So after my last experience with Paris Walks and the “Paris Fashion Tour” (ie. Mary Antoniette/history of French monarchy fashion) I was a little apprehensive about going on the “Taste of Paris Tour”. What if it’s a bust like the last one? However, I had signed up for them both at the same time and had already paid a deposit so there was no turning back now.
It turns out that the tour was going to take place around the Les Halles area. I had actually walked around the area the day before and didn’t have a very good impression of it. Les Halles (or what I call ‘the eyesore formally known as Les Halles’) consists of a dated looking shopping arcade. Plus it doesn’t help that the surrounding area is currently undergoing a major facelift.
Right now it is nothing but an underground shopping mall surrounded by a very, very large construction zone in the middle of the city. (the new Les Halles isn’t scheduled to be done until 2016 – *sigh*). The surrounding areas consist of brasseries, bistros, Saint Eustache and Fountaine des Innocents which I’m sure might be lovely on a sunny day. But it was raining on the day I went and I found it hard to make any connections to this area and the history of the famous Les Halles market.
Les Halles was historically a place where the food vendors were all situated over 100 years ago but there isn’t much evidence of that now. The major food market is now at Rungis but it’s only accessible to industry professionals (you need to have credentials to enter). It wasn’t obvious where major landmarks were and overall it felt a little touristy. Given its current state, it’s one of those places that you need to know what to look for just because there is so much construction happening around the surrounding area.
Thankfully, the tour provided the insight that I needed. I really lucked out and was pleasantly surprised! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and knew a lot about the foods specific to certain regions in France. From the tour I learned that many foods are closely regulated (chocolate, for example, cannot be called chocolate unless it contains at least 70% cocoa solids (for dark) and 36% cocoa solids (for milk) – Hershey kisses which only contain around 5% cocoa soilds are called “chocolate flavoured” candies in France). I even learned that there are specific seasons for goat cheese and blue cheese – I didn’t even know that cheese had a season!
I was introduced to a particular type of strawberry called Gariguettes (grown in the South of France) and the famous Bresse chickens! She explained that the famous Bresse chickens are grown in a certain region in France (called Bresse – makes sense). They are a certain breed, characterized by their blue feet, red comb and white feathers (which are also the colors of the national flag) and are required to have a certain amount of open air square footage in which to roam. Even their diet is controlled and regulated. Our tour guide also bought samples of prunes, Gariguette strawberries and macarons for us to try as well.
We walked along the main market street in the 2nd arr. (Rue Montorgueil) which is the major food market street in the area. We stopped by a cheese shop and had a tasting of different varieties of cheeses (with wine of course) along with Poilâne bread (she mentioned that Poilâne bread was a big deal in France). We also stopped by two chocolate shops and sampled an assortment of dark, milk and flavour infused chocolates, hot chocolate, sampled eclairs from La Maison Stohrer and stopped by a wine and chocolate pairing shop which is quite a new idea in Paris. Along the way, our tour guide pointed out various well-known kitchenware stores (many which were listed in my “Le Cordon Bleu – Welcome to Paris!” booklet) and talked about the history of Les Halles.
After the tour, I stepped into E. Dehillerin (where Julia Child would buy her copper pots) and saw one of the couples who was in the tour with us. When they saw me they said “Quelle surprise!”. I guess it’s because I specifically asked the tour guide where the store was. E. Dehillerin (also in my guidebook) is a huge restaurant supply store that has a great selection of items at reasonable prices. Don’t be taken aback by the warehouse-like interior. I got a couple of items for my kitchen as well as souvenirs (and I had a 10% off discount card that I got from La Cuisine Paris when I took the souffle class). Sweet!
Here is an interesting note: The French use a different type of spatula than in North America. Their version looks like a flat wooden spoon. You will be hard pressed to find the silicon or rubber spatula that we have in North America (although I think it’s far superior because you can really scrape everything out). Apparently, certain traditions die hard in France.