One of the things I immediately noticed upon arrival in Paris is the inordinate number of men and women walking around with a baguette in their hand. "How can they do that? Don't they know they're just living up to the most basic French stereotype? They should all grow handlebar mustaches, smoke cigarettes and wear berets." Nothing made me giggle more than passing by a man casually munching on a phallogical loaf of bread the size of his torso as they jauntily headed down the Rue Desjardins Mont Blanc Croissant. Then I found myself in the line at Pain Pain Paris, being handed a baguette that was at the perfect temperature to hold, not too hot that I had to juggle it, but still so warm I could have cracked it open and seen steam emerge. I found myself being told that most good bakeries in Paris will ensure their baguettes are coming out of the oven every twenty minutes, so that every one bought has this perfect temperature. I found myself being told that the butchers will give you advice on how to cook their meat. That the cheese shops will pair their cheese with the bottle of wine in your hand. THAT THE MACAROONS ARE MADE FRESH EVERY DAY. Why would you buy your cheese, meat, and bread at one big-box grocery store, when they've been sitting out all day being breathed on by slovenly big-box grocery store employees? Why would you even set foot in a grocery store when all of these specialty stores are within a ten minute walk from your apartment? WHY IS THERE NOT A BERET STORE ON THIS BLOCK? HOW DID THIS HANDLEBAR MUSTACHE APPEAR ON MY FACE?
These are the kind of questions you begin to ask yourself when you learn to shop like a Parisian and not like an American jerk. Allow me to explain.
When we were offered two spots on the Secret Food Tour Paris, we assumed it would be the usual "Follow a guide with a brightly colored umbrella, walk into a restaurant, get a small taste of some sort of French delicacy, walk out of said restaurant, maybe get told the history of foie gras or crepes or whatever, walk into another restaurant, rinse, repeat" type of food tour; but when we met up with our guide Guillaume in the Montmarte neighborhood of Paris, we were pleasantly surprised and excited to discover that we would be learning how to do what a Parisian does on a daily basis. Eating and drinking like a local, even for a few hours, is the dream of every tourist. And although Guillaume did have a brightly colored umbrella, he never had to use it.
Instead of having small bites at many places, we would be doing about ninety minutes of shopping, then taking our treats back to the Secret Food Office (at a Secret Food Underground Location JK it's near the Metro) for a feast with carefully selected and paired wine. Shopping + Food + Wine? We're in.
Our first stop was at a butcher--WAIT STOP. I'm going to begin using the French terms from here on out, as I'm basically a Parisian. Our first stop was at a boucherie (I FEEL FRENCHER ALREADY), where we were given delicious samples of Pate Campagne and garlic sausage before learning why most Parisians don't buy their meat at grocery stores: firstly, because it's better quality (FUN FACT ALERT: Good boucheries will leave the head and feet on their chickens because they are the first to go bad. Here's a rule that works for both chicken and dating: If the head and feet are fresh, the rest of the body is too. The bouchers will remove the head and feet when you're ready to buy, but that applies to chickens and not to ladies) and secondly, because the bouchers will give you advice on how to cook that leg of lamb or saucisson sec you just purchased. This particular boucherie was HOPPING with French folks, and we couldn't even make our way inside. Guillaume grabbed us some goodies for the Secret Underground Lair and we were on our way.
Next stop was the Fromagerie, where we learned one of the most interesting facts of the entire tour. If a cheese has the below sticker on it, it can only come from the region for which it's named. So if you see a Roquefort bleu cheese with this sticker on it, you know it came from the milk of a cow that lives in the Roquefort region of France and was processed and turned into cheese by magicians that live in the Roquefort region of France. If you see a Kraft salad dressing that says the word Roquefort on it, it probably didn't come from France. It probably didn't even come from a cow. It certainly wasn't made by magicians. Renee was extremely enamored with the French custom of letting their consumers know exactly where their food comes from, and I was extremely enamored with the fact that the cheesemongers cut their cheeses with a taut string (Yes, they're really called cheesemongers. Yes, I made a joke about cutting the cheese. No, Renee was not happy about it.)
