Entries in Eating & Drinking (86)
There's nothing like a refreshing glass of iced tea when the temperatures start rising. But if it's your first time in France, beware that the "iced tea" on the menu probably isn't what you think it is.
First, if it's a French menu and the beverage is listed as Ice Tea, it's probably Lipton or Nestea brand "Ice Tea" in a can or bottle. Industrial iced tea might not bother you (it can't be worse than carbonated soft drinks, right?)
But if you don't look closely at the label before taking a swig, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find that its peach flavored. No, you didn't ask for peach, and the menu didn't say peach. But in France pêche is the default flavor of iced tea. In the US -- unless maybe you're from the South -- it's usually lemon. And they have lemon (and raspberry and mango) flaor in France, but that's not necessarily what you'll get in a café.
So how do you get actual iced tea? Look for "Thé glacé maison" and ask the server if it's from a bottle or made fresh. Then ask if it's nature (unflavored), citron (lemon) or pêche (peach), if you have a preference.
I've had real iced tea at Ladurée and Carette (pictured on the left), both which are tearooms, and both times they were unflavored and unsweetened. In this case they bring the sugar for you to sweeten it yourself. If you've never made your own iced tea, you might be a bit humbled to discover just how much sugar you have to put in there to get it to taste "normal". I just drink it without sugar, a perfect accompaniment to the rich chocolate pastries I can't resist!
Photo courtesy Eric Kayser Bakery
My cousins came to visit me this week in Paris for their first time, and although they were very excited to eat as much French food as possible, two of them have Celiac, a very serious condition that means they can't have any gluten at all. Not even a little (some people who are gluten intolerant in the US actually have no problem with French breads here in Paris, perhaps from the different baking ingredients, I don't know).
So we tried as many different gluten-free products as we could find during their short blitz through town, without particularly going out of our way to find it. Here are our experiences:
- Canal Bio (46bis Quai de la Loire, Bassin de la Villette, 19th): we were on the Canal St-Martin and strolled up to the Bassin de la Villette (north of Stalingrad metro) looking for a shop selling beer and wine so we could picnic. This organic food shop has a few different packaged bread products (ie not bakery fresh). The bread was dry, tasteless, and hard as a rock the next morning, less than 12 hours after we opened it. Also of note, their organic brie tasted like nothing. Just flavorless goo. On the plus side, their gluten-free beer (one brand) was actually pretty good, and they sell raw chocolates by RRRAW, which are always awesome!
- NoGlu Epicerie (16 Passage des Panoramas, 2nd): we were visiting the Covered Passages after lunch and were looking forward to some gluten-free pastries from the epicerie (across the passage from the restaurant), but as we walked up at 3pm they were closing. Huh? Even in France that's odd. I can understand the restaurant closing between lunch and dinner, but a food shop that is only open noon-3pm is pretty useless. We didn't make an effort to go back the next day (also, I must admit, the last time I tried a muffin and cookie from there I found them dry and rather flavorless, so although I pass by regularly, I've never bothered going back inside).
- Carrefour's Organic/Gluten-Free Section: We also popped into Carrefour Supermarket at the Italie 2 mall near me because it's open until 10pm, and their gluten-free selection is as bland and uninviting as you'd expect from a huge chain supermarket (and we were rather put off by the lack of any other brands besides Carrefour's own; industrial organic food being only a smidgen less bad than industrial food) and the obvious mold in the packaged prosciutto (which hadn't expired yet).
- Eric Kayser Boulangerie (Bercy Village, 12th, but there are 20 locations in Paris): we popped in here before heading into Bercy Park to smell the roses, and they had a whole section for breads "Libre de Gluten", freshly baked, individually wrapped and kept on a shelf separate from the other products. We got the Pain Gonesse Semi-Complet, and it was amazing! Really. I was amazed it was so tasty, moist, and filling. I would happily get this instead of their regular bread even though I have no problem with gluten. An earlier blog by Gluten-Free JetSet all about the Eric Kayser range mentions the breads are only half cooked, but that must have changed because it was definitely read to eat.
There are many other gluten-free places in Paris now. I have been to Chambelland and Thank You, My Deer, thought both were okay, but not worth a trip across town (they're not exactly near anything tourists would see).
Here are a few other articles about gluten-free eating in Paris by other journalists and bloggers:
- "Gluten-free Eating and DIning in Paris" by David Lebovitz (with links)
- And if you can understand French, Gluten Free in Paris is a local website updated regularly.
