Bagels in Paris

It's not exactly that I was craving a bagel.  I was walking in Paris, alone, hungry, and with half an hour to kill.  The air around me was viciously cold; I could feel it clamping it's jaws into my core.


With the desire for a quick, inexpensive meal, and shelter from the cold, I ducked into Bagelstein in Le Marais.  Bagelstein is a French chain with the quirkiness of every French chain with American influence.  I had a simple poppy seed bagel with cream cheese.  The bagel just tasted like American bread, not awful, but not a bagel either.

bready bagel

After consuming this non-bagel, I was talking with a friend with lots of Parisian experience and she suggested that I try Bagels & Brownies.  The next day I ventured to Rue Notre Dame des Champs with my boyfriend to see what we thought.

At Bagels & Brownies, each bagel sandwich is named for a city in the United States.  I opted for the Phoenix and a brownie to go with it.  Of course, I trusted my dear friend's recommendation, even so, I was pleasantly surprised by this little shop's offerings.  My bagel had nice texture, the tomatoes and avocados added a hint of freshness, and the mustard brought the sandwich together perfectly.

Phoenix bagel at Jardin du Luxembourg

Brownie "marquise"


Galette des Rois (King's Cake)

January is the month of Galette des Rois in France.  To celebrate Epiphany, families share an almond cake baked in puff pastry.  Baked into the confection is a fève -or small token of some kind- and the person whose slice contains this fève is crowned "king" with a golden paper crown.  

My host family had one for dessert on Saturday and guess who got the fève...

C'est moi!

For the entire month of January, Galette des Rois can be found in every shop.  Puff pastry encases the classic frangipane filling.  My host mom made ours with a layer of pastry cream as well.  No complaints.


Je Vais Prendre un Pain au Chocolat

There are a few French words, sentences, and phrases that I will not soon forget.  Of course, I'll never forget "merci," "bonsoir," or "d'accord."  I use these words daily or hourly.  In addition to these, there are a few phrases that I use more than I anticipated.

pain au chocolat a la Regis Colin
Perhaps most importantly, "je vais prendre un pain au chocolat" will always be filed away in my brain under important sentences.  "I'll take a pain au chocolat."  For the next six months, I will be on the hunt for my favorite pain au chocolat in Paris.

Thus far, I have tried the offerings at Paul, Eric Kayser, and Régis Colin.  A significant amount of my time is spent around the 2nd arrondissement and all three of these boulangeries can be found there.  Paul is an international chain that I had tried once or twice in the USA.  The quality at Parisian Paul locations is superior and the prices lower.  It's still a chain, but a respectable one for the price.  Eric Kayser is a pretty well-known international chain, too.  Something about the ambiance feels vaguely more Parisian and I find the proportions and distribution of dough-to-chocolate superior to Paul.  

galettes des rois 
As of now, Régis Colin takes the prize for my favorite croissant dough.  The store-front on Rue de Montmartre is small with an automatic door, and interesting form of self-check-out.  The lady behind the counter was very helpful and efficient without being rude.  It seems that Colin is known for his Galette des Rois, which I suppose I ought to try before the month is up.  His croissant dough is to die for.  It is certainly one of those delicacies that one doesn't want to come to an end.  At all three of these establishments croissant are right around 1€ and pain au chocolat 20 cents more, or so.  So remind me why they cost triple that in the US?   

The search will certainly continue and I welcome your suggestions of bakeries to try.  Hopefully soon I will have a chance to explore the viennoiserie that Montmartre has to offer.


Getting Used to Things

Living in France is an education.  Like any experience, I came into it with preconceived notions and ideas about the challenges, differences, and just about everything else for that matter.  Now that I've been here for 23 days, I have plenty of thoughts on what I was right about, wrong about, or never even thought of in the first place.  But for now, I'll just focus on what I never saw coming.

Never did I think that viennoiserie crumbs getting caught in my scarf would be such a regular occurrence.  More than once, I have found myself walking down a cobblestone street with a pain au chocolat leaving half of its layers in the folds of my black pashmina.

Who would have thought that the lines at La Poste could be so long, so often?  As a prolific letter writer, the lines don't quite dissuade me from sending my envelopes, but they come close.  

The people who work at our local Saturday market are the friendliest ever.  They give away free morsels with enthusiasm and make lovely conversation while preparing your crêpes.  It's amazing to me that in the sea of people who descend on the market every week, vendors specifically remember particular customers.  

I'm sure I'll discover many more unexpected perks and problems with Paris during my stay.  And for those of you who are here for the recipes, I hope to get back to that soon, too.


Je Suis Ici Pour Manger

The beginning of January has been eventful on the eating front.  I've had several friends here who have been enablers when it comes to my food habits, and it has been dreamy.

