Epi­curean es­cape: Eat like a lo­cal with new Paris food tour

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - AUSTIN360 TRAVEL - By Amy Laugh­ing­house

On a sunny af­ter­noon in a quiet park in Paris’ 10th Ar­rondisse­ment, a dozen peo­ple have gath­ered for a move­able feast. Re­moved from the hec­tic heart of the city, where vis­i­tors crowd around the enig­matic “Mona Lisa” and cloud-tick­ling Eif­fel Tower, we’re es­chew­ing es­car­got for an off-the-beaten-menu tour sea­soned with sa­vory so­cial and his­tor­i­cal in­sights.

“I be­lieve in dis­cov­er­ing a cul­ture by its food,” says Leo Goldstein, a 29-year-old na­tive of the 10th Ar­rondisse­ment and cre­ator of Eat­ing Europe’s new Paris: Hip Eats and Back­streets ex­pe­ri­ence. The foodie walk­ing tour, which launched in June, is the first and only Parisian ex­cur­sion cur­rently of­fered by Eat­ing Europe, which also op­er­ates in Lon­don, Rome, Florence, Prague and Am­s­ter­dam.

While those are some of the world’s most well-trod­den cities, Eat­ing Europe strives to pro­vide a sneaky peek un­der the pot lid of neigh­bor­hood es­tab­lish­ments that vis­i­tors might never un­earth on their own. The up-and-com­ing 10th Ar­rondisse­ment — beloved by Parisian hip­sters yet vir­tu­ally un­known to tourists — is rife with such undis­cov­ered spots.

“This neigh­bor­hood didn’t have much life un­til about 10 years ago, when the tech in­dus­try, the mil­len­ni­als, took it over,” Goldstein ad­mits. But as this young, branché gen­er­a­tion moved in, at­tracted by cheap rent, more shops, cafes, bars and restau­rants fol­lowed, se­duced by the scent of dis­pos­able in­come. To­day, Goldstein says, “this is the core of the young, hap­pen­ing, vi­brant part of Paris.”

Our first stop is Fric Frac, a café spe­cial­iz­ing in the croque mon-

sieur, a sand­wich tra­di­tion­ally made of ham, cheese and béchamel sauce. It was in­vented in the early 1900s as a work­ing-class meal, but Fric Frac keeps things fash­ion­ably fresh by styling the mon­sieur in dis­guises from around the world, rang­ing from the Vik­ing, made with salmon, to the Asian-in­spired Shaolin, in­cor­po­rat­ing prawns, shi­itake mush­rooms, soy sauce and gin­ger. We try two: the hearty, no-non­sense orig­i­nal, and a veg­gie ver­sion with as­para­gus, av­o­cado and pea hum­mus. The mon­sieur makes for a mem­o­rable lunch date ei­ther way.

Bid­ding adieu to Fric Frac, we cross the Canal Saint-Martin, the 10th Ar­rondisse­ment’s an­swer to the Seine. Con­structed in the early 1800s to bring fresh wa­ter to the city, Goldstein says it was funded by a new tax on wine — ef­fec­tively turn­ing wine into wa­ter, I muse.

Food and drink seem to im­pact vir­tu­ally every as­pect of French life, as we learn over this fourhour tour. At TSF Epi­cure, an in­ti­mate deli where our char­cu­terie plat­ter is ac­com­pa­nied by a baguette and a Loire Val­ley pinot noir, Goldstein ex­plains that the French econ­omy can ac­tu­ally be mea­sured in sand­wiches.

“There are 2 mil­lion ham and but­ter sand­wiches sold in France every day,” he says. “If less are sold, it means peo­ple don’t have as much buy­ing power. If the price is go­ing up, it’s in­fla­tion.”

Food even in­flu­ences the lan­guage.

“In French, bread is ‘pain,’ and a friend is called a ‘co­pain’ — so a friend is some­one you share bread with,” Goldstein grins.

As French so­ci­ety has evolved, so has its cui­sine. Af­ter World War II, the gov­ern­ment in­vited cit­i­zens from its for­mer colonies to come and help re­build the coun­try. Many were from Africa, and they brought their own culi­nary tra­di­tions, like cous­cous, which Goldstein says is now the third most con­sumed dish in France, af­ter steak and fries and mus­sels and fries.

