Europe 2012 – Day 1 – Paris Food Walking Tour: Gourmet French Food

Here I am, back with my Europe postings!
I assure you I’m slowly but surely making my way through them. -_-

7 days in Europe, over 3 countries and many hotels later, I have hours of footages, thousands of pictures, a stack of train tickets and a treasure box of memories to wade through.

This post today highlights the food and scenes of Paris that I have fallen in love with. I can’t say enough about the amazing pastries and bread here, so much so that my passion for baking (breads especially) burns as feverish as ever. I hope in time I’ll finally be able to afford the oven and the time to learn the art of making exceptional breads.

Croissant Ispahan. €1.80. Pierre Herme – PARIS. The best croissant ever!

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Below: Freshly baked breads with Pate – mixture of cooked ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste. The ones here are not as smooth but boasts of a robust flavour which I personal prefer.

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Dried Salami/cured sausages.

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French baguettes are legendary and I can taste why.

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The best cheeses are found here and I was tempted to never come back to Malaysia.

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Happily for me, the vendors are VERY generous with their samples and they readily offer a cut of almost 30-40g for each type cheese you wish to sample. Imagine a spread of a 100+ cheese and all you have to do is point to the one you want!

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In addition to that, every vendor/cheesemaker I met were more than delighted to share information about any cheese they sell plus cut you a chunk to taste.
That’s Europe for you. The same applies when I was in Amsterdam and Belgium. Oh god, to say I love Europe is an understatement. 😀

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The intensity and depth of flavour of each cheese is amazing. I must have ate 2-3kg of cheeses (of almost every imaginable kind) over the 7 days I was in Europe. Thank god for the amount of waking I did, else I wouldn’t have been able to fit into KLM’s plane seat on my journey back! 😛

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So how did my Paris foodie adventure begin you ask?

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My day in Paris started at 6.00am when I landed at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

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It was a 14 hours direct flight from Singapore, where before that I flew from KLIA and transited in Changi Airport for a few hours or so. Needless to say, I was exhausted but I only have a day in Paris before my connecting flight to Amsterdam so I wasn’t going to let any minute go to waste!

After immigration, I grabbed my baggage and quickly went to look for my hotel shuttle.

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My hotel shuttle comes around every 30mins or so and heads to the cluster of airport hotels directly from the airport. Mine was Ibis Hotel, a mere 20 minutes ride away from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

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A week before the trip, my excited friend Huai Chen emailed me about this this food tour in Paris that I thought was a fab idea and the answer to my woes of not knowing what to do and where to get the best food since this is a solo trip.
Unfortunately, it was fully booked by the time I decided to take it up, no thanks to my workload and procastination . 🙁

Further googling turned this up, and though this seems more “commercialised” than the personal food tours by ParisByMouth, I figured a tour is better than no tour.

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Paris Food Walking Tour: Gourmet French Food: http://www.viator.com/tours/Paris/Paris-Food-Walking-Tour-Gourmet-French-Food/d479-3234PGT.
Note: You can check the availability of the tour in the light blue box on the right.

A food tour like this generally covers:

  • Boulangerie – authentic artisanal French bakery; baguettes & croissants are a must
  • Epicerie – A gourmet specialty store selling spices, salts, herbs, olive oils, foie gras, etc
  • Marché – A hustling & bustling open air market where the French buy their groceries
  • Fromagerie – the best cheese shops in Paris with hand/homemade cheeses
  • Pattiserie – A pastry shop with the best pastries and cakes

If you’re lucky your tour might cover some bistro – hopping, where you’ll samples some classic french cooking at a Paris restaurant; as well as Chocolatiers – where melt-in-your mouth French chocolates are delightfully luscious.
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We checked around a few sites and found the prices, itinerary, duration of tour and areas almost similar. Choice of areas includes Marais, Les Halles, Latin Quater and Montmartre as each area supposedly offer different choices of shops and specialty of cuisine.  But like I said, I only managed to book mine at the very last minute so I didn’t have much of an option. These tours are crazily popular; as I found out to my dismay.