Pastries at Angelina
My recent food adventures range from experiences like trying to find my favorite American foods, to partaking in extravagant tea-time rituals.  

The first thing I thought about when I landed in Paris was where I would find peanut butter.  Okay, maybe the first thing I thought about was seeing my boyfriend.  But, I would safely say it was at least the fifth or sixth thing I thought about.  Peanut butter is to the American body as gasoline is to une voiture.  It is fuel and we guzzle it.  My local Intermarché does not sell the stuff.  The first place I found it was at Le Bon Marché in Paris.  Which, for those of you who don't know, is a foodie destination.  As such, it is absurdly expensive.  They stock Mississippi Belle in 18oz jars for more than 10€!  This brand is not even made exclusively of peanuts.  Later, I found some awesome organic peanut butter at Biocoop for a more reasonable 4€.  It may very well be the most delicious peanut butter I've tasted.  

The proof

My new favorite peanut butter

Obviously, I did not spend money on peanut butter at Le Bon Marché, but I did indulge in a few other little pleasures.  A portion of Pont-l'Évêque and a few squares of Valrhona.  On my way home, I stopped at my local Festival des Pains for a baguette traditional to eat alongside my cheese.  No words can describe how supremely French I feel with a baguette sticking out of my bag as I stroll along.  


Alpaco, Abinao, and Caraibe remain my favorites
Have baguette; will travel

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending an hour or so at Angelina for a famous chocolat chaud with the lovely French-speaking Sarah.  Sarah lived in Paris to study and speaks French very well.  I even heard our server saying so.  The original Angelina is on Rue de Rivoli and contains a clean boutique and an upscale dining area.  Sarah told me that Coco Chanel, who lived at The Ritz nearby, took her morning nourishment in this beautiful dining room.  

Chocolat Chaud

photo by Sarah
The place was full and busy with tourists.  The chocolat chaud was 9€.  I'm no Coco Chanel; I can't afford a 9€ beverage each day, but the stuff was worth it.  I will be hard-pressed to find a better cup of chocolate.  Just to make sure that my body was completely full of sugar, I ordered a Mont-Blanc Chocolat as well.  If you're into chestnut and chocolate, follow my lead.

Mont-Blanc Chocolat

I've had a few other lovely food and coffee adventures and I'm sure that before another day goes by, I'll have even more.  

Boulangerie on Île Saint-Louis


French Vending Machines

The great mystery of the skinny French lady with the Twix bar has officially been solved. It turns out that to find the American candy, all I had to do was take a gander at my local RER station's vending machines.   Alongside the vacuum packed waffles, Kinder Bueno, and Orangina one may find Twix, Skittles, M&Ms, and Snickers.

But truly, who can tell me what's going on with the vacuum packed waffles?  I mean, not only have I never seen this before, it just seems kind of odd and gross.  Is it being snobby to say that waffles should be made to-order and eaten hot?  Plus,  I'm an American.  What's a waffle without maple syrup?  The whole point of eating a waffle instead of a pancake is that you can collect butter, syrup and other heart-healthy ingredients in the square crevices.  Can't you just imagine an American munching on a sticky syrup covered waffle in the middle of the train?  To me, that's more plausible than eating a stale, preservative-laden hunk of carbohydrates plain, with nothing to overpower the taste of plastic packaging.

Please, correct me if I'm wrong in my ideas of these oddities.  Has anyone reading this ever enjoyed one of these €1 snacks?  That's another thing, it sort of terrifies me that the waffles cost less than the pack of gum also offered in this machine.

Maybe I'm becoming more European, because the only thing I even considered buying from this machine was a multi-pack of Kinder Bueno.  You save €0.60 per bar; it's such a good deal!  Okay, so maybe my reasoning is still American.

Any Americans out there hyperventilating at the idea of drinking a lukewarm soda or bottle of juice? 

I'll leave you today with an image from last night.  The view of L’église Saint-Eustache from La Canopée at Les Halles.  It always makes me smile to see this when coming up the stairs from the métro


Ceci et Cela

Since arriving in Paris, I've absorbed lots of things. From the downright humorous to the mildly amusing, interesting to unlikely.

Eventually, I will take photos with my DSLR, I promise.  The iPhone photos aren't forever.

But, this post will be a peek into my life here through random pictures.  If you aren't into non-professional photos, consider yourself warned.

