Stuck in Paris and wondering what to do? How about a food escapade?
To get started on an afternoon of culinary delights is easy: go and ask Parisians for advice about their favourite places because I guarantee you that most people here keep a mental file of the good food joints they’ve come across or heard of, complete with address and price range. Who am I kidding? I even used to write mine down in a special notebook!
Alternatively, one can turn to the myriad websites and apps out there offering netizen reviews of restaurants. The quality of information varies but it’s a good starting point to explore your options.
Skip the snobbishness
So the good news is that recommendations abound. Wait for it…the bad news is that some places are so popular that you shouldn’t even bother showing up without a dinner reservation, which totally stinks when you are on a spontaneous taste mission.
As with everything Parisian, it’s easy to fall victim to the snobbishness around and insist on queuing for an hour in the sun the get *gasp* the absolute bestest ice-cream in the city – that’s supposed to be Berthillion on île Saint-Louis by the way. Sometimes it’s worth it, like the fashionable and ever-packed Siam Thai in Belleville, sometimes it’s just a hipster fashion trend, like that 25 euro Sunday brunch that you have to book in advance.
You will have guessed that I am not crazy about food trends in Paris but I’ll say this : knowing about popular eateries is a bit like having read the latest prized novelist ; it helps you get through the next polite party conversation. The next level is unlocked by seeking out unknown gems in your neighbourhood.
Where’s the real deal ?
Over the past two years, I’ve turned into a food hunter specialised in cheap tasty grub. On Saturday, I was paying a visit to the rue du faubourg Saint-Denis where, walking down from La Chapelle to Gare du Nord and on to Gare de l’est, you get to try a surprising variety of specialties from South Asia.
The restaurant names make it easy to spot what kind of cuisine can be expected inside: anything with Bhavaan is vegetarian, Bangla Café (Bangladesh of course), Lahore Café (Pakistan), Madras Café (southern India) etc. Some of the restaurants lining the street are famous with food enthusiasts, attracting a mixed clientele, while others are more akin to community hang outs where mostly men get together to enjoy a taste of home.
It’s all worth giving a try, with dishes ranging from generous servings at 5 euros at the more low-key places, to 15-17 euros at the excellent vegetarian Sravanaa Bhavan. Expect to find many vegeterian and non vegetarian options, dosa, biriyani, vegetable samosa, parotta, masala chai, the list is endless.
If you’re an East African in need of comfort food, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is also the place to go. Some grocery stores sell real pilipili. Don’t get me wrong: I also like the Cayenne pepper but it’s nice to go back to the basics sometimes ;)
Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, Paris
Metro : La Chapelle (line 2) or Gare du nord (lines 4, 5, B, D)