Ten unexpected food experiences in Paris

So, we all know about croissants, baguettes and Camembert, but if we’re honest, it’s far more exciting and interesting when we have slightly unexpected encounters with food: something we didn’t expect to find, or, at least, not where we found it…

10. The Cuban stall at the Christmas market at La Défense. A combination of not associating Cuba with Christmas (although I don’t know why, because clearly they have the 25th December over there too!) and not really expecting anything Cuban in the big, skyscraper-filled business district, but this one really surprised me. That, and they had plantain crisps like when I was in Ecuador, and the funny stuffed potatoes that there was a man selling when I was sat waiting for a bus (for a good hour) in Mindo (for some reason it was crucial to his sales patter that they were Cuban. Crucial, as in he just kept repeating ‘Papas cubanas rellenas!’ But that’s another story…).

9. Du Pain et des Idées. I’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s a fairly fancy bakery (and one that makes really good pastries), currently half-buried under next door’s scaffolding and down a rather unpromising street sort of by the place de la République and the Canal Saint-Martin. Have I been known to plan to deliberately pass by just to pick up a pastry? Why yes, yes I have…

8. Mr Kipling’s mince pies. In the food hall of Galeries Lafayette. I don’t know what’s oddest about this: the incongruous presence of Mr. K amongst the whole cured hams on carving blocks, marrons glacés, Swiss chocolate truffles and jars of very expensive fish soup, or the fact that they’re 4.99€ per half dozen. But it’s very strange.

7. Speaking of strange, the Marks & Spencer’s at Beaugrenelle. The one on the Champs Elysées is a bit odd, but this one takes strangeness to a whole new level… It essentially feels like any other M&S back home, complete with slightly mad scram around the bakery counter and special offers on curry meal deals. Which, when you’re in Paris, is weird.

6. Crustless bread. In fact, I don’t really understand supermarket bread at all. There are the sad looking baguettes (why do supermarket baguettes always look so sad and limp and stale?) and then there is the oddly white bread (as in, whiter than any bread I’ve ever seen) with no crusts. The packet assures me that it’s a ‘crust-free recipe’, but I don’t believe that. (Incidentally, what do they do with all of the crusts they’ve cut off?) There is also occasionally what they call ‘American bread’, which is what we might think of as sliced bread, but they appear to consider it more normal to turn a brioche roll into a sandwich than touch that weird stuff!

5. The chestnuts roasted on an old oil drum in a shopping trolley (OK, it may not actually be an oil drum, but that’s what it looks like! And it is definitely a shopping trolley…). The guys selling them appear to have multiplied as Christmas approaches, although I can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone buying any (perhaps unsurprising given the rather unconvincing way they sort of prod the small handful they’ve got on there every so often). Still, they smell pretty nice.

4. The whole head of cauliflower at Miznon. That sounds ridiculous. When you see it all crispy and grilled and yummy, and they offer it chopped up in a pitta bread with yummy sauces and salad and things, or just on its own, on a plate, as a side dish, there is really no excuse to say no. It is better than cauliflower cheese, better than cauliflower fritters (and this from a girl that adores both of those things). Cauliflower will never be the same again. And I bet you didn’t think that was something I’d come back from Paris saying!

3. McDonalds have an espresso and macaron deal. I haven’t tried it (I don’t know how long I’ve been boycotting McDonald’s), but it makes me giggle a little every time I see it. No matter how strong your brand identity, how universal your product, how Anglophone your menu, with it’s BigMacs and its Double Cheeseburgers, to really win over the French something’s got to give. And if the French don’t come, you’ll probably get the tourists for the novelty value anyway.

2. Speculoos biscuits, in their many forms. I know them simply as the funny cinnamon biscuits you get for free with coffee. Here, they’re a BIG THING. As in, you get Speculoos spread, nougat with chunks of Speculoos, Speculoos coffee, chocolate with bits of Speculoos, Speculoos coated in chocolate… I mean, they’re not nasty or anything, but they are basically the biscuits you get free with coffee. And when you have as many nice sweet things as the French, this seems a little bit mad.

1. The man at the Sunday market on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir with his little churro machine. In complete contrast to the super slick operation of the Champs-Elysées Christmas market version, he built up a little gaggle (don’tcha know the French don’t queue?) of people waiting for theirs. He would not be rushed. He had a sort of question-nod look, to which you responded with the number that you wanted. Once ready, he hand-rolled them in sugar and popped them in a paper bag with a serviette. He was missing teeth and had slightly-less-than-clean hands that he wiped on his apron. He didn’t offer Nutella (but for the amount that you saved on buying them from aforementioned Champs-Elysées market, you could have gone to the supermarket and bought a jar!). He made my day.


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