Paris is often regarded as the world capital of fashion, architecture, music , food and the art of people-watching. Once you decide to look beyond the awe-inspiring enigma of the famed Eiffel Tower and explore the alleys, corners and backstreets of this French city, you would be able to see the ethereal beauty that Paris has on offer. Thus would begin a never-ending love affair with a city that is immersed in captivating elegance and enchanting grace!
Paris has gorgeous weather all year through, and is a city where it is not uncommon to see stylish Chanel-clad ladies in their Jimmy Choo high-heels , walk their well-bred poodles along the grand boulevards. Where beautiful people can hold your attention for hours as they indulge in alluring conversations , while sipping an expensive wine or drinking from a cup of aromatic coffee.
With such inter-play of romance, music and sensuality in the air, Paris really is so enigmatic that it can undoubtedly betroth you for life.
Paris Food Trail
Parisians are passionate people and seriously appreciate their food, cheese, champagne, wine & desserts. Good food is considered as a birthright and the locals do not hesitate to enjoy the varied gastronomic combinations the city offers. Right from casual indulgence at the corner cafes offering waffles, crepes and coffee or effortlessly mingling into the mood of the hip bistros while fussing over some adorable food & wine or splurging in one of the many opulent dine-in restaurants, a culinary journey through Paris is all this and more!
We realized that French food is all about freshness and more often than not, one can spot Parisians walking home with freshly- baked baguettes for meal time. The spotless lanes and by-lanes of the French Capital are lined with patisserie , creperies, fromageries, waffle & pancake shops with a variety of appetizing options on display behind the large glass windows to lure passer-byes to step inside.
A full-fledged French dinner/ lunch usually will have atleast 4-5 courses :-
- Entrée or Introductory course, sometimes accompanied by a soup
- Plat principal (main course)
- Fromage (cheese course) , sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert
Each course is served with a different kind of wine that compliments the palate.
Not surprisingly then, one can find elaborate market places in Paris neighborhoods that cater to the variety that is usually served on a typical French dining table. To get a whiff of the French culinary culture, we had undertaken an elaborate 3 hour food tour of buzzing Bastille district. This is a symbolic area of Paris and houses one of the most authentic and celebrated local Parisian markets – The Marché d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement .
The Food Tour with Original Food Tours, Paris
After we met our friendly guide Stephane (from the Original Food Tours. Website: originalfoodtours.com) on a cold winter Sunday morning, he briefed us about the history of the Marché d’Aligre market & the pit-stops on our 3 hour culinary journey. As we trailed him along the busy lanes , lined with colourful shops on both sides, we couldn’t help but marvel at the freshness & variety this market had on offer.
This vibrant & bustling market is a haven for gourmet foodies and one can explore the fine and diverse culinary offerings , sample delicious cheeses, wine, chocolate and cured meats. We strolled through the narrow lane and gladly chatted with shopkeepers learning some of the well-kept secrets of authentic french cuisine. This food tour conducted by the good folks at Original Food Tours is a must do, if you happen to be a food connoisseur touring Paris.
About Marché d’Aligre
The Marché d’Aligre with a light, flea market like feel, is a charming, old-fashioned and rustic market, open 6 days a week & is a true feast for the senses. The long lane which is the main market area, boasts of affordable & fresh produce and has some top quality artisan shops that surround it on both sides.
The selections are diverse and the vendors are friendly & engaging, and most of the vegetables and fruits have the endorsement of the coveted “Agriculture Biologique”, which means they are organic products carrying the logo and contains more than 95 percent organic components and is produced or processed within the EU, and certified by one of the inspection bodies accredited according to EN 45011.
The outdoor stalls that fill the Place d’Aligre and Rue d’Aligre are only open in the mornings from 9am-12:30 pm and by afternoon, the streets are swept absolutely clean. One look & you’d never know a market had been there in the first place. We were told that fruit, vegetables and flower prices increase slightly on weekends but so do the crowds.
The other attraction is the covered indoor market Marche Beauvau just next door on Place d’Aligre, is open both mornings and evenings and one can find a range of options including wild game, poultry, cheeses, craft beer and even horse meat, even though the prices are a tad higher than the outside stalls. We were informed that this indoor market suffered a fire on July 6, 2015 and even though it has since reopened, it is still under construction for many months for restoration & renovations.
