Two-day stop-overs in Paris are seemingly becoming a thing for me. For this trip to Luxembourg, I was traveling with mom. Knowing that we are going through Paris we had to stay overnight so that she could see the city that so many poets and filmmakers romanticize.
This blog post uses affiliate links denoted by ( * ). The experience was gifted to me by Tinggly.
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This also seemed like a great opportunity to see what I could do in Paris with Tinggly,* a gift experience company. The range of tours is currently restricted but the world is slowly reopening and lucky for us Secret Food Tours have restarted their foodie tour of Montmartre. You can book this tour directly or gift it as one of many possibilities as a Tinggly Experience gift * – end of ad :). Honestly, though, I think it’s a great concept. All right, let’s go on a food tour now!
A group of strangers gathered at 11 am sharp outside of the Anvers metro station looking for a man with an orange umbrella. The weather this week has been all over the map but Paris was starting to get sweaty hot. “This isn’t hot for us,” pointed out our tour guide Stéphane, “it’ll get warmer” he continued, reflecting on the cold and rainy start of the summer season. I briefly went into my head, thinking about climate change before another attendee’s cheerful greeting snapped me out of the dark reflection.
We are all strangers right now, masked, hesitant, and a little afraid. There is something about coming out into society after 18 months of isolation that makes us all a little jumpy and somewhat feral. But that all will change in a couple of hours.
After a brief introduction and a small history lesson on the spiral development of Parisian neighborhoods (if you follow the numbers you’ll see a snail shell) the small bits of history became an ongoing part of the tour but in a very unique way through culinary influences. Each country that invaded (or attempted to invade) France has introduced something new. Whether it be cheese or a cooking technique, many of these ‘gifts’ became staple dishes of France. Like did you know that foie gras is originally Egyptian? It’s a fun story about fat flying ducks but it’s a story you’ll have to hear from Stéphane, or me if you meet me in person and we share enough wine.
Montmartre is a neighborhood that was originally beyond the city wall. As such it was a neighborhood of the people, where cultures mixed and everything was cheaper than in Paris ‘proper’. We went up the hill towards Sacré-Cœur Basilica and curved around it to the left starting our tour with freshly baked madeleines that our guide brought from his favorite bakery followed by a tasting stop at the Christophe Roussel macaron and chocolate shop. “French macarons are made with almond powder, unlike American which uses coconut,” pointed out Stéphane. Historic fun fact: macarons originally came from Persia. Down another colorful street, packed with cafes decorated with bushy flowers we stopped at the smallest Crêperie in Paris – La Crêperie Monami. Our guide spoke about the different flavors placing orders on our behalf and then ducked away to pick up fresh baguettes while we gleefully ate our warm crepes.
Before heading to our final, secret spot the group stopped by a Butcherie and a nearby cheese shop. The shop associate patiently walked us through the different types of cheeses, the craftsmanship of local cheesemakers, and various unique local flavors. Here artisanal craftsmanship is at the heart of everything. Any simplified mass production is frowned up, even though it undoubtedly exists. If you have spent any leisurely time in Paris you know you can always tell the locals by their shopping bags, packed with local goods from various stores, accentuated by pointy baguettes (if it’s not pointy it’s not hand made and that is also frowned upon). Now with 3 bags in hand – bread, cheese, meat – which we all took turns helping to carry, our group headed down an alleyway towards an undisclosed location for the last, and my favorite stop.
Slightly sweaty, a little tired, and undoubtedly hungry we descended into a cellar. At the center is a harvest table, wine and shopping bags placed on the side table, and various wine racks spread around the room – “damn, these folks are serious about wine,” I thought to myself. As we took turns washing our hands upstairs Stéphane hustled slicing the cheeses, arranging cold cuts, and opening wine bottles. Soon enough we were all seated, quietly listening to the introductions and historical notes dotted with fun cultural remarks on how to properly eat baguettes (tear by hand in small pieces, never put the baguette upside down) and how we should never eat cheese with crackers (much like in kindergarten we all had to repeat that statement 3 times).
Each mini-course was paired with wine: natural pairing is food and wine from the same region or alternatively, you can pair by intensity (light with light, heavy with heavy). We indulged in many flavourful and unique kinds of cheese, Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, dry sausages, cold cuts and pickles, ham with butter, and finished on a sweet note with 1st Cru of Cognac and chocolate eclairs (tip: what’s on the outside should also be on the inside). As time went on, crumbs and cheese rinds sprinkled around the table, empty bottles were cheerfully passed back to the host, and everyone in attendance lowered their defense guards. The room got rowdier and louder, we were discussing the sharpness of the cheese, poking jokes at each other, and feeling like bad students for not paying attention to our foodie history lessons while remarking on individual likes and dislikes.
Our experience lasted longer than the allotted time but no one was even slightly peeved by it. By the end of ‘dinner’, we were all good friends, discussing travel plans and sharing tips, having a hard time separating, and if it wasn’t for the train mom and I needed to catch this party would’ve gone on till the end of the night.
There are many different ways to experience a city and a culture but this is certainly my favorite. Eating like a local, with a local, while learning customs and making friends is something that was missing from my life – everyone’s life at least in this group – for many months. It was a social gap, unfulfilled by sharp cheese and that feeling you get when a stranger becomes a person you’d like to hug. There is comfort and a wealth of experience that one could not possibly get in a shiny gift box of macarons, but after all that is a difference between sharing and giving a souvenir – sharing is stories over meals, souvenirs are just magnets on the fridge.
I still think of this trip fondly, and so does my mom – this has been a fantastic way to show her Paris, a view of France that one would read about in In Search of Lost Time, or see in a black-and-white movie. So cheers to sharing experiences* and accumulating memories instead of stuff 🥂.