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Author’s note: Last month I spent a couple of weeks in France, a country I hadn’t been to in nearly a decade. I started my visit in the French capital but also visited two new French cities, Avignon and Montpellier, both in the south of France, an area of the country I hadn’t really ever spent time in before.
Even though I had been to Paris three times prior, on my last visit there in 2010 I was not at all a foodie. In fact, save for a boule of ice cream from the legendary Berthillon on Île Saint-Louis and the requisite decadent pastry from a patisserie, all the meals I ever had there were frankly pitiful, or as the French would say, déplorable. So wanting to atone for past culinary sins I had committed as a non-gourmand, booking a food tour was at the top of my Paris to-do list, especially since I had already done just about every touristy activity one can do in the City of Light three times over.
While there is a plethora of food tour companies to choose from, I ended up going with Eating Europe, since I had taken two tours with them previously, most recently my London food tour that I had gone on back in June. Both my Prague and London food tours were fabulous experiences and I knew that in a city like Paris, it would be nothing but the same.
Eating Europe Paris has two tour options to choose from-a brunch-focused tour in Montmartre, and a more traditional lunchtime-focused one in three hip, less-touristy neighborhoods entitled “Hip Eats and Backstreets.” I ended up going with the latter since it seemed I would get to try the most variety of foods and I always love the chance to explore areas of a city I have never traversed before.
The tour began in the 10th arrondissement, an area of Paris I’m sure few tourists have been to before. The official meeting point was Villemin Square, which in Parisian history housed everything from a convent to a military hospital (thanks to the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s). Today the square is a beautiful green oasis, but nearly a century and a half ago, it was where wounded soldiers were brought after arriving at the nearby Gare de l’Est. Today, the only surviving trace of the square’s former life as a military hospital is the entrance on Rue des Récollets.
Unfortunately the day of the tour was cold and rainy (it literally rained non-stop), so it made for a pretty dismal experience walking around and being outside. But I guess that when you go on as many food tours as I have, you’re due for some inclement weather. I just think personally I would have enjoyed the tour more if it hadn’t been raining and I wasn’t trying to manage an umbrella while attempting to take photographs with my numb fingers. But as the tour companies say, “in rain OR shine.”
There were a total of five tastings which I’ll detail in the order we stopped:
Two renditions of croque monsieurs @ Fric Frac
Here at this little eatery along the Canal Saint-Martin, I tried two different versions of croque monsieurs. The first was the traditional variety, a baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich covered in béchamel sauce. The second was a creative reinvention of the original featuring goat cheese, nuts, and herbs. It was tasty but I can’t really see how it’s considered anything remotely akin to a croque monsieur. Regardless, I much preferred the tried and true classic original.
Red wine and charcuterie @ TSF Epicure
So I discovered that in France, the term charcuterie board strictly refers to meats versus in the United States, it includes both meats and cheeses. Mais non, not in la France. I tried three different types of meats and the board was laden with baguette slices, butter, and pickles. I also learned that the most popular sandwich in France is one with ham and beurre, (butter). Naturally this was made then.
North African cuisine @ L’amalgame
I LOVE eating the food of former colonies and was looking most forward to this particular spot. Although I’m most familiar with Moroccan cuisine, L’amalgame serves Algerian fare, which is neat to say I’ve now tried. Here we had homemade couscous (tastes nothing like the boxed kind I am used to), a vegetable tagine, and merguez, which I learned is a red, spicy mutton- or beef-based sausage typically grilled. We were also given a glass of mint tea to end the meal.
Selection of French cheeses @ Paroles de Fromagers
At first I thought this was just going to be a quick, eat-on-the-go kind of stop until we were brought downstairs to a 17th century cheese cellar where we got to sample a selection of French cheeses. So that alone made it one of my favorite stops. I really would love to become more of a cheese connoisseur.
Pastries from Yann Couvreur
So this stop was a casualty of sorts of the rain. I think normally on a nice day we would have eaten these outdoors, possibly in the Place de la République (where basically anything of note takes place), but as it was cold and raining, we ended up going to a nearby cafe and had a hot beverage to accompany the two pastries the guide had picked up earlier in the tour from Yann Couvreur, a pastry shop that left my mouth watering after stepping inside.
All in all, I liked the tour but didn’t love it. The bad weather definitely played a deciding factor in this, but compared to my other two Eating Europe food tours, this one offered the least amount of food (especially since two of the stops were cheese and meat tastings) which is a little crappy since at 95 euros a person, it’s not at all a cheap activity. It’s one of the company’s newest tours so I do think it can be tweaked a little in order for it to become a truly memorable experience.