Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 14: A Last Taste of Paris

It was our last day in Paris and we wanted to leave with literally the taste of Paris in our memories. So we took Paris-Walks' Food Tasting Tour which featured the old Les Halles district.
Les Halles up to the 1970s was this huge wholesale food marketplace in the first arrondissement that was known as the "belly of Paris". With streets and streets of food suppliers, merchants, produce suppliers -- you name anything that had to do with food, Les Halles was the place to go.
This wildly colorful and unique market was moved out of the city center to the suburbs.
Today, Les Halles has become a major train station with a depressingly modern underground mall that features the usual chain stores, fast food outlets and (shudder) a Starbucks branch.

Our walking and tasting tour started at the exit of the Sentier Metro Station. Taking the Petits Carreux exit, we got out of the subway and found ourselves at the very start of Rue Montorgueil, one of the streets in the Les Halles area that continues the food tradition with its number of high quality shops, bistros, bakeries and cafes.

The entrance to Rue Montorgueil is at the corner of Rue Reamur.

Our guide, Mary Ellen starts off the tour by telling us that Parisians eat what is in season.
They shop for food everyday because they want their food always fresh (and also because they have small refrigerators in their equally small apartments).
Clementines are a variety of mandarin oranges and are the fruits in season this December.
As we listen to Mary Ellen do her introduction, she passes out these sweet, brightly colored fruits.
They look like they've just been picked from a tree -- the leaves are still a fresh dark green.

As we walk slowly down the street, I can't help but peer into the very attractive shop windows. Bacchus is a high end wine supplier according to Mary Ellen.

The real stop of the tasting tour is a fromagerie or a cheese shop. Outside the store is a glass chiller where a variety of cheeses have been packed. A sampler of 5 different cheeses is just 9 euros -- very affordable!

Inside the shop you see a wide variety of cheeses on display. These are mostly from artisanal farms, where producers make small quantities and deliver them to this store.
The shop keeper assembles a large tray of various cheeses for us to try, starting from the mildest, we work our way up to the strongest, oldest and smelliest.
Yum. I dearly love aged, smelly cheese!

Next stop is at La Mere de Famille -- this is a branch of the oldest sweet shop in Paris. It's been around since 1761!

There are a variety of sweets, confections, chocolates, marrons glaces -- if I had a sweet tooth, I would have gone into sugar shock.

But I did enjoy these small tidbits called Calissons -- made of almond paste and flavored with fruit essences, they weren't too sweet but deliciously nutty and chewy.
I particularly liked the non-fruit flavored variety.
These are a specialty of La Mere de Famille.

This is our guide, Mary Ellen and behind her is Stohrer, Paris' oldest bakery.
It was founded by Louis XV's pastry chef -- whose daughter eventually married into the royal family.
Stohrer is famous for its baba au rhum, which incidentally, was invented by the founder.
Today, it still sells the same cake, made with the same recipe.
The store is jam-packed with holiday shoppers and we move on to our next stop...

... Which happens to be perfect for this slightly damp and very chilly afternoon. We make a pit stop for hot chocolate, something that Paris is famous for.

L Atelier du Chocolat is not an ancient, historic shop but it treats chocolate very seriously.
These ladies explain their method of cooking hot chocolate and we get to try two varieties -- the sweeter caramel and the dark and spicy variant, which I prefer.
Aside from hot chocolate, the shop sells all kinds of chocolate confectionaries, bars, candies and even chocolate bouquets.

From sweet we move to something savory.
We leave Rue Montorgueil and head off for the small side streets still within the old Les Halles district.
We stop at Godard, where foie gras is the star of the shop. Everyone gets to try different kinds of foie gras on crackers and canapes -- I demur since aside from not eating meat, I am completely disgusted by the inhumane practice of how foie gras is produced and harvested.

Apart from foie gras, Godard also sells truffles -- at the astronomical price of 1,300 euros for one kilo! If you just want a sliver, 10 grams will cost you 13 euros.

Finally, we wind the tour down with a visit to a wine cellar.
St. Honore does not carry large quantities of wine but their bottles come from small, very exclusive and artisanal wineries.
What a fitting way to end our Paris vacation -- a toast to all the things we had eaten, drunk, enjoyed, experienced during these last two weeks.
Au revoir Paris -- as Hemingway said, wherever I go, you will stay with me -- for you are my moveable feast!

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