During my recent trip to Paris, I had a goal.
This goal didn’t include seeing the Eiffel Tower, walking the Champs-Élysées or loitering in the Louvre. Gilded obelisks were not seen by me. The closest I got to the Arc de Triomphe was riding the métro that runs under it.
Sightseeing was not high on my list of things to do. Or in this case, my list of things to eat.
So like I said, I had a goal.
And this goal was purely focused on the consumption and acquisition of Asian, African and Middle Eastern food: all that I could eat, and all that I could fit into my luggage. Because, as we’ve discussed before, I live in a small-ish seaside town where there is no non-european presence whatsoever. Drastic times call for drastic measures and a half empty suitcase.
Steak frites and beef bourguignon would have been just lovely, but I instead ate curry and ramen. During my 6 day trip, I ate Indian food…twice. Judge me if you want, but I was in desperate need of spice and French food isn’t going anywhere. It could be enjoyed another trip.
Algeria, until 1962, was a colony of France. There are now about 800,000 Algerians living in France today and they didn’t come empty handed. In Paris, there are a number of Algerian cafes and patisseries. The French influence is most visible in Algerian pastries. Each pastry is crafted like a piece of art, with care and consideration. There are different textures, a variety of colors, some ornate, some simplistic. Lots of marzipan, lots of almond. All in two-bite size packages.
La Bague de Kenza, 106 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011 Paris, 11th Arrondisement, 01 43 14 93 15
The star of the show. I ate a LOT of Indian food in Paris. Although not as high in numbers as Algerians, there are a fair amount of Indian expats in France as well. Much of them came from French colonies in India and other Francophone countries off the western coast of Africa.
Just north of Gare du Nord, the Indian population has carved out their own hood. The La Chapelle neighborhood in the 10th is filled with Indian restaurants of all kinds plus a good handful of bodegas and markets.
Eating Indian food in France can be hit or miss. It’ll be a “miss” if you get the French treatment. Spices and heat aren’t popular there, so unless you ask for the big guns, you likely won’t get it. It’s even better if you can bring an “ambassador” as proof that you can take the heat.
Par exemple, my first Indian meal was at Pooja, a half indoor/half outdoor Indian cafe favorited by my American-in-Paris host. We had vindaloo, tikka masala and aloo gobi, all typically warm to hot standards. We asked for the heat, but they still hesitated. The food was great, really delicious, and slightly spicier than what the French would have received. But that holy-shit-I-need-to-swig-a-beer-to-stop-the-fire-in-my-mouth was missing. I still left satisfied.
My second meal was at Dishy in La Chapelle. I was invited out by a new friend Gaëtan who hailed from Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa who’s cuisine is heavily influenced by India. We plowed through an uber delicious and creamy coconut rice, prawn curry, vindaloo, two kinds of naan and an eggplant dish. Saying they were spicy would be a flat out lie. They were molten. Lava poured out of my ears.
They also brought out a condiment I have never seen before that my friend requested. It was a pickled chile loaded with turmeric. It was awesome and practically melted off my face.
As I eyeballed the other tables, it became clear that we were the only ones perspiring. The only ones who looked like we were in a state of utter pain and complete pleasure at the same time. Gaëtan was my ticket to the good stuff.
The next day, I trekked back to La Chapelle to do my shopping. There is one large-ish Indian supermarket in Paris. It’s small, but crammed to capacity. Meandering the super tall and incredibly narrow aisles was an exercise in both overstimulation and futility. I wanted it all, but only had room for 13 kilos in my suitcase. Exactly. I checked.
I came home with sesame seeds, bulgur, a kilo of cumin, lots of curry paste, a few jars of that turmeric pickled chile, fenugreek and dried chiles. The market also had a fairly decent product section. If I were local, I’d be there a lot.
Pooja, 91 Passage Brady, 75010 Paris, 10th Arrondisement, 01 48 24 00 83
Dishny, 25 Rue Cail, 75010 Paris, 10th Arrondisement, 01 42 05 44 04
Cash and Carry, 11-15 Rue Cail, 75010 Paris, 10th Arrondisement, 01 40 05 07 18
There are clusters of Japanese restaurants all over Paris. Down the block from Opéra, a handful of ramen shops are huddled together with humongous pots full of fragrant ramen broth. We slid into the last seats at the bar, inches from the Japanese chef slinging noodles and broth. We started with a few dozen pan fried gyoza before the main event. There was no need for the formality of a waitress. The chef handed our steamy bowls to us over the bar. Rich broth, tender noodles and a slices of beautifully moist roast pork.
Kadoya, 28 Rue Sainte-Anne, 75001 Paris, 2nd Arrondisement, 01 49 26 09 82
There are two large Chinese supermarkets in Paris. Naturally, they are located next door to each other. I journeyed down to the 13th on a Sunday morning intending to hit Tang Fréres, the biggest of the two. However, the brothers Tang had decided to take the day off. So I headed next door to Paris Store, slightly smaller but still packed with many of the southeast Asian goodies I needed. I left with 5 bags of stuff for only 23 euros.
Tang Fréres, 48 Avenue d’Ivry, 75013 Paris. 13th Arrondisement, 01 45 70 80 00
Paris Store, 44 Avenue Ivry, 75013 Paris, 13th Arrondisement, 01 44 06 88 18
Last but not least, the grand ol’ U.S. of A. I’ll start by saying I did not intend to partake in American fare in Paris. I’m not that stupid. But my darling friend from NYC promised me that eating a burger in Paris would be a good decision. She didn’t seem high at the time, so I chose to believe her.
It was a damn good burger, if not great. Just look at it with it’s brioche bun, melted sharp cheddar and big meaty center. It must be mentioned that under that bun are pickles. Real dill pickles. And the fries were crispy and perfect.
It did have its French twists. The fries came in a soup terrine. It was accompanied by sparkling water. And it came with a second cheese. A creamy, herby goat cheese akin to heaven that I licked from my fingers.
Since I was in Rome, I did as the Romans, err, French. I ate my burger with a knife and fork, yes I did. And I kinda liked it. All the food went in my mouth instead of all over my hands and arms (I’m messy). The secret is pressing down the burger before you cut. You are welcome.
La Bellerive, 71 Quai de la Seine, 75019 Paris, 19th Arrondisement, 01 40 36 56 77