After a few false starts (sunny and warm in April, then rather chilly and wet in May), picnic season has finally come into full bloom in Paris. Here are a few of my own recommendations for having the most successful picnic.
1. Enjoy the abundance! Most blogs encouraging visitors to picnic always say the same thing: get a bottle of wine, some cheese and a fresh baguette. I'm not saying you can't do this (and if you're on a tight budget that may be all you can afford), but you’ll find there’s so much more to enjoy if you follow your nose to the local open-air food markets. You’ll not only find bread, cheese and wine, but also fresh fruit and salad fixings, foie gras and paté, nuts and olives, roasted chickens (you can just get a few thighs or drumsticks) and potatoes, seafood salad, dried sausages, yogurts and jams, Lebanese hummus and breads, and hot dishes of all kinds: choucroute with ham and cabbage, pasta, curried rice, beef stew, Polish sausage sandwiches and potato latkes, quiches and meat pies! My favorites for the best selection of prepared foods are the Marché Auguste Blanqui on Friday and Sunday mornings, the Marché des Enfants Rouges (every morning but Monday, try and avoid the weekends after 11am because of crowds), the Marché Bastille Thursday and Sunday, the Marché Président Wilson Wednesday and Saturday, and the covered Marché Beauvau in the Marche d'Aligre (any morning but Monday). For those into making baguette sandwiches, you can find mayo and mustard in toothpaste-style tubes in most Parisian supermarkets, but honestly it’s easier to get one already made fresh at any bakery.
2. Pack ziplock bags of supplies. Plastic forks and spoons, paper plates and napkins, a real knife (like a Laguiole pocket knife), a bottle opener, and plastic cups are essentials. Cutting boards are also handy! These supplies can all be inexpensively purchased at any Parisian supermarket like Franprix or Monoprix, but if you want the best quality and stylish materials at the lowest prices check out kitchen supply stores that sell to the general public (plus 20% VAT), such as Le Comptoire de la Table near the Marché d'Aligre (I got a dozen very cool plastic Champagne flutes for €3 here), or La Bovida near Rue Montorgueil. Extra bags for leftovers and/or trash are also handy.
All of the essentials, these guys are pros (napkin rings are the lady's touch, merci Jeanette!)
3. If you can't find ice (try Allo Glacons or Picard), just buy a few bags of cheap frozen peas or potatoes at the grocery store to keep wine and foods cool. Many grocery stores sell insulated bags if you need to keep things cool for longer on the hottest days. Worst case scenario: buy drinks that are already cold at a supermarket or bakery, and look for an actual wine shop (there are always a few near each market) which has some chilled wine and bubbly. When you don’t have a way to keep food cold, avoid any foods that might go bad if left at room temperature too long.
4. Bring something to sit on, if not a blanket then at least a magazine or newspaper. Parisian benches often have pigeon droppings on them, grass can be damp, and the cobbled quays of the Seine aren’t very soft on the derrière. Bonus points for cushions.
Stylish Parisians like Laurent not only bring cushions, they can also wear shorts without looking like tourists!
5. Don't be late! The more scenic the location, the earlier you’ll have to get there to secure a spot. The quays of the Seine, the Islands, and the Canal St Martin are usually packed by 8pm. Any grassy spot in a park that doesn’t close at night (ie Carroussel du Louvre, the Jardins du Trocadéro) can be nice, but beware of little critters that come out after dark looking for food scraps. Having candles and/or flashlight handy will help once the sun goes down (not until at least 10pm in June and as late as 11pm in July).
Paris Plage along the Seine in late July.
6. Les Toilettes. You’ll want to find a spot far enough from any public toilets (or corners that are used as public toilets…follow your nose) to avoid smelling them, but close enough for when you’ll inevitably need it yourself. Cafés are not usually so happy about picknickers using their facilities, so don’t count on it. Paris Plage (in season) and Les Berges have public restrooms (and water fountains!).
7. Drink responsibly. Technically speaking, there are a few confusing container laws, and you’re not supposed to have glass in Parisian parks, so if you have wine or beer bottles, keep them discreetly hidden away (high-end boxed wine is handy in this case). The police on patrol usually just ask you to finish or put away your alcohol unless you seem to be rowdy (I have never been fined for drinking in public, nor know anyone who has in Paris).
Pretty wine cups don't have to be expensive, these are all under €3.
8. Bring a few bottles of water for drinking and rinsing hands (and questionably clean fruit). If you want to be super classy you’ll have linen napkins (linen tea towels are sold in any French kitchen shop).