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Booking online and paying via credit card was straightforward and the confirmation email came immediately into my gmail. Then all I had to do was to print out the E-Voucher as below and turn up at the meeting point on the date and time of the tour I chose.

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My time in Paris was limited thus I didn’t think it was wise to stumble my way through the city. In this case, it’s better to have some parts of the itinerary confirmed and leave some hours for own exploration.

After dropping off my baggage at the hotel, I asked the reception for directions to the meeting point, which for my case is a Fromage (cheese shop) on 47ter, Boulevard St-Germain, nearest Metro station = Maubert.

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The guy looked at his watch and gasped; “Mam, it’s 7.45am now and you can’t make it in time for your 9.00am meeting time as it takes 40 minutes to get to Paris from the airport. From here to the airport is about 30mins too.”
Oh darn, that’s what you get when you didn’t do your research properly! Anyhow, further queries revealed that it would cost me Euro30-40 to take a cab to the city. Yikes! That’s RM120 (1 Euro = RM4) !
I figured that I’ll just have to wing it then.

Thus my Paris adventure begun in a horrifying rush and I didn’t even manage to see my room that morning. The airport shuttle bus took its own sweet time to arrive and to my dismay it went around to many other hotels in the vicinity before heading to the airport.
At the airport, it took me another 15 mins to find the station and figure out the train system. The train I was supposed to take arrived after another 20mins; of which by then it was almost 8.30am and my heart was really heavy at this point since it looked like I was going to miss the tour for sure.

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And I had assumed it was simple to find since I have the metro station name but frankly it wasn’t. The ticket to Paris city from the airport is a fixed amount of E 9.25. And by “Paris city” it could mean ANY metro station within the city. I only found out afterwards on the train itself and realized that I had no clue which train station I was supposed to alight and switched so I could get to Maubert station.

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Panicking, I asked every single person on the train for help. Funnily enough, most of the Parisian locals do not speak English! Finally a kind Back American lady decided to help and proceeded to ask around on my behalf in French. She found out soon enough the stations that I was supposed to alight and switch to Maubert but since she couldn’t explain to me in English, she just gestured for me to “follow her”.

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Well, I wasn’t about to argue. My situation wasn’t really rosy at that point of time. I was relieved that at least I’m getting somewhere. I started to feel quite remorseful as it was obviously that my poor (or rather no planning at all) planning has made my holiday started out all wrong.

To cut it short, I managed to arrive at my destination thanks to the sweet Black American lady. She took me as far as to the very platform of the train and waited with me to ensure that I got on the CORRECT train toward St Germain. I hugged her with gratitude and told myself that it’s too early to claim my day in Paris is doomed after all.

It was 9.30am by the time I located the Fromage, after almost 10mins of running along Paris streets and asking everyone I met on the road for directions. I stood in front of the shop, not quite knowing what to do and finally took a good look at Paris.

It was a gorgeous day, the air was crisp and chilly yet the sun shined warmly. The beautiful buildings and quaint cafes I have seen in magazines and movies stood real and tall.

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I found out too that the meeting place was right smack in the middle of a morning market. Oh my goodness! Food and fresh produce galore! I couldn’t be happier and figured that if i can’t locate the tour, I’ll just stuff myself with food to drown out my sorr0w.

The market:

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As I stood in front of the Fromager and contemplated my options, a typically Parisian looking guy approached me and asked “Hello and morning! Are you Rebecca?”. I was instantly wary; how did this guy know my name and is he part of a syndicate that targets lost tourist? I looked like one for sure that morning.

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I replied that I was, and asked for his identification. He introduced himself; and said he’s the tour guide of the food tour I booked and he had been waiting for me. I was relieved; (yes, I didn’t miss the tour entirely!) but at the same time I wondered aloud where are the rest of the people in the tour? Should we hasten up and join them?

He replied that I’m the only one who turned up, as the rest couldn’t rise in time to get here. His company has told him to expect me as I’m on the way (I did receive a call when I was in the train at about 9am and I told the lady that I’m rushing as I just arrived that morning) and since I’m coming, he will still wait for me and proceed with the tour even if it’s  just me alone.

