Sunday, December 09, 2012

Merci for the Scones

Inside a charming concept store called Merci located in the 3rd arrondissement you will find Used books café. A place that has become one of my favorites in the city.

The atmosphere is cozy and private, unlike in most other cafés where you literally sit shoulder to shoulder with your neighbour. The service is especially warm and welcoming though if you come on saturday during rush hour you'll probably have to wait 10 minutes for the table. Be sure not to give up so quickly - it's one of the rare café's that's worth waiting for a table. One of the things that add even more charm to the place are the walls covered from top to bottom with used books. You can browse through the books there while sipping hot cacao or even buy one! It makes me think of those endless times when i've found myself alone in the city wanting to sit down for a drink before going home but always thinking i'd be bored. I know where i'll head up next time. At least i'll have a book at hand. This café is definitely my favourite pick for the winer months so be sure to check it out and try their delicious scones!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

A l'Etoile d'Or

A street going south from Moulin Rouge may seem like an ordinary Parisian street with an inevitable feel of an 18th arrondisment. Yet it is no ordinary street because there, on the number 30 is a special shop. When you step inside you feel like entering a candy museum. And the feeling is not deceiving because A l'étoile d'or is a shrine to chocolate and all sorts of other old French confectionery. An exceptional woman behind the counter is no ordinary person as well. A woman-girl in a school uniform with two long blond braids falling down her shoulders, She fits perfectly in her Alice in Wonderland store.

And you will find there, as she explaines it, the best of French confectionery. Perfect small boxes of bonbon réglisse, sucre d'orge, prasline Mazet, Forestines and other old fashioned candy. Chocolate and caramels and chocolate spreads are througout the store, on every shelf, between books and excerpts from the newspapers She had been featured in. She will make a tour of the store with you, showing proudly every box or table of chocolate. She will talk about japanese and americans being obsessed with her, showing you pictures of herself and the store from different newspapers and magazines of the world. She will offer you to wrap your chocolate or a box of candies in a piece of an original papier d'Epinal (French paper with printed colourful images often containing an image puzzle). Yet She is not vain, but proud with a reason.

She keeps the best caramels in France the world: popular CBS or caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramels). They are sincerely the best caramel i have tried so far and i normally really don't like caramel. The famous CBS are made by Henri Le Roux, a master caramel and chocolate maker from Brittany.

She is the only one in Paris to keep Bernachon chocolates and this She mentions with great pride. Bernachon is one of the rare chocolate-makers in the world (they do not only make chocolates but produce their own chocolate from cacao beans). She said to us "You want Bernachon, you go to Lyon or you come to me". Well we came to her, took a tour of the store, took pictures, bought caramels, bought chocolates and chocolate spread. We took a picture with Madame Denise Acabo and promised to come back soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Delicacies of French regions

A couple of weeks ago, I visited an event held in one of the northern arrondissements of Paris. It was a three day feast of flavours, odours and visual pleasure. An event dedicated to products and traditions from different French regions called Fête des regions.
It is no secret that food is a big part of a French person's life. The amount of time, patience and carefully chosen words dedicated to food are admiring and every event that praises this highly respected form of pleasure is celebrated with special care.
Despite France being known as gastronomical paradise i sometimes like to point out that there is nothing new about French food. There are no great culinary discoveries, only simple every day products, cheese, a good piece of meat, fine bread. Nothing that you couldn't find in other countries in Europe or beyond. But what other countries don't have is French inventiveness and an ability to know how to present and sell their products. French people are masters in preserving their history and tradition in every form, and food is a great part of this tradition. A result is a diverse spectra of simple ingredients with a great strong story behind them and an impeccable taste.

For people seeking to rub the surface of what France has to offer in terms of food specialities, Fête des regions is a one of a kind event. It is an opportunity to try the best of every part of the country and set the directions to what part of the country's specialities turn to first.

Corsican specialities
Products from the Savoye
Cantal cheese, old specialty of the Auvergne
Kouign-amann, Breton speciality

My trip through this festival began and finished with degustations, right as it should. From ten different kinds of chestnut creams and jams, through wine, cheese, brioches, macarons, chocolate to a perfect fish soup and pain d'épices. Even two kinds of foie gras which i despise as much for its taste as for the mode of production (it could be one of the rare eadibles i can't stand).

Distilling lavander
Distilling lavander
By every food stand there was a person ready to offer you their products and tell you more about it. I bought the most divine chestnut cream i have ever tasted (most of the edible chestnuts and chestnut-derived products come from a small department called Collobrières in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region) and a small pain d'épices naturel, a sweet, moist cake (or bread if you prefere) with a thick layer of honey on the top (produced by Baramel Breizh, an artisanal company producing pain d'épices and other honey based products).

Artisanal chocolates
This kind of event is a reminder for the ones that tend to forget that France is not only Paris. There are 22 regions with different climate and all that comes with it: different history, natural diversity, different people's attitude and last but definitely not the least, gastronomy. Start exploring.

Corsican sausage made of pork liver
Various olives from the Provence
Popular festive brioche from Vendée department (Pays-de-la-Loire region)
Mushrooms are well known appetizers
Believe it or not this is a cheese cake

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Taste of Sweden

One of the first things i discovered in Paris was a small café in the heart of the noisy Marais neighbourhood. I used to go there pretending i was in Stockholm rather than Paris and i would order my coffee and cake in Swedish, still intimidated by the French language. The café is actually part of the Swedish cultural center located in the beautiful Hôtel de Marle.

As every similar place in Paris, this little café serving cakes, soupes and sandwiches is always packed, but aside the great fruit cakes and cinnamon buns, french people people often make a strange facial expression when someone mentions Swedish gastronomy. This is why i was very pleased when i heard that the M.I.A.M. magazine and the Swedish Institute invited couple of renowned Swedish chefs (Petter Nilsson, Magnus Ek, Ola Rudin, Sebastian Persson, Danyel Couet) to present some of their specialties in the form of a small dish or an appetizer to the public.
The event was held in the backyard of the Center and in the small café in the front. The garden was decorated with colourful lamps and gazebo tents out in the open, while the chefs were preparing the meals on the spot.

I decided to try Petter Nilsson's (a chef who owns a restaurant La Gazzetta in Paris) cabbage and lingonberry salad with a touch of herring powder (what would swedish cuisine be without lingonberry and fish). After the delicious salad, i went for a taste of kanelbulle - cinnamon roll - and a small fruit pie with a glass of inevitable elderberry squash.

Today, October 4th, is Kanebullens dag or Cinnamon roll day. So hurry up over to the Café suédois to celerate this event. At the moment the Center holds a temporary exhibiton of August Strindberg photographes which is, beside of eating a cinnamon roll, one more reason to visit the Center.

Institut suédois
11 rue Payenne
75003 Paris