First, many thanks to Ann, who housed us in Paris, so that we could go at all. May your generosity be equally apparent in your dishes when you start culinary school in the fall.
"you got 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. when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in america would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to go was the luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the place de l'observatoire to the rue de vaugirard. there you could always go into the luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. i learned to understand cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when i was hungry. i used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted..."
-- A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
My Dad introduced me to Hemingway 11 years ago with the passage above, just before my first trip to Paris. The words were striking then, but the spark of truth in them set ablaze raw nerves this time around when Babs and I hit Paris on a tight budget, trying to conserve cash for when we were going to meet up with our fellow food dorks in San Sebastien.
1st row above: Asparagus and €49/kg wild mushrooms; The olive and spice counter at the food hall of Le Bon Marche, reportedly the world's first department store, on Rue de Sevres.
2nd row above: I'm not the only food paparazzi in Paris... but I did manage to catch a (crappy) shot of the Delicious Don of Rue St Dominique, Christian Constant, in the window of his latest venture, Les Cocottes.
This sojourn was clearly going to require superhuman levels of disipline, and a litle strategy.
I cross-referenced food bloggers Chez Pim, Chocolate and Zucchini, David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan, to triangulate a view on what was going to get us maximum bite for buck in Paris. I also sent out a Twitter SOS to see what friends who had gone before would advise. Here's a summary of learnings from this reluctantly frugal foodie.
Tip #1: When Tight on Dough in Paris, Eat Bread
Paris no doubt gags with gastronomy, but in reality many locals dine very simply for dinner on bread, cheese, maybe a little something else, and probably a glass of wine. So to buy research time, we joined the locals in the breadlines and bought baguettes, baguettes, and more baguettes, and picnic-ed on park benches, bridges, and by Ann's little balcony.
Above: Deli-bought tomato and mozzarella baguette and rabbit terrine for €6 per person, dined on at the Luxenbourg Gardens (as per Sunny D and Hemingway's advice); Market-bought tomato, comte cheese and onion marmalade baguette, probably for ~€3 per person
Tip #2: Settle in with the Early Settlers
Another good tip from Sunny D was to eat ethnic, specifically from the groups that had well-established enclaves in Paris. Chez Pim and David Lebovitz provided 2 gems: Fabbo pho and falafel, at La Bambou and L'As du Fellafel respectively.
La Bambou in P'lace de Italie -- a neighbourhood chockablock with Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Laotian eateries -- was our first sit-down dinner in Paris. At 9.30pm there was still a line out the door and once we got through, there was a cacophony of Cantonese, Vietnamese, and French from Asian faces. Good signs of street cred.
I ordered the house special pho (a.k.a. with everything -- beef slices, meatballs, tendon, and how could I say no in Paris...tripe). Babs and I also caved into appetizer avarice, and shared a salad with prawns, jellyfish and slices of belly pork. By the time I was digging into the cauldron of beef broth that showed clear respect for lovely bones and boiling time, I was tearing with happiness....and the deliciously fierce red chili slices.
L'As du Fellafel, on the other hand -- and the other bank, in Paris's thriving Jewish quarter -- provided a bargain stand-up dinner of pita overstuffed with moist falafel or meat of choice, with shredded cucumber, red cabbage, smoky grilled eggplant cubes, garlicky tahini and a sweet chili sauce. Oy veh!
Tip #3: For Fine Food, be Finicky
Over the 3 days we were in Paris, I slowly crafted a priority list in my head for the requirements of our headline (waistline?) act. I wanted 1) traditional French cuisine; 2) the traditional French cheffing approach of basing the day's menu on the best of the market offerings; and 3) not having to sell a kidney to pay the bill.
Christian Constant's cafe -- inspired by the recipes of his Basque-region grandmother -- fit the bill perfectly. We trekked a little east of the Eiffel Tower, and down Constant's growing Rue St Dominque stronghold, which houses his gastronomic HQ, fish foundry, cocotte canteen, and Cafe Constant.
Once inside, we dawdled over the chalkboard menu, and finally decided on 1 pre-fixe (i.e. bargain) 2-course meal and another 2 courses ala carte.
Pre fixe menu: A warm rocket salad with prawns and parmesan, followed by a very old school pork loin and lentils
Ala carte: A chunky lobster ravioli in bisque, followed by beef tenderloin on a bed of rocket (always a great pairing) and very creamy savoury mash.
Babs spotted Monsieur Constant making the rounds with the customers, but I have to admit I was very happily distracted at the time.
Afterwards....a delicious afternoon nap at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Bon appetit, frugal foodies. And if you have other max-bite-for-buck recommendations for Paris, please do share your expertise here. Paris may be a moveable feast, but I for one am hoping to go back, this time hopefully before another 11 years go by.
70, Rue Baudricourt
75013 Paris, France
+33 1 45 70 91 75
L'As de Fellafel
34, Rue Rosiers
75004 Paris, France
+33 1 48 87 63 60