Wow! I got a personal tour guide! My day in Paris wasn’t off to such a bad start after all! 🙂

And so my food tour in Paris begun. My guide was exceptionally knowledgeable; as I found out over the course of 4 hours, not only in food but in the rich history and culture of Paris. I got more than what I bargained for as he was extremely helpful and was keen to share as much as I could absorb about his beautiful city. It was obvious that he loves Paris and his job, and he enjoyed taking people around and educating them about not only Paris but everything else that he knows of!

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God bless his soul really. I had a morning of surprises and an insightful tour of Paris, where I sampled the best a local could sample in the  area we are at (there wasn’t any sales pitches neither were there any obligations to buy anything in any of the shops we went into) and I even got an educational tour of Notre Dame, simply because my guide didn’t think that a visit to Paris is complete without it!
We went off the itinerary quite a bit too, as he took me to churches and some of the places he loves, just so I could understand the city better, since it’s my virginal visit and all.
Yes, till today I’m acutely aware of how lucky I was. Not missing out on the tour though I was awfully late; managing to find my way though I was entirely unprepared and having a tour guide all to myself because everyone else didn’t show up!

Holy smokes, I’m a lucky girl that day! :DD

My guide begun by feeding me an apple turnover by one of his favourite patisserie in town.

Eric Kayser. He told me it’s one of the best patisseries around.

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I can’t disagree. This apple turnover was delightfully sweet and buttery flaky.

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Sigh. Why do I have to come back to Malaysia? 🙁

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Since we were not in a rush, we took our time and he was particularly thrilled that I’m a writer as well, since he a freelance journalist and tour guide. We had much to talk about, and he said he will always remember me as the tourist who took the MOST PICTURES that he has ever met in his life! 😀
The market at St Germain was our playground.
People were exceptionally friendly, and free samples aplenty.

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They stock the freshest and most vibrant hues of vegetables and fruits.

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The same are assured for their seafood.

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Olives are EVERYWHERE and in every imaginable form! Fans of olives could have died and gone to olives heaven.

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Luckily for the vendor I’m not. Hahah.. but I sampled just about everything else!

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Love these fat squids.

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I didn’t know Europeans are fans of dried fruits as well.

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Then there were these salamis/cured sausages of all shapes and sizes and funky preparations.

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Samples were again, abundant!

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Heck, some of these are generations of family-prepared recipes that has won AWARDS. Yes, Salami Awards!

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I can’t read French and I can’t remember half of what my tour guide was saying. Information overload! 😀
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I particularly remembered this one as it was parsley- crusted and tasted like herbed-salami.

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While some called for the ban of this, I’ll still eat it if I was served them.

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It was so FRESH and creamy.

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In view of luggage constraints, I refrained from packing a dozen of these home. They come in all manner of formulations and sizes and of course, prices.

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I hovered around this stall and must have ate a year’s supply of foie gras. *burps*

Then I moved on to my next favourite; the PATE!

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The french takes great pride in their food. There’s Salami/cured sausages awards, there’s baguette awards, cheese awards and naturally there’s awards for pate too!

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So many formulations and recipes of pates! And of course I took on the task of tasting each and every one of them bravely. 😛

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Someone pray tell me what’s this?

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My guide told me of course. He’s the perpetual walking encyclopedia of Paris and France. But I can’t remember!!

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Ok, this was supposed to be ONE post on the food tour but it looks like I’m facing a hard task finishing it! The rest will be in Part 2 alright? Else I won’t be able to publish this til next week! 🙂

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Enjoy the pictures as I prepare Part 2 which will be on the cheeses, hot chocolate, more pastries, rilletes and truffles! 😀

And here’s my video – a concise version of my time in Europe! 🙂

Wackybecky’s Europe Adventures 16th -23rd May 2012 was made possible thanks to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Malaysia!

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KLMMalaysia
Website: http://www.klm.com/travel/my_en/index.htm

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More of Europe:
The BEST of macarons and croissants in Paris – the legendary Pierre Herme!
The extravagant once in a decade FLORIADE – world’s biggest Horticultural Expo at Venlo, The Netherlands – a must visit!
Smoking weed in Amsterdam – a video.. – You only live once! :DD

Category : Food, Fun, Travel