Updated: Jan 17, 2020
Our food tour in Paris with Eating Europe was full of surprises from the moment we met our Las Vegas-born guide, Dakota. Even though her name and origin weren’t necessarily what we expected, she proved to be a remarkable guide to the hidden Parisian food scene. In addition to taking us on a delicious and off the beaten path food odyssey, Dakota, with her fluent French and easygoing rapport with the various vendors, made the 4-hour tour fly by.
Our tour guide, Dakota, is an expert on Paris history and food.
We were expecting “Paris: Hip Eats & Backstreets” to be a fun food tour, but what we experienced was also a fascinating historical and cultural introduction to a part of Paris we would have missed otherwise. Our food odyssey started at a small park, Jardin Villemin, in the 10th Arrondissement. Our group of 11 was all American and even included a three-and-a-half-year-old foodie in training. Our first stop was on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, an almost 3-mile long waterway that we hadn’t even realized existed in the heart of the city. It is very popular with locals, many of whom were enjoying their outdoor lunches when we arrived. Dakota scurried across the street to Fric Frac, a shop at 79 Quai de Valmy that specializes in the Croque Monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with its unique French flavors. Fric Frac’s claim to fame is its twists on the traditional sandwich and its use of bread made by an award winning baker. Dakota gave each tour participant a quarter of two different types of the sandwich and asked us to try and guess the ingredients of the non-traditional one. It turned out to have goat cheese and honey and was just as delicious as the original with its signature bechamel sauce. Our group was pretty evenly split on which was better, but we all agreed that both types were delicious as we sat by the canal feeling like locals munching our sandwiches.
The 10th Arrondissement of Paris, where Fric Frac is located, is a hipster favorite full of startup businesses and the energy they generate. Many of the buildings were painted with artistic graffiti that added to the neighborhood's hip feeling.
Our next stop was at TSF Epicure, a shop at 9 Rue Alibert, whose owner, Sophia, is an artist. There we dined on some of the most delicious and beautifully presented charcuterie we have ever tasted. One of the meats we sampled was a ham that is so exalted that is known as Le Prince de Paris. The technique to produce it goes back to the 17th century and it is unmistakably Parisian. Fine red wine accompanied the meats perfectly.
While we were enjoying the charcuterie, Dakota explained that the yummy baguette was also a piece of Parisian history. The price throughout the city is limited to a maximum price of 1.30 Euros so that every citizen can enjoy a delicious loaf of bread everyday. And enjoy they do, as the average consumption of the small and delectable loaves of bread tops one per person daily! As we walked to our main lunch stop, our guide talked about the architecture and explained that Baron Haussmann had changed the look of Paris under the direction of Napoleon III in the late 1800s. She pointed out the ornate third floor balconies as we observed for the first time a detail that had been hidden right before our eyes. From that moment out we kept looking up throughout Paris to appreciate the beauty of the ironwork that we hadn't realized was a vestige of that bygone era of elegance.
We learned that third floor balconies are usually more elegant than the ones higher up.
Our main meal was lunch at L'amalgame, an Algerian restaurant representative of the modern blending of flavors in French cuisine. Their specialty is couscous, so we were treated to an elaborate presentation of vegetables stewed in broth accompanied by a spicy sausage called Merguez, made of lamb and beef. It was delicious with the couscous and vegetables that Dakota showed us how to assemble on our plates. The charming owner then served us his specialty sweet mint tea.
Sweet hot tea is the perfect ending to a spicy North African meal.
A French food tour wouldn't be complete without fancy pastries and cheese and this one was no exception. We stopped to ogle the display cases at the Yann Couvreur patisserie at 137 Avenue Parmentier. The pastry chef, Yann Couvreur himself, is world famous for using unusual flavor combinations in luscious desserts. Dakota bought a selection for us to have at the end of the tour.
The display case at Yann Couvreur patisserie is beautiful.
To satisfy our cheese cravings we visited Paroles De Fromagers at 41 Rue du Faubourg. Their 17th century cheese cellar was the perfect spot to learn a bit about cheese making and tasting. The hosts were extremely friendly and informative and provided us with slate boards filled with cheeses labeled by chalk numbers. They explained not only how cheese is made, but told us where in France our samples came from. Wonderful white wine accompanied our cheeses as well as butter from Brittany and, of course, baguettes!
The staff members at Paroles De Fromagers are enthusiastic about their delicious cheeses and so were the tour members.
The tour ended up at a lush garden, the Square du Temple. Here we devoured the pastries from Yann Couvreur and listened to Dakotas's parting story about the garden's history. It was on this site that the Knights Templar had their fortress. In 1307, King Philip IV had the Templars declared heretics in order to take their wealth. Their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, is said to have cursed the King and his ally, Pope Clement V, while burning at the stake. Both the king and pope died shortly after. Our group enjoyed the somewhat creepy tale while eating delicious French pastries in the beautiful park. It was the perfect ending to a combination historical and culinary experience off the beaten path.
The Square du Temple gardens were also the site of the tower where Marie Antoinette and her family were held during the French Revolution. The buildings have been gone for centuries.
Eating pastries in a beautiful garden was the perfect ending to a delightful food tour in Paris.