Monday, January 31, 2011

My Magic Year in Paris

When I was a little girl and first set eyes on the magnificent structure that is the Eiffel Tower, I knew at once that I would have to visit Paris at some point in my lifetime. It was only natural that as I fell more and more in love with food that my attraction to Paris and France would grow. I would read about Julia Child’s life on Rue De L’Université and her culinary adventures at Le Cordon Cooking School. Or about how Judith Jones only ate one meal a day so that she could enjoy a delicious Parisian dinner. My moment came this year when I was fortunate enough to spend my 24th birthday in this beautiful city. I also had the great pleasure of having my fiancé, Jon, accompany me on this trip.
Love at the Eiffel Tower
When we arrived on Wednesday night, the first thing we wanted to do was eat. I saw a bistro down the street that looked particularly intriguing with its dark interior and red florescent lights on the outside. We walked in and in broken French explained that we wanted to have dinner. The waiter responded quickly that “this was impossible” and shooed us out the door. The only other restaurants nearby that were still open were a Chinese takeout and pizza place. The Chinese food on display did not look particularly appetizing so we settled on pizza. When you walked in, you would see a man making pizza to order and shuffling the pies into a hot brick oven that faced his back. There was no place to sit, only a narrow hallway with a counter. We ordered pizza Margarita because it was the only thing on the menu we recognized. As I watched the pizza chef, I knew that we had made a mistake as I saw the generous sprinkling of different toppings like goat cheese and lardons. I saw him make a pizza by piling on 4 different cheeses and an egg in the middle. I piped up and asked if we could have a pizza like the one he was making. He obliged and soon we were walking back to our tiny hotel room with a coke and our pizza box. Since we didn’t have any utensils, we ripped pieces off and savored each bite. At the end we popped the egg and dipped the last bites in all its yolky goodness. Now, for all those critics don’t knock it until you try it, that’s even if you appreciate a good runny egg. That moment marked a great taste memory and was probably the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.
Jon and Our Pizza
Before we would venture into the city, we stopped at the same bakery every morning and select one sweet and one savory pastry to share. This tactic served us well because it was an inexpensive breakfast and we were able to try an array of French pastries. One morning there was a small outdoor market in the square next to the hotel. I was immediately consumed by the bounty surrounding me. There were butcher’s displaying their house made patés, cheese makers with over 50 kinds of cheese, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and a beautiful display of seafood (scallops still in their shell!). This was the moment I truly fell in love with Paris. To me, when you hear people say how much they love French food- what they are really saying is that they love the care and quality of each ingredient. When you start off with high quality ingredients, it takes little effort on the cook’s part to produce a delicious dish. These producers were experts on their products and could tell you what was especially delicious this week whether it be a cut of lamb, a camembert cheese, or the sweet carrots that were just dug up that morning. This intimate knowledge is attained only when a person has been through the entire process, from seedling to fruit. I envy this connection to food and strive to one day soon be able to enjoy the fruits of my own labor instead of buying the glossy but tasteless foods that are so often found in our supermarkets. My only regret in Paris is that I did not have a kitchen to conjure some of my own Parisian creations. On my next trip, that will be a must.
Mounds of Cheese
Fresh Scallops and Other Seafood Goodies
Being an EU student has its advantages and disadvantages. In Paris, most museums and cultural attractions will let you in for free. On the other hand, you don’t have that much money to begin with. Keeping our budget in mind, I was allowed to splurge on two things (it was my birthday after all): French macarons and one nice meal. My goal was to seek out the famous French macarons from master pastry chef Pierre Hermé. We had trekked in the cold rainy weather searching for one of his bakeries on Rue Bonapart with no luck. Giving up, we walked to our next destination Le Cordon Bleu. We didn’t realize how far that was, practically on the other side of the city. I wanted to give up several times but Jon (bless his heart) kept pushing me saying "we’ve gone this far already, let's just finish."  And what do you know…there was a Pierre Hermé patisserie!!!! I was smiling from ear to ear. It’s funny how such a small success can lift your spirits and push you to move forward (of course with 20 Euros worth of macarons in hand). 5 minutes later I was standing in front of the famous culinary arts school. It was closed, which was probably a good thing as we didn’t have extra money to shop in the school store. I settled for a picture, which has more meaning than anything I could have bought.
French Macarons
Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School
Ready for a nice dinner I chose Micouleau, a small place that specialized in duck and foie gras (duck or goose fattened liver). We started our meal with the restaurant’s award winning foie gras. I ordered duck confit, a duck leg cooked in its own fat until it is so tender that it melts in your mouth. As if that wasn’t decadent enough it was served with fried potato coins tossed in garlic oil and a small green salad. Jon chose cassoulet, a stew of beans, duck, and sausage. The food was heavenly. We lingered over every bit so that we could thoroughly taste all the flavors hitting different parts of our tongues. It was so French and so wonderful.
Foie Gras
Duck Confit and Potatoes
This trip taught me about how to be a grown-up. Every day we had to make choices and sacrifices based on what was “most important.” Clearly I wasn’t able to stay in a nice hotel or eat at Michelin stared restaurants. That doesn’t mean I never will, just not on this trip. This trip was special in its own ways. I was able to see some of the world’s most famous monuments and museums with my husband-to-be. We learned how to balance each other, when one of us felt overwhelmed or stressed the other knew how to take over the situation. This skill will be most valuable on the adventures to come. When you travel, you learn that you can’t have everything but that what you do get is enough, and we should be reminded to be grateful for those moments.
The Glass Pyramid at the Louvre


  1. I love your combination of romance, reflection, and food. You looked for and found the gifts of where you were and each other. How are you going to leave behind those amazing European markets! The pictures were well selected and delightful! I look forward to hearing about your Barcelona trip next. Love you guys

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    Thanks & regards

    Hamida, Content Manager, Sulekha US