, 1982. Engineered by the Abu Nidal group, it killed 6 people and injured 22. Suspects have been identified, but none have been brought to justice. It was a precursor to the later, ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in this city.

Here’s the monument commemorating it. The restaurant never regained its patronage, and finally closed 12 years ago. The victims included two Americans: Ann Van Zanten, a curator at the Chicago Historical Society, and Grace Cutler:

Although I was too full for a falafel, I had to try the gelato at Pozzetto, which is said to outrank Berthillon, purveyor of Paris’s most famous (and to my mind overrated) ice cream. After this review on came to my attention, I had to try it.

Pozzetto: People will tell you that Berthillon is the best—and obligatory—place to have ice cream in Paris. They’re not exactly wrong. It’s an institution, and definitely the yardstick against which other French ice cream should be measured. But I’d argue Pozzetto is better, even though if we’re being technical here this is gelato, not ice cream. Run by a Sicilian family, it’s a detour-worthy, mom-and-pop gem. The pistachio is made with Sicilian pistacchi, and if you don’t get a scoop of it, you’re an idiot.

I didn’t want to be an idiot, so I purchased a double scoop: pistachio and hazelnut, and both were fantastic. I am not an idiot!

Cats are always the symbol of elegance in Paris, as evidenced by Karl Lagerfeld’s beloved Choupette, whom I mentioned yesterday.

A Lego cat in the Marais; the Chinese symbols read “better luck”, as these are Good Fortune Cats:

The Marais is full of art galleries. Here’s a striking brass rhino in one of them:

The Place des Vosges, one of the swankiest parts of Paris, is a large square park completely surrounded by one big fancy building. As Wikipedia notes, “It was a fashionable and expensive square to live in during the 17th and 18th centuries, and one of the central reasons Le Marais became so fashionable for the Parisian nobility.” Here are two sides of the square taken from upstairs in Victor Hugo’s house, now a museum:

And a panorama from Wikipedia:

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) is of course one of France’s most famous authors, who wrote, among other things, Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. His house sits at the southwest corner of the square, and two floors are now open for a visit. It was too dark to take many photos, and flash was forbidden, so here are just two food-related items of Hugoiana.

This is the menu at the celebration honoring his 80th birthday. Look at those wines!

And the Museum has carefully preserved a piece of bread said to have been gnawed on by Hugo:

The entire sidewalk around the square is protected by an arched roof:


44 thoughts on “Paris: Day 8

  1. I suddenly want to visit a bakery staffed exclusively by five years old children. I’m sure the bread and pastries and service would be terrible, but also hilarious.

    1. That pic instantly brought to mind something I hadn’t thought of in years – that in third grade we took a field trip to the Wonder Bread bakery and all got little hats like that.

      1. We must be of an age — I too went to the Wonder Bread bakery as a child. I don’t remember the hats, but I remember getting a tiny enchanting loaf of bread.

  2. Sorry you didn’t get to have falafel, another of my favorite foods. I probably would have forced it down anyway but that’s just me.

    I don’t get the whole gelato vs ice cream thing. As I read it, the difference amounts to the amounts of cream vs milk and other ingredients, which all vary among the products anyway. My guess is the truth is vendors use the term “gelato” if they want the Italian branding, otherwise it’s just “ice cream”. All that matters is the taste regardless.

    1. Yeah, me too. But this was terrific as the pistachio wasn’t too sweet and had a distinct nutty flavor unlike the artificially flavored stuff you often find in the U.S. I don’t care whether it’s called gelato or ice cream as long as it’s good.

      1. When gelato first hit the scene here in LA it was wonderfully good. For one thing the selection of flavors was so much better than at places like 31 Flavors or the local supermarket. Unfortunately, it has definitely gone downhill in the last 20 years. Now “gelato” pretty much means “expensive” rather than “good”. Of course, good ice cream can be found but “gelato” on the sign means absolutely nothing.

    2. My sister is something of a gelato “snob” (the same way I am still a sushi snob despite the fact that I haven’t lived in Vancouver since 2001). I get the impression that at its best the freshness of the flavours is higher.

      I never order anything other than the sweet fruit kinds (lemon, raspberry, etc.) which are often not even really gelato but sorbet, so I’m perhaps missing something too.

      1. Yes, sorbet and sherbet are qualitatively different than ice cream or gelato but I am going to stick with my assessment of gelato vs ice cream. All of the differences given for the two are merely matters of degree: more/less cream/milk/sugar/etc. Same with “freshness of flavour”. Ice cream is often made using fresh fruit and consumed immediately after its making. Ice cream, gelato, and glacé are the same thing in different languages. Now over to the gelato snobs …

  3. I will have to find some St. Marcellin cheese. We have Epoisses at the local Ralphs Supermarket which is kind of hard to believe. It’s amazingly expensive but we have to have what we have to have. Perhaps they have St. Marcellin there too. Either way, I’m sure it won’t be as good as you’re having.

