When I was planning this year’s trip to Paris, I was kind of overwhelmed with how MUCH I wanted to do/ see/ eat. Paris kind of does that to you. One way of managing one’s desires to do/ see/ eat everything is to take a gourmand walking tour, such as those offered (amongst others) by Context – after the fabulous Chocolate Walk last summer, I had been keen to take another tour with them. Context are (according to their website) “committed to the character of the city”, not a “tour company”, rather, a “network of scholars and specialists – in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics – who, in addition to their normal work, design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of intellectually curious travellers.” Context offer tours in the USA, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Scotland, China, Austria, England, Turkey and the Czech Republic – they have much of the world covered with this different take on tours. In Paris alone, they have a really varied set of offerings (focussing on food, wine, art, history and architecture) and one of these tours I couldn’t go past was the “Bobo Palate – New Trends in Parisian Cuisine” tour of the upper Marais. “Bobo” being short for “Bourgeois-Bohemian” (in other words, hip!), this area of the Marais is home to one of what Context call “Paris’ most exciting gastronomic districts.”
The Marais apparently “holds a special place in Parisian history and is uniquely connected to food. During the middle ages its fertile land was home to vast gardens and orchards. The gardens were gradually razed to make way for private mansions when the area became popular with the aristocracy in the mid-16th century. However, the influence of food remained alive with the nearby les Halles Market, the culinary hub of Parisian until the 1960s.”
We started out with a sweet treat from somewhere I’ve often walked past but had yet to try…
Popelini (2 locations in Paris) is worth a visit if you are a fan of “choux à la crème” – offering 9 flavours and a “chou du jour” there will definitely be something for everyone. And because they are so small, well you can afford to have 2, right?
Also on the tour, we did some baguette tasting/ testing/ comparing with some pretty prestigious loaves. We also tasted a couple of different croissants, because, you know, “la gourmandise, c’est bon“!
When you’re in the Marais, don’t forget to look up!
A highlight of the tour for me was visiting Jacques Genin‘s fabulous chocolate boutique. Yes, boutique. I mean look at it – you’d be hard pressed, at first glance, to know that it’s a store selling chocolate!
On closer inspection though….
Mmmm – chocolat!
Early this year, Genin stopped making his famous (and amazing tasting and looking) pastries, claiming “chocolate is my first love… I want to give it my full attention… from this day forward, no more pastry.” (paraphrased here by Paris by Mouth). That’s right, whilst it’s still possible to special order a millefeuille in the salon de thé or a large dessert (for more than four people, to take away) in advance, Genin’s focus now is chocolate (and those gorgeous, jewel-like pâte de fruits).
With two amazing chocolates in our bellies (normally you get to taste one but since Genin was there and obviously feeling generous, he handed us all a second on our way out!) we continued on our way…
Peeking into Poilâne and checking out their famous “miche”…
We also headed to a newer Marais “must see” – La République Pâtissière, a “collectif gourmand”.
The store, which opened in April 2013, offers a variety of artisan macarons, choux, madeleines, cookies etc. and is a collaboration between four pastry-lovers who share a kitchen on the outskirts of Paris where they produce the treats they sell in the store. They seem to be doing a roaring trade – when we were there in the late afternoon, they had sold out of a few items, however, there were still a few scrambled egg, feta and mint “babychoo” to taste. This was a revelation – not the idea of savoury choux in itself but this flavour combination. I could eat this for breakfast every day!
Our Context guide, Camille Labro, wrote about La République Pâtissière in Le Monde in June (article in French).
Our meander through the Marais was coming to a close…
But not before we checked out the Marché des Enfants Rouges – the oldest covered market in Paris (established by royal decree in 1615). We all made notes of a few places we need to go back and check out. Me? I’m all about the “crêpe guy”…
And finally – pourquoi pas? – we tasted some cheeses.
All in all, a wonderfully tasty and informative tour of an area I only “kinda sorta” know, even though it’s next to my own ‘hood here in Paris. Along the way, Camille pointed out a lot of places that we were all furiously taking notes about, putting them on our “to do/ see/ eat” list – for this trip or the next! I love these tours that they give you a taste (literally and figuratively) of an area that you can then go back on your own to explore.
This tour? Like the Chocolate Walk, HIGHLY recommended. I can’t wait until Wednesday when I’ll be Context’s guest on the “Baguettes to Bistro – Culinary Traditions of Paris” tour
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I’m in France right now!