I've made it one of my missions, while here in France, to try as much of the cheap chocolate readily available in supermarkets as possible and to report back on how it differs from American offerings.  Milka and Côte d'Or are what I've tried thus far.  These two options are under €2.  Côte d'Or is a Belgian brand owned by Mondelēz. My first purchase was their "L'Original Noir" which is one of the most sugary "dark" chocolates I've ever tasted.  The tablets are difficult to break and overall too big.  In terms of taste, design and quality I wouldn't give this one a high rating.  The Milka "Triple" bar had a bit more going for it.  The tablets are the right size and in each row there is a different filling, three total, thus "Triple."  At least I can say that this one was fun to eat.  

I have only spotted a few American candy bars around.  Yesterday, on the RER, I was next to an older, very thin French woman munching on a Twix bar.  I'm wondering if this woman has cornered the market, because I have not seen a solitary Twix bar in any store or vending machine.  It's also possible that I am not looking hard enough, because honestly, I don't care.  I'm in Paris.  Why would I want American candy?

This gateau was leftover from New Year's Eve and came from a supermarket.  It was a fairly decent strawberry mousse confection.  The gateau itself is not particularly notable, but there is a small story behind it that I find amusing.  

My host kids are in the habit of TURNING DOWN CAKE for dessert and asking instead for cheese or a banana.  

Upon further reflection, I actually totally get the whole cheese thing.

They sell this book at the Palais Garnier gift shop and I want a copy.

Some people I've taken tea with *cough* take a lot of sugar in their tea, 3-5 lumps.  Also, note how adorable the sugar packets are here.  I've seen all sorts of cute designs and rectangular prisms.  Too bad  I never actually use them...   


La Diversité

Paris, I've found, is quite diverse.  It is a fact that makes this place so appealing to me in several respects.  The city and its suburbs are demographically varied, but what surprises me is the variety of activities, food, and scenery.  Each neighborhood has an identity, homegrown businesses, pittoresque parks and much more to keep its dwellers content.

sandwich in the cafe window
There are cute conceptual businesses like Cosy Corner in the 4th arrondissement with a view of La Tour Saint-Jacques just across the way.  Cosy Corner is a sleek, silent internet café perfect for studying or writing blog posts. For €5 an hour, visitors have access to wifi and silence along with unlimited tea-time beverages and eats.  A great spot to take your date if you're nervous about having a conversation.  wink wink 

I'm sure I will return often to study, write and have a piece of cake.  Obviously, like all things in my life, I'm in it for the cake.

Chocolate cake at Cozy Corner

Do you spy La Tour Saint-Jacques?
Human diversity played a role in my enjoyment of the New Year's Eve festivities in Paris.  I went to the Champs-Élysées to see the light show on l'Arc de Triomphe.  My group consisted of a Parisian, five Italians and yours truly.  Not only was my personal circle diverse and interesting, they opened doors for us to have funny encounters.  Like the Japanese gentleman who spoke to us in an enthusiastic smattering of French, Italian and English.  I also enjoyed the apparently typical group of Algerians who were chanting patriotically for their country even though patriotism is fairly irrelevant in terms of ringing in a new year.  

Champs-Élysées on New Year's Eve
I am becoming more comfortable with the language barrier, although I hope at least the French one will begin to fall, and I find it amusing to communicate through facial expressions, gestures and an odd word or two.   

This was supposed to be a food blog, right?  So, I guess it's necessary to have a bit more discussion of food and the different choices one has in Paris.  I've had authentic-tasting Middle Eastern, North African,  Indian, and Portuguese food and approximations of American specialties, but as of now, I think that the Mexican food is lacking.  

Upon my arrival last Sunday I was guided to O'Tacos in Saint-Denis which is a chain here that specializes in tacos, right?  Don't be fooled by the fact that this establishment is literally named after tacos.  The concept is French influenced tacos - which turn out more like burritos - and I'm not saying that they are displeasing.  However, my first Mexican (?) food experience here did not make me feel like I was in Texas eating outside of a hoppin' food truck.  I was just eating cordon bleu wrapped in a flour tortilla.

excuse this horrendous photograph
Paris is obviously a hub for culture, so it makes sense that plenty of activities are available to the common man.  Okay, maybe not everyone attends the opera or the ballet.  It is, however, likely that anyone could.  There are all sorts of discounts for students, employees of certain companies and specific day-of-the-week deals to make the arts and activities accessible for all.  Museums, landmarks, shows, you name it.  Last week, I had the privilege of attending a contemporary ballet at Palais Garnier.  The seats were the cheap ones, but by no means undesirable.  The view was unhindered and the performance immensely enjoyable.  I recalled trying to find tickets to a ballet at the Kennedy Center several months ago and the only available seats were upwards of $80.  Here it's more like $30.  I was even able to visit the tower of Notre Dame de Paris free of charge as a student.

Come out of the metro and BAM: Palais Garnier

Spectacular views from Notre Dame de Paris - free for students

Visit Paris and see for yourself everything it offers.