From saucissons to macarons - Celia Canning takes us off the tourist track and shares the insider's guide to Paris' gourmand secrets.
The closest we can get to translating "le plaisir" is probably delectation. But it doesn't quite convey the little je ne sais quoi which so befits the the French attitude to food. "Le plaisir" is what will push someone to travel miles to hunt down a particular cheese, a brand of apple for his tarte aux pommes, a saucisson, a pot of farm cream. It's not just about a great taste, it's about conviviality, sharing and a good story.
In a day and age when we read the small print on the packaging to see how many Es and hydrogenated this's and converted thats there are in the food we buy in supermarkets, it is reassuring to know there are individuals out there who are passionate about the quality and the uniqueness of what they sell, who seek "le plaisir". I tracked a few of these down in Paris.
La tete dans les Olives
10 rue Sainte Marthe - 75010 Paris.
Metro: Goncourt, Belleville or Colonel Fabien
Stepping into this shop barely bigger than a cupboard is like walking into a poem. Sacks of freshly picked pink peppercorns still on their branches, unlabelled jars of sundried tomatoes, capers, dried lemon skins, lemon molasses, almonds and huge bunches of oreganum set the tone.
But Cedric's main line of business is olive oil. Plump stainless steel demi johns filled with this liquid gold line the shelves. Ten years of working hand in hand with Sicilian olive growers on site has earned Cedric the respect and trust needed to re-think and enhance traditional methods. He is passionate about his work and a staunch believer in diversity. The olives are harvested and their oil extracted one olive grove at a time. "One grove, one oil!" he boasts or sometimes it's even "one tree, one oil".Cedric exalts the beauty and extraordinary performance of Nunzio's 1000-year-old olive tree which continues to produce 45-55 litres per year. And those sparkly eyes burst into flame as he shares his dream of creating the ultimate olive oil experience with a delicate combination of selected olives, like a creator of some prestigious perfume.
42, rue des Martyrs - 75009 Paris
Metro: Saint Georges
If you can't make it to Corsica, the stunningly beautiful island in the Mediterranean off the southern French coast, you can always hoof it up the rue des Martyrs (9th arrondissement) on your way to Pigalle and the Sacre Coeur and stop off at Terra Corsa for a platter of Corsican charcuterie and cheeses. Do not be put off by the misshapen, dusty brown saucissons, coppa (dried sirloin), figatellu (seasonal sausage made with liver) and cured hams strung up in the store and looking like something from an archeological dig. Eaten thinly sliced with a glass of Corsican rosé, their subtle smoky, authentic flavours will conjure up images of wild boars rooting round in the chestnut forests, of timeless places where hams hang to smoke in chimneys and sheep are milked by hand. To round the trip off, try a couple of other Corsican specialties: a hunk of crystallised "cedrat" (not quite a lemon) and a traditional anis flavoured biscuit.
39 rue Cler - 75007 Paris
Metro: La Tour-Maubourg
I have yet to discover better ice creams and sorbets than Martine Lambert's. Cutting corners and trends are not part of her icecream-making philosophy, which resumes as an endless quest for the best. An icecream-maker for the past 36 years, she continues to select the fruit for her sorbets which have to be sun-ripened to perfection and hand-picked - if necessary, flown in (mangoes, vanilla, passionfruit). The milk and cream come from unstressed, happy cows grazing lush Normandy pastures. There are only 3 Martine Lambert shops, two on the Normandy Coast (Deauville and Trouville) and one in Paris. The latter (rue Cler - 75007), is so tiny you might well miss it as you walk past all the other foodie places in this pedestrian street. No frills, no tables or chairs. Just freezers filled with individual or family sized pots of frozen miracles. Only one way to enjoy them: indulge. Try no less than five flavours at a time. The danger is that they are so unsugary, so bursting with fruit and flavour, that you can't get sick on them.
72 rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris
4 rue Cambon, 75001 Paris
58 ave Paul Doumer, 75016 Paris
39 Ave de l'Opera, 75002 Paris
Pierre Herme has been refining the art of macarons with his inspired combinations since 1998. Designed to ruffle and fluster our taste buds, his visually unassuming, fragrant cream-filled, crispy almondy gateaux are definitely the most superior of all macarons. Well worth queuing for. You may be sceptical when you see the weird blends: green asparagus and hazelnut oil, mint and green pea, olive oil and vanilla, green matcha tea and red azuki bean, foie gras and chocolat ... but Monsieur Herme's enlightened understanding of the mysterious workings of the palate will leave you spellbound. Ssssh, don't tell: word has leaked that 2012 is to be the year of the rose!
11 rue d'Ormesson, 75004 Paris
Metro: Saint Paul
Absinthe has a fascinating history. Also known as the "green fairy", it is a green (or colourless if Swiss) anis-flavoured spirit, made from a variety of distilled herbs, notably wormwood, green anis and sweet fennel. It was extremely popular in late 19th and early 20th century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers (Verlaine, Baudelaire, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec to name a few). To a point the wine industry was going under and with soldiers drowning their sorrows in absinthe in the trenches, France was about to lose the war. Conservatives and prohibitionists managed to have it banned in France in 1912, declaring thujone, a chemical present in wormwood, to be be an addictive and psychoactive drug. Clandestine distilleries in the Val de Travers (Switzerland) continued producing it throughout the ban years so when finally thujone was exculpated and absinthe re-legalised in 2010, it picked up right from where it left off. Visit the little shop, Vert d'Absinthe, and let its owner guide you through absinthe's pungent herby fragrances and you'll get a taste of late 19th century bohemian Paris.
La Ferme Saint Hubert
36 rue Rochechouart, 75009 Paris
Metro: Poissonniere - Anvers
France boasts 500 varieties of cheese. The most tasty, sought-after and respected are those made from unpasturised milk. Walking into La Ferme Saint Hubert is like entering a cheese temple; you can't help blessing all those dedicated farmers and their small herds who, though they struggle to exist in this highly homogenised world, are the guardians of exceptional cheeses and a quality lifestyle. The constant flow of customers through the shop is proof of the need to defend them against the gluttony of globalisation.
Le Marche des Enfants Rouge
39 rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris
Metro: Arts et Metiers - Filles du Calvaire
The Marche des Enfants Rouges is a great place to retreat to when your feet are sore from traipsing the Paris pavements, it's midday and you're hungry. The oldest marketplace in Paris, named after an orphanage built there in 1534 where the children were dressed in red, you can wander round the food stalls, soaking in the casual ambience and choose your meal from the variety of menus: Italian, Lebanese, Afro-Cajun, Moroccan or Portuguese.