It’s only fit­ting, then, that we should sam­ple cous­cous with stewed veg­eta­bles and mer­guez sausages at L’Amal­game. Goldstein ex­plains that the owner, Nasser Oual­louche, em­i­grated from Al­ge­ria in the 1960s, and Oual­louche’s wife, Nora, is one of only two restau­ra­teurs in all of Paris who still pre­pare cous­cous by hand, fresh from semolina.

“It’s ac­tu­ally like a home­cooked meal,” mar­vels Rad­hika Oberoi, who is vis­it­ing from Dubai. But it’s not only the food she finds ap­peal­ing.

“This is so much bet­ter than a hop-on-hop-off bus,” she says of the tour as I dive in for a sec­ond help­ing of cous­cous. “You get to hear dif­fer­ent tales, and I think it gives per­spec­tive — a feel­ing of be­long­ing to the coun­try for a bit.”

Of course, if you’re go­ing for the full French foodie ex­pe­ri­ence, you must make room for cheese. “We eat cheese at every din­ner,” Goldstein in­sists. “This French stereo­type is true.”

Loos­en­ing my belt a notch (OK, two notches), I fol­low Goldstein to Paroles de Fro­magers. In the shop’s bar­rel-vaulted 17th-cen­tury cel­lar, co-owner Pierre Bris­son treats us to a cheese chat as we sam­ple five va­ri­eties with a glass of chardon­nay.

My fa­vorite is a gooey Bril­lat-Savarin (75 per­cent fat; what’s not to love?), fol­lowed closely by a Brie de Meaux. And there I am in good — or at least, in­fa­mous — com­pany. Leg­end holds that when Louis XVI was on the run dur­ing the French Revo­lu­tion, he stopped for a meal and re­fused to leave un­til he had fin­ished his Brie and wine — a de­lay that con­trib­uted to his ul­ti­mate cap­ture and ex­e­cu­tion. So I sup­pose calo­ries and high choles­terol were the least of Louis’ wor­ries.

Of course, if you’re go­ing to risk the guil­lo­tine for a chunk of cheese, you want to choose one that’s wor­thy. Ac­cord­ing to Bris­son, “A good Brie smells of cau­li­flower. Cheese is not al­ways as poetic as the wine,” he al­lows with a sheep­ish shrug.

As far as the French are con­cerned, how­ever, you can’t go wrong with a Comté, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese with a vaguely nutty, sa­vory fla­vor. “When you go to a party at some­one’s house, French peo­ple al­ways take a Comté,” Goldstein says. “If we could make a lol­lipop from it, we would.”

Wad­dling up the stone steps from the cel­lar, my belly brim­ming with cheese and wine, I’m tempted to wave my white nap­kin in de­feat. But Goldstein re­minds us that we still have dessert. Hoist­ing a bag of treats from Yann Cou­vreur, a young pas­try chef whose in­no­va­tive In­sta­grammable cre­ations have been fea­tured in Vogue Paris, our pas­try-wield­ing pied piper bids us fol­low him to our penul­ti­mate stop.

Af­ter pass­ing through the busy Place de la Republique, “where you come to protest, to com­plain, to get your voice heard,” Goldstein leads us to the leafy Eden of the Square du Tem­ple, just out­side the 10th Ar­rondisse­ment in the north of the trendy Marais. “You come in from the con­crete jun­gle … and then, this,” he smiles, as we set­tle on a row of park benches by a duck-filled pond.

Were it not for Goldstein, I’d never have found my­self in this peace­ful haven, tuck­ing into a citrus tarte and cho­co­late and co­conut éclair. I re­ally do feel like a gen­uine Parisian denizen, privy to the city’s se­cret plea­sures.

That’s ex­actly what Goldstein hopes to ac­com­plish with this tour. “It’s about eat­ing like a lo­cal and giv­ing a taste of lo­cal life,” he ex­plains. “A city is so much more than its land­marks.”

CON­TRIB­UTED BY AMY LAUGH­ING­HOUSE

TSF Epi­cure serves a char­cu­terie plat­ter with a sliced baguette and pinot noir to guests of Eat­ing Europe’s Paris: Hip Eats and Back­streets tour.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY AMY LAUGH­ING­HOUSE

Chil­dren play in a fountain in Paris’ Place de la Republique.

Bril­lat-Savarin, a deca­dently creamy cheese that is 75 per­cent fat, at Paroles de Fro­magers.

Near the end of the Hip Eats and Back­streets Parisian food tour, guests en­joy pas­tries in the lush Square du Tem­ple park.

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