Do you know Amy Reverdy, of the wonderful blog C’est La Me? If not, prepare to be wooed. This sweet expat from California charms with her self-deprecating, I’m-too-west-coast-to-take-myself-seriously tales of adapting to life with the Frenchies. In this post she shares her mouth-watering Context food tour in Saint Germain with fellow HIP Paris contributor and fabulous Parisian foodie, Meg Zimbeck.
The Inside Scoop (Photo by Little Brown Pen)
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live like a Parisian? Unless you’re prepared to travel with a dog or take up smoking, I think the easiest and most enjoyable way to experience la belle vie while visiting France is by shopping and eating.
I’ve been living in Paris for five years now. While I’d like to pretend that I spend my days strolling along selecting cheeses and chocolates from small shops, I’d be exaggerating. Sometimes I’m forced to go to the supermarket due to time constraints, hours of operation, or the simple fact that I need to buy toilet paper.
On the weekend, however, I really do try to frequent the farmer’s market and small shops in my quartier. Little by little, you start to develop a relationship with the vendors and they remember you. With my accent, it usually doesn’t take all that long. My second visit to the produce shop on rue Mouffetard, I was greeted with “Bonjour, Miss California.” I’m still smiling. And a few weeks later, after I’d paid for all my fruits and vegetables, I realized that I’d forgotten a lime. When I told him it was for my vodka tonic, he placed it in my hand with a wink and refused my money.
Caramel pastry from La Patisserie des Rêves (Edwardkimuk)
Living like a Parisian is not always perfect, but it certainly can be if you go about it the right way. The beauty of being on vacation is that you can choose what you’d like to do with your time and plan accordingly. For example, I recently took part in Context Travel’s “Baguette to Bistro: Culinary Traditions of Paris” walking seminar. I’m often asked by friends and friends of friends for travel tips so I thought it would be a good experience and one I could recommend if I enjoyed myself, which I did – immensely!
The tour started at 10:00 a.m. I met my docent, Meg Zimbeck, in front of a café where rue du Bac hits the Seine. I was pleased to find that there were only three other participants joining us that day. It was immediately obvious that this was not going to be an ordinary tour. There would be no red umbrella to follow, no “bus leaves in 10 minutes” shouted through the end of a bullhorn, and no herding, corralling or waiting in long lines at the souvenir shop.
After introductions and a little small talk, the official tour began. Meg offered us some interesting historical information about the 7th arrondissement, the setting for our tasting tour, and we were off!
Picture yourself walking down a narrow street lined with boutiques and shops then popping into la boulangerie to buy some freshly baked bread.
After that, you visit la fromagerie across the street to taste a few cheeses that you selected with the aid of a master. You’ll need something to spread all over the crusty baguette you just bought – although it really is so delicious you could eat it solo.
Goat cheese on a baguette – the perfect snack (Chiot’s Run)
You’re back on the tiny sidewalk again, but seeing all those delicious pastries at the boulangerie has awoken your sweet tooth You could return to the boulangerie to pick up a pain aux raisins, but why look back when straight ahead there is a shop specifically dedicated to sweet things: la pâtisserie! You go inside and peruse the decadent offerings and have one boxed up for later.
After admiring creations that so closely resemble artwork they are kept under glass, you cannot be expected to wait until “later” to get your sugar fix so you take une petite pause at your local chocolatier for some instant gratification.
Ooh là là! It’s already half past noon, but you have one last stop. La cave, of course. You enter and admire the beautiful bottles of fine Bordeaux wines, while doing so the lovely caviste offers you a sampling of an hors d’age Armagnac which you gladly accept. I guess it really is good to be French!
There were three things that I particularly enjoyed about the tour. The first, and probably the most obvious, was getting to learn about the products and having the opportunity to taste them on the spot and ask follow-up questions about ingredients, the process, etc. Secondly, I liked that our group was small which meant there was enough time to stray off topic and discuss questions about culture, customs, and favorite restaurants (which is why I would recommend taking the tour early in your trip so you’ll have time to put this wealth of knowledge to work). Finally, going back to the relationship aspect I mentioned above, Meg (or Context Travel docents, in general) has a relationship with the shop owners/employees because she is a regular customer. Thus, as her “visitor” you get a real French shopping experience.
If you’d like to do some “window shopping” or as the French call it “window licking” (lèche-vitrine, because they just can’t keep their tongues in their mouths), to hold you over til your trip to Paris, here are the places we visited:
And, of course:
Context Travel’s “Baguette to Bistro: Culinary Traditions of Paris”
Duration: 2.5 hours (minimum, my tour went over)
Price: €70, plus €10 tasting fee
- Meg Zimbeck’s foodie website, Paris By Mouth
- Context Travel’s list of Paris tours
- Amy Reverdy’s blog, C’est La Me
- Maggie Battista’s favorite foodie stops on the Rue du Bac