GRIPE ALERT: Where was our cheese tasting at the fromagerie? THE BIG DOG NEEDS MORE TASTINGS ON THE TOUR.
We then headed to Pain Pain Patiserrie & Boulangerie, where Guillaume told us that if a store has those two words on the window, it means that all of the baked goods sold within MUST be produced on property. If you're buying eclairs from a bakery without those two words on the window, you're shopping like a real dope. GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS. We picked up a few baguettes and some pastry treats and we headed out. I was drooling at the unbelievable fresh bread smell too much to snap a great picture of Pain Pain, so in it's stead is a stock drawing of a french baguette holding a palette in front of the Eiffel Tower and Arc De Triompf. You're welcome.
Next we stopped at a Chocolaterie run by one of the Meilleur Ouvreir De France (an honor given every four years to the best culinary minds in France, basically the Iron Chefs of Europe) where we got to choose our own desserts and a Macaroon shop with over a dozen flavors (including Espellette Pepper and Dark Cherry BEST MACAROON EVER) before heading back to the Secret Underground Lair for our feast of all feasts. Guillaume also told us that there is a crepe on other tours, but the creperie was closed during our tour, so he would just give us extra wine. DONE DEAL GUILLAUME LET'S BE PEN PALS AFTER THIS IS OVER.
Curious what we got to eat? Don't worry. I've got you. Plus Guillaume wrote down not only everything that we got to enjoy (with a ton of wines paired while we gorged ourselves for almost two hours) so we could purchase it again when we went out the next day to shop like a Parisian. Here we go:
- Saint Maure De Touraine - Goat Cheese Aged in Ash - This was my favorite.
- Brillat Savarin - TRUFFLE TRIPLE CREAM CHEESE YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT
- Comte - 18 Month Aged Hard Cheese, Renee's Favorite. Famous and Very Popular in France.
- Munster - Not the delicious cheese from your childhood, but a super stinky soft cheese from Alsace.
- Roquefort - Seriously, I know you've had roquefort bleu cheese, but you've never had Roquefort Bleu Cheese. Without that sticker, the cheese you're eating isn't as sharp and floral and delicious. My mouth is watering right now typing about it.
I don't have a beautiful picture of the meat, because we drank A LOT of wine during the cheese portion, plus Guillaume gave it to us one meat at a time, and they couldn't possibly have lasted long enough for a picture.
- Pate De Campagne - Country Pate, who knew I liked Pate so much? I ended up buying some pate the next day for a snack and it was terrific.
- Saucisson a'l'ail - Garlic Sausage
- Audouille - GRIPE ALERT - This was pig intestine. And gross. I'm all for tasting gross food, but how a warning first, Guillaume? COME ON. Here comes a picture, so if you're grossed out easily, SCROLL SCROLL SCROLL.
- Pate De Tete - Better known as head cheese, and guess what, you guys. I LOVE HEAD CHEESE. Make the jokes you want in the comments COME AT ME BRO.
- Rillette D'Aies - Goose Rillette. Renee described it as like a meaty tunafish, and I agree. But delicious and not disgusting, since that sounds disgusting.
I don't want to ruin the rest of your Secret Food Tour if you decide to take it, but let me tell you this: IT INVOLVED DESSERTS AND A FUN FACT ABOUT ECLAIRS THAT MEAN EVERY ECLAIR YOU HAVE EATEN IN THE PAST IS DECLARED NULL AND VOID ECLAIR-WISE. Guillaume also gave us recommendations for the rest of our stay in Paris (not to mention wines and champagnes to drink, he was incredibly knowledgeable), but just shared in a real conversation about what it meant to live in Paris after the terrorist attacks which occurred earlier this year. We also got to take home our macaroons and truffles we bought earlier. We were literally saving them for days, eating the truffle one bite at a time for the rest of the week.
After spending an evening with Guillaume and learning how to shop correctly, we were able to enjoy our gastronomical time in France not only from a "how delicious is every meal" standpoint, but also from a "how much is this going to hurt our wallet" standpoint. We were able to put together this little ditty we enjoyed in a park for less than fifteen Euros, which included a bottle of wine:
Guillaume would be proud.