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French food isn’t all about haute cuisine and fine dining – some of the best food to be enjoyed in Paris can be bought for a couple of euros from a humble boulangerie. Here’s our pick of the gastronomic highlights.
Don’t leave Paris without trying…
1. Steak frites
The simple pairing of a grilled steak with various optional sauces and chips is elevated to serious heights when the meat is well selected and carefully matured, and the potatoes are fresh, hand-cut and double-fried. Choose your cut of beef, your ‘cuisson’ (order ‘à point’ for medium-rare) and a sauce, be it Béarnaise or peppercorn, and crunch those crispy frites with a side order of squeaky haricots verts.
Try making your own classic French steak with pommes frites with our easy recipe.
2. A cocktail at the Bar Hemingway
The city’s most famous bar is tucked away inside The Ritz and celebrates the life and work of its most famous barfly, Ernest Hemingway. Try a sublime cocktail mixed by legendary British barman Colin Field, who has run the bar since 1994.
His two signature cocktails are the Serendipity, which mixes calvados with fresh mint, sugar, ice and champagne, and the Clean Dirty Martini, which features a frozen cube of olive juice at its centre. You’ll have to guess the other ingredients – Field says he is taking the recipe to his grave.
Until supreme patissier Pierre Hermé reinvented these small, smooth meringues filled with ganache, they were a fairly unassuming item in the extensive range of French patisserie, coming in just four flavours: vanilla, chocolate, coffee and raspberry. This delicate pastry has taken the world by storm but its birthplace is resolutely Paris.
Hermé took these colourful treats to another level with flavours such as lemon, orange blossom and Corsican honey (this is called the Jardin de l’Atlas) and rose, lychee and raspberry (the Ispahan). For those who like one flavour only, his ‘Infiniment’ range takes one ingredient – lemon, chocolate, coffee and many others – and uses it to create different layers of flavour in one macaron. Macarons are two-bite delights, but it is worth seeking them out from reputable pastry shops that actually make their own – many just hop on the bandwagon and sell factory-made ones that aren’t worth your time or dime – and go easy on the rainbow-style food colourings.
4. Israeli food
The French aren’t known for embracing the cuisine of other cultures, but Paris is currenlty undergoing a gastronomic revolution and the focus of many chefs is Israeli food. One of the hottest tables in town is at Balagan where chefs Assaf Granit and Dan Yosha and their team are serving fresh, vibrant vegetable, fish and meat dishes lifted with perfectly pitched spices, tahini and citrus.
For the best seat in the house, grab a stool at the kitchen counter and enjoy the chefs’ theatrics as they serve dishes, sing and knock back shots of cucumber and mint-enhanced absinthe.
This brasserie staple originally hails from Alsace, the border region in eastern France, but it came to the French capital at the end of the 19th century when the region was annexed by Germany and refugees fled to Paris. Choucroute is the French word for sauerkraut, a huge serving of white cabbage cooked in riesling, duck or pork fat, with herbs and garlic and topped with sausages and pork knuckle.
It’s the perfect dish to share between two, and at Bofinger (which boasts stunning art nouveau décor and a glorious stained glass atrium) it’s served on a heated stove so it stays warm as you work your way through it.
6. Cédric Grolet’s Patisserie
Is it really an orange? As you slice into its shell, you soon realise patissier Cédric Grolet’s extraordinary desserts are something very special – this is actually mousse filled with mandarin and timut pepper compote. At just 32 years old, Grolet has established a worldwide following (mostly thanks to his Instagram account) for his fruit desserts, which look every bit like the real thing.
Each one takes around a week to complete, from the outer shell made with cocoa butter, to the mousse and compote inside. Grolet and his team make around 200 a day, serving only the best to teatime guests at Le Meurice, a luxury hotel on the Rue de Rivoli.
7. A baguette
8. Jacques Genin chocolates
9. Coffee (or tea)
It’s not all about the flat whites and latte art, however. Tea (or thé) predates the coffee trend, with elegant salons de thé attracting a well-heeled clientele to try such brands as Mariage Frères or Dammann Frères – but before you come over all English, these are consumed without milk. One of the most elegant and popular salons de thé is Angelina on the Rue de Rivoli, where tea and coffee should come with their signature patisserie, Le Mont Blanc.
10. Rhum baba
This dense cake with rum and vanilla cream dates from the 18th century and owes its place in French culinary history to King Stanislaus of Poland, who was exiled in Lorraine. The king had fond memories of raisin brioches served with Tokaji wine and so charged his chef, Nicolas Stohrer, with the task of recreating the dish, which he named rhum baba in keeping with his passion for the Arabian Nights stories.
When Stanislaus’ daughter Marie married King Louis XV, Stohrer relocated to Paris and opened his own bakery, and the rhum baba’s Parisian future was sealed. Chef Alain Ducasse adores the dessert and it’s a signature dish in many of his Parisian restaurants.
Try making your own… croque-monsieur
12. Duck confit
Try making your own… confit duck
Like all city dwellers, Parisians often need to eat on the go, and the jambon-beurre is the most Parisian of sandwiches. You can buy it from corner bakeries or order it from the counter at most cafés; in both cases it will come as a fresh half-baguette, its insides smeared with cool butter and garnished with ‘jambon de Paris’, a pink-hued cooked ham, with optional cornichons.
14. Raw-milk artisanal cheeses
Paris is truly the gastronomic hub of France, and nowhere is it more apparent than in cheese shops, where you can buy the makings of a cheesy Tour de France and taste your way through each region’s stars, from the mildest to the sharpest. Always favour raw-milk cheeses (unless you have a compromised immunity) and ask the vendor what’s best right now, as the production of artisanal cheeses is a seasonal affair.
Try making your own… croissants
Try making your own… mini white chocolate Paris-Brest
17. Street-stand crêpes
Try making your own… crêpes
Clotilde Dusoulier is the French food writer behind Chocolate & Zucchini, a blog that’s all about the fresh, simple, and seasonal foods she cooks in her Paris kitchen.
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