    1. I live near the French border and we often drive to France to get the better food. Epoisse is one of the most expensive soft and Beaufort one of the most expensive hard cheeses in France. Coming home with a baguette de tradition we generally end up with a cheese plate drowned with a Riesling. The French know how to live!

    2. @paultopping You will not get St. Marcellin cheese [along with many others] legally in the USA. You had a food club in LA that got busted in 2012 for importing banned cheeses. Those feds eh.

      You could…
      …go north of the border
      …get an accomplice to ship you the real deal
      …make it if you have access legally to raw milk in California
      …use the internetz. don’t have it & probably never will, but some French cheese sites may bend & send you the real deal rather than the inferior US-legal dead version. CHOWHOUND explains how although it’s a very old article & perhaps useless today.

      The accomplice thing is probably the best route if you’re not prepared to move 🙂

      1. Yes, I was afraid that would be the case. Thanks for the tips. Might have to move up my next trip to France.

        If I ever ran for office (not likely), my platform would include getting rid of silly rules like this. Vive le stinky fromage!

        1. Citizen militia USAian peeps should declare the banned stuffz to be for self-defence. 2nd Amendment protection. Voilà mon petit fromage de la liberté!

        2. Apparently there’s a product called Kinder Joys now – designed to swerve around Federal Snowflake Nannying *chokes on toy car*

        3. Spare a thought for us poor Aussies where it is illegal to produce raw milk cheeses but legal to import them.
          It is also illegal to sell raw milk, however some producers get around that by selling it as bath milk marked not for consumption.
          A child died a few years ago from drinking it though so I think I’ll give it a miss.

          1. It’s the same in Canada. It reminds me of the episode of Chef! when he goes to great lengths to get Stilton cheese.

  4. The juxtaposition of Hugo’s two most famous novels is interesting since there is a very wicked clergyman in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” (French title: “Our Lady of Notre Dame”) and a genuinely saintly clergyman in “Les Miserables”.

    Christopher Hitchens said that many clergy are good people but when they DO go bad, they do so in especially vicious, ugly, and rotten ways.
    It seems Hugo would agree.

    1. You must mean “Our-Lady of Paris”. The original title of Hugo’s novel is “Notre-Dame de Paris”.

    2. IIRC that clergyman is the one that was raping the girl but somehow ends up with a knife in his chest for which she is blamed and imprisoned (the exact details elude me).

  5. In the unlikely event I ever pose for a bronze nude, I want that rhino sculptor to do the honors. He or she seems flexible in the anatomical accuracy department.

    1. Funny you should mention that. When PCC mentioned going from the Opera to Galeries Lafayette, he must have passed the long line of delightful nude bronze ladies holding up street lamps all along the side of the Opera –

      Certainly brought a happy smile to my face.


  6. I know that cheese shop on Rue Cler! That’s the neighborhood we stay in every time in Paris. I’m looking forward to a return visit in June and in July! 🙂

    For all: The Rue Cler is a fantastic food-market street (and pretty well-known I think, so pardon me if I am patronizing!). I think it’s a must see in Paris. And not touristy.

    And, just around the corner from the Champs du Mars, La Tour Eiffel, and L’Ecole Militaire (and one of the places to pick up the Seine boat tours).

    1. I think (judging by the photo) the Champ de Mars was the ‘nearby park’ where PCC snacked on his bread and cheese underneath the bough.

      Though I couldn’t help but notice the omission (from the original quote) of the female company, personified as ‘thou’ by Omar.


  7. “This year’s prize for the best bread in Paris went to the son of Tunisian immigrants …

    Warms the cockles of my assimilationist heart.

    1. Reminds me of another North African fella mastered a quintessentially French milieu, the son of a Pied-Noir family name o’ Camus.

    2. I hope he can tweak it a little, like the Vietnamese do.

      In my view that’s the wonder of sharing – making new things that are a bit like old familiar things but also different enough to be exciting or fun or tasty or …

    1. We say that too in Germany: Leben wie Gott in Frankreich.

      Delicious food, museums to visit, lovely parks to sit in… divine indeed!

  8. For lovers of cheese I recommend the tv series Cheese Slices where the Australian host Will Studd travels the world to show where and how many well known and not so well known cheeses are produced. There is also a matching book with mouth watering photos.

  9. L’As du Fallafel is the one restaurant that’s been mentioned in this travelogue that I’ve actually eaten in, back in 2000. I was there on a weekday, and it wasn’t that crowded. It was a lovely meal. The name means The Ace of Fallafel.
    Marais is a terrific place to walk around. Lots of older buildings.

  10. I must make the effort and get on the Train to Paris, while the Tunnel is still open. Paris is such an elegant City.

  11. Would you count Handkäse as one of your five cheeses. Jerry? It’s about as unlike cheese as it could be and smells dreadful. Very low fat, though, if that’s what you want.

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