Oct 10, 2019

The Paris Diaries #6: Montmartre. My Secret Paris Food Tour.

It's my second last full day in Paris.  Already.

I don't know where the time has gone.  Even munching away on a palmier from Paul as I neck a Coke San Sucres isn't helping me find an answer.

I visited Montmartre yesterday.  Got myself there on the Metro and everything too!

As you can see from the umbrellas, it was a miserable day.

The Sacre-Couer begs to differ and was still looking splendid despite the weather.

Montmartre is the highest point of Paris geographically.

In recognition of this, there is a funicular train you can ride up and down Montmartre.  It was originally built in 1900 but the version that now exists was built in 1991.  Apparently, it's not technically a funicular now but rather a double inclined elevator by definition because the two cars of the train can move independently.

I was a little early for my walking food tour of the area so I did my best to work up an appetite by pounding up and down those stairs instead of riding the Montmarte funicular in name only.

Montmartre was originally the bohemian and artistic arrondissement of Paris and there's still very much that feel to the streets now. 

There's a thriving food scene here as well in keeping with the area being a favourite place to go for a night (or day) out.

The trademark orange umbrella of a Secret Food Tours guide.  If there was any silver lining to the weather, it was that our guide got to use her umbrella and we could then easily find her.

I can't recommend Secret Food Tours highly enough.  The three-hour walking (and eating and drinking) tour I went on was the most fun and informative of all the tours I've done in Paris.  The format involves the group walking between providores, learning a bit about the business, selecting and tasting our own samples before all making our way to the Secret Food Tours office where we then share all the food together.  As each guide is a local, they're able to inject a bit of their own life story as a Parisian into their commentary and they also have the liberty to choose their favourite things at the stores we visited.  

There were eight other people on my tour and we all hit it off immediately.  All were American and fortunately for me, I'd visited all but one of their home cities so we had that to talk about and it went on from there.

Our first stop was for chocolate at Maison Georges Larnicol Mof.

We were given free reign of the chocolates and allowed to select two each to save for later.

Beyond chocolate, the store also sells tarts, biscuits, macarons and meringues.

They were the winning chocolatiers in a recent competition in Paris and their prize-winning chocolate sculpture of Notre Dame takes pride of place in the  Montmartre store.

Our next stop was for macarons at Christophe Roussel.

Christophe worked in New York for a time and this is reflected in both the design of the store and the flavours of his macarons.  He makes the cheesecake that goes into the cheesecake and raspberry macaron.

Actually, all the flavourings for the macarons are made in house and the flavour combinations are all wonderfully creative.

Our tasting here allowed for us to each select two macarons.

My picks were the raspberry and cheesecake as well as the burnt butter macarons.  Both were sublime.

Our next stop was at the bakery for our bread.  Bread is such a staple of French diets that it's not uncommon to buy some baguette a couple of times a day.  There is also a law that states baguettes must cost a Euro and no more.  To enable all French citizens to partake in the joy that is their locally made bread.

The sign of an excellent boulangerie is that they also sell cakes and pastries.

This boulangerie and patisserie has been bestowed the ultimate honour.  They were official suppliers of baguettes to the President in 2011.

Our charcuterie was sourced from Boucherie Jacky Gaudin.

The French are so particular and precise about their food that there's a label or sign for every aspect of food production.  I don't know how clear they are in the above photo, but there are a number of coloured plaques hanging with the meats in the photo above.  The plaques are awarded to farms who win certain awards for their livestock.  The farmers then pass on the plaques to the butchers they supply to.  A butcher who has many plaques on display, therefore, sources only the best meat.

Free range poultry is strictly regulated in France.  Butchers will sell their free-range chickens with claws and heads attached as an assurance to customers that the chickens truly were raised in optimal conditions.  Usually, the chicken's beak needs to be clipped if it's raised in close proximity to other chickes.  The unclipped beak on the chicken head you take home with the rest of your chicken is your guarantee that it was given plenty of space to roam while it was being bred.

Interestingly, rotisserie chicken is a once a week treat in Paris, usually on a Sunday.  In Sydney around the vicinity of my place, rotisserie chicken is welcome any day of the week.  Especially on those long ones where work, parenting and other things conspire to leave you with very little energy with which to cook dinner.

Our final stop was for cheese. 

Cheese isn't only life in France, it's an art form.  With at least 400 different cheeses produced around the country, there are so many fascinating quirks about what differentiates one cheese from another.  Some are made with petals, others are rolled in ash while others still are rolled around a stick.  It was mindboggling information to a person who buys everyday cheese pre-sliced or (shudder) grated and thinks she's Lady Muck when she's let loose in the spendy section of the cheese aisle at Woolies.  In my defence, though, there are a few French imports at the Woolies down the road back home in Sydney. And I have bought them.  Once.

Ingredients for our meal gathered, there was only one thing left to do.

Walk to our dining table for our food and wine.

It was lovely to be able to gather around the table away from the rain and cold to share our meal.

We broke and shared our baguettes in the traditional French way before making a simple but very satisfying meal of our bread, some salted butter and ham from the butcher.

The simple things in life really are the best.

 I learned so much about French food and wine over the course of our meal.  The wine here has special coding on the foil around the cork.  The system helps consumers understand what relationship the vigneron and winemaker might have to each other.  The winemaker may have bought grapes directly from the vigneron to make their wine or they may have simply bought a number of premade wines and combined them as they saw fit.

My happiest moments in the meal related to the cheeses.  We shared a hard cheese that's popular with young children ... and me as well as a Roquefort and Camembert both of which I was also enamoured with.  The cheese wrapped in ash and a creamy one sandwiched together around a layer of truffle challenged my tastebuds.

The most popular cheese of the afternoon.
Dessert was a triple chocolate eclair (chocoalte choux, filling and icing), crepes and those stashes of macarons and chocolate from our tour.

One couple on the tour with us bought a giant meringue from Larnicol.  They kindly shared it with us after they smashed it in the French way.

The Secret Paris Food Tour was a delightful way to explore Montmartre under the guidance of a friendly and knowledgeable local.  We were made to feel so welcome by our guide and she taught me so much about the French approach to food.  I'm so glad I braved the rain to go on this tour.

Yet another photo of the Arc, my reference for knowing whether to turn left or right along the Champs Elysee when I leave a Metro station.  I'm getting good at navigating the Paris Metro, y'all.  I've found my way back to my hotel every single time I've ridden the Metro this trip.

Have you been on a Secret Food Tour?  I understand they run tours in many cities across the globe.  Have you have had a memorable tour with them?

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