9. Make your life easier: cocktail tomatoes instead of ones you have to slice; ask the baker to slice your bread loaf for you (“tranché”); don’t buy hard cheeses if you only have cheap plastic knives; don’t buy runny cheeses if you don’t plan on eating it right away; get everything already prepared (sandwiches, pasta salads, fruit salads, desserts) at any delicatessen (“traiteur”).
10. Make friends with the locals: share your bottle opener; share your wine; clean up after yourselves; don’t feed the ducks or the pigeons (I saw a woman in the Place des Vosges feed one lone pigeon and then a whole flock descended on her à la Hitchcock...just don’t do it).
Bonus tip: if you live in Paris, invest in a set of pétanque/boules balls and learn the basics. It’s popular now for all ages, not just old French guys (great locations
What are your own favorite picnic tips and recommendations?
I was on one of my morning runs when I passed a new shop in my neighborhood with cute lavender-colored boxes in the window, so I stopped for a photo. Wine in a box! They looked so cute I went back for an apéro that evening with my friend Lisa to check it out.
A guest post by Sharon Autry (click on any photo to see the full size image).
Traveling to France is exciting anytime of the year, but going for Christmas is a vacation you won't soon forget. Paris and all of France dresses for the occasion with lights and decorations which transforms the cities and shopping areas into nothing short of a magical winter wonderland. Having just spent two weeks visiting Paris and Strasbourg, I can say my own decorating skills pale in comparison; the French know how to do it up big!
My Christmas journey began in Paris and took me through the decorated cobblestone streets where the shopkeepers put on their best look for the holiday. I visited several churches to see the Nativity scenes, and then strolled through Luxembourg Gardens. They’re sleeping until spring, but the Medici Fountain is a still beautiful even in the throes of winter.
I have been to Paris before and each time I stood UNDER the Eiffel Tower but never could convince myself to go up into it. This time I decided I would see what all the fuss was about. I highly recommend taking the elevator up because unless you carry an extra pair of legs with you, it will be a long way up and quite a muscle workout. The view from the tower – even just the second level -- cannot be beat: all of Paris is at your feet!
I took a daytrip one hour south of the city to the Chateau Vaux-Le-Vicomte, an absolute must see on your Christmas itinerary. There is nothing to compare the exquisite decorations in each and every room. If you're looking for inspirational holiday decorating ideas for your own home, this is the crème de la crème. The current owners live on the grounds in a different part of the château and as I toured the gardens and the rooms I couldn’t help but envy them for living in such a magical place.
There is a growing anticipation, I am told, every year when the private Musée des Arts Forains (aka Museum of Carnival Arts) opens to the public for the holidays. I was there when the doors opened and I can understand the enthusiastic crowds because this was one man's collection of antique carnival rides, memorabilia, statues and fun games of chance (which you can play).
The main draw of France for me was the idea of visiting the many Christmas markets that are everywhere, filled with regional foods, mulled wine, pastries and those coveted ornaments and decorations that you just can't find anywhere else. I browsed through quite a few in Paris, including the large one along the Champs Élyseés with its magical lights and people going about their gift shopping. But the ultimate destination was to Strasbourg for three days of shopping, sightseeing and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere.
Strasbourg is called the Capital of Christmas, and for good reason: the very first Christmas Market opened there in 1570. Today there are actually 11 markets spread out throughout the town, and in between them every single inch of the town is decorated with lights and ornaments, including the streets, alleyways and buildings. In the main square is the largest Christmas tree in all of Europe! Standing watch at the center of it all is the magnificent Strasbourg Cathedral. If you are a brave soul and want to experience the town and all the surrounding landscape, you can walk up the 333 steps to the top of the cathedral’s tower and enjoy the view.
While in Strasbourg, I visited the Strasbourg Historical Museum that told the story of the region from the Roman times through the Middle Ages and the French Revolution. A newly opened section highlights the struggle the Alsatians endured when they were annexed to Prussia in 1871 and then occupied in WWII by the German Army. I also visited the Alsatian Museum of Art and Folk Tradition, which shares the unique heritage of the Alsatian people. I highly recommend seeing both of these.
Even with the chilly, wet weather, both Paris and Strasbourg are worth a visit during the holidays when they’re full of Christmas cheer in every shop, restaurant, museum and outdoor market. Come with your warmest mittens and an appetite for mulled wine and foie gras!
Sharon Autry lives in Gettysburg, PA, where she takes photos of the historic battlefields for her website Gettysburg Beat.