I have to admit that going to Europe was not at the top of my destination wish list. For previous trips, I would pack sachets of instant miso soup and after a few days, I would be homesick for a simple, freshly steamed bowl of jasmine rice. And with my food intolerance to onions and dairy, this trip to Paris was a little daunting for my digestion! However, this time, I was fortunate, and incredibly grateful, to have had a homebase at a great friend's house, taking care of their dog over the holidays for a few weeks. Whenever I travel, my favorite thing to do is to explore all the local markets and supermarkets, but decided to do something I've never done in Europe – I wanted to discover what was available in the Asian supermarkets and try out Asian restaurants. And because I had a kitchen to cook in, this off-the-beaten-path of Paris did not disappoint!
I hit the ground running, preparing for my "a Taste of Hong Kong" pop up dinner at Abricot, a hip, newly opened vegan bar, near Belleville, one of Paris' smaller Asian districts. We served a variety of Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong diner) classics and boozy Milk Tea to a full house of old and new friends who gave me the warmest welcome and rave reviews–they couldn't get enough of the Turnip Cake, Fried Rice, and my freshly made Black Sesame Snowy Mooncakes.
Perusing Chen Market and Paris Store supermarkets (both have various locations throughout the city–we went to ones in Belleville and in Chinatown proper) I saw a wide range of fresh ingredients that aren't readily available in NYC's Asian supermakets including:
FLEUR KHAE: White Sesbania Flowers are part of the pea family with a sweet, mushroom umami flavor and a bitter aftertaste);
FLEUR SA DAO: Neem Flowers are cooked as a vegetable. It's recommended to blach it in boiling water several times to reduce the bitterness.
HARICOT DE KRATIN: Kratin pod seeds, or Horse Tamarind are served fresh as a side dish, or as an accompaniment to some southern Thai dishes.
PETCH BOOZAD: Petai beans are similar to broad beans but have a strong smell, hence they are commonly known as Stink Beans in Thailand.
I also saw fresh makrut limes (very fragrant, like the more commonly used leaves), pink jackfruit, dried betel leaves, and fresh Thai green peppercorns. I loved seeing the variety of Southeast Asian ingredients. Interacting with Asian waitstaff and cashiers, and overhearing various conversations, I realized that the common language for everyone was French which I found impressive knowing that most people are fluently bi-lingual, if not tri-lingual!
Of course I also hit Bastille Market, one of the city's largest outdoor markets packed with stalls of fresh produce and more. Ony open on Thursdays from 7am-2:30pm and Sundays from 7am to 3pm, the market is buzzing and an a convivial gathering place where vendors warmly welcome customers and anyone passing by, sometimes offering samples of the fresh produce (ther persimmons were excellent!) In contrast to all the packaged produce in the Asian supermarkets, it was heartening to see the stalls with paper bags or compostable bags instead of using single-use plastic. The pineapples definitely weren't local, but I was enamoured with their slim teardrop shape!
We enjoyed our obligatory daily fresh baguette from the local boulangeries (The French Bastards and Boulangerie St Antoine had some of our favorites!). We cooked quite bit over the holidays especially when everything was closed for Christmas and New Year's, but we were also able to enjoy some Asian and vegan foods. Here are a few highlights:
BING SUTT (22 Rue Béranger) A Hong Kong style cafe with HK classics like Congee, Pineapple Buns and Egg Tarts. They also have redefined dishes like Chrysanthemum Cake and a Lao Gan Ma Cheese Bun.
BREIZH CAFE (109 Rue Vieille du Temple) Classic crêperie with a few vegetarian (but not vegan) savory galette and sweet crêpe options. With several branches in Tokyo, there were many Japanese tourists dining here.
BONESHAKER DONUTS (86 Rue d'Aboukir) Arguably the best donuts in town. These handmade donuts are light and fluffy and are 100% plant-based! I loved the Sticky Bun and the Maram (filled with pistachio cream).
L'AS DU FALLAFEL (34 Rue des Rosiers) Popular Middle Eastern eatery with loaded, and delicious, sandwiches and more. Their falafel sandwich was a meal in itself! And don't forget to ask for the spicy sauce!
laïzé marais 来座製茶 (19 Rue de Montmorency) Popular Taiwanese bubble tea cafe – there's always a line out the door!
MAO DUMPLING BAR (28 Rue de Saintonge) Greeted with a neon Lucky Cat and graced with a dragon overhead, their veggie jiaozi (fried dumpling) with cabbage, tofu, spinach, vermicelli and shiitake mushrooms and Tofu Dan Dan Noodles are not to be missed.
One unique experience we had was signing up for a Baguette & French Breads cooking class at LE FOODIST (www.lefoodist.com). They regularly host a variety of classes held in a spacious and well-equipped kitchen space. All the hands-on classes are taught in English. The end of the class was enjoyed with a shared meal of the breads we made, complete with wine and tea.
Merci, Paris! I can't wait to explore more next time!