Must See Must Do at Place d’Aligre
Outdoor Market :
Ble Sucre – We started our tour with a dash to this acclaimed patisserie, that wears a deceptively simple everyday look and is reputed for its high quality and reasonable prices . Fabrice Le Bourdat, who owns the place is a former pastry chef at Le Bristol, the three-star Michelin restaurant that is now called Epicure. Ble Sucre makes some of the most beautiful and acclaimed desserts, viennoiserie, and breads in Paris. Known for its glazed Madeleines, we picked up a few croissant and an apple pie to be relished during our next stop at a famous coffee place.
Café Aouba – After trailing a few metres soaking in the sights and smell of the rue d’Aligre, we followed the smell of roasting coffee and end up at this standing room only café. One of the few local roasters in town, we are told, their beans tend to be very darkly roasted and smokey. Apart from a wide variety of coffee beans & teas, this place also has preserves, jams and honey for sale.
Pezzali Flowers – Located right in the center of the market, this flower stall is a riot of colors and is almost impossible to miss because of its vibrancy. Right form lilies to tulips, roses , all the possible flowers of different hues adorn this shop.
Herb Vendor – Located in front of the Le Garde Manger, these herb stalls draws you instantly for the overflowing bunches of greens herbs and is a treat to the senses with its unmistakably distinct aroma. Herbs such as Fresh parsley, mint , thyme, tarragon, chervil and others are used liberally in French cuisine and widely available and inexpensive..
La Graineterie du Marche – The oldest shop around this area has interesting old-fashioned candies, spices, oil and vinegars round out the offerings. We saw a variety of loose spices (curry powder happens to be a best seller), rice (including Indian Basmati), cous cous, grains in the shop and is sold the old-fashioned way on the manual weighing scale.
Sabah – This little shop at the corner of the outdoor markethas a giant olive bar, with a huge variety of Olives. It also boasts of a wide selection of spices, cheeses, dried fruits, nuts, pulses/legumes, flatbreads etc, mostly imported from North African & Middle East.
Bounabi – The vendors at this exotic fruit stand are wonderfully gregarious & a bunch of happy faces. Generous with their samples, they will happily chat with you and offer you a slice of their sweetest mango while explaining the great quality of their produce.
L’ Alpage – This little gem is really a delightful find. Hidden amidst all the hustle and bustle of market life just outside, dont leave without ducking in to sample a variety of the best French cheese.
Extremely high in quality & the ever-smiling owner offers a friendly service. On hearing that we will travel back to India, she happily sous-vided (vacuum seal) our cheese for travel.
Marché Beauvau (Covered Market)
Michel Brunon – Look for the long line, the sign that says “Ici on viande de cheval” or the giant gold horse’s head on the corner of this butcher shop to get your cut of fresh horse meat. A variety of roasted chicken rillettes, sausages, and terrines are available as are the non-equine meats.
La Marée Beauvau – Known as poissonnerie to the French, it’s always a good sign when you can stand right next to one without smelling the fish. The seafood is fresh here and the selection wide, including an array of smoked fish, taramas, and cold seafood salads.
Tip : If you arrive at Marché d’Aligre later in the day near closing time, its a perfect timing for some grand bargains and real action. Vendors slice prices and vie for customer’s attention with reductions of final sales…take the bait!
The French Croissants, Crepe , Chocolate & Macaron Saga
Apart from the market place, the culinary scene of Paris is incomplete without a taste of the best French Crepes, Waffles , biscotis, Macarons, chocolate & breads. At every turn and corner of the street, one can find a cosy cafe or Bistros dishing out the best in crepes, sandwiches and waffles. Available with variety of toppings and fillings in both sweet & savory options, these treats are a must for satiating those hunger pangs.
We came across various chocolate shops offering the best variety of homemade chocolates and decided to sample few of them.
The most popular french export is definitely the Croissants especially the plain butter variety. These flaky, crispy , melt in your mouth delights are every Frenchman’s dream snack & readily available in the innumerable bakeries across the city.
The other popular dessert is the sophisticated French treat – Macarons. Available in a variety of flavours and eye-catching colours, the macarons available in Paris are different from that available in any part of the world. The almost perfectly baked jewels with not a visible crack in sight come in flavours like strawberry, raspberry, coffee, peanut etc. We did stuff our bag with a huge stock of the best of macarons to last us for almost a month.
Practical information given below :-
Marche De Aligre, Place d’Aligre, Paris 12th
Open: Tuesday-Saturday 8am-5pm; Sunday 8am-1pm
Covered market at Marché d’Aligre
Open: Tuesday-Friday 9am-1pm & 4-7:30pm; Saturday 9am-1pm & 3:30-7:30pm; Sunday 8:30am-1:30pm
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