Let’s be honest: a trip to Europe, for me, was always going to be about the food. Seeing the sights is almost a requisite, but tasting everything I could get my hands on has been a life-long dream. What people eat, and how they eat it, says everything you need to know about their culture – and in the last few weeks, my taste buds have tasted a LOT of culture.
First up on this culinary expedition? Paris, the City of Light! (Or as I call it, the City of Bread and Butter).
Being the pastry-crazed person that I am, I felt right at home in Paris. Boulangeries and patisseries are nestled into every street corner, luring you in with the smell of freshly baked baguettes and flaky croissants.
My first day was well spent visiting every macaron shop I could find. Macarons are like mini sandwiches, with two delicate almond flour meringues encasing a flavored cream, jam, or ganache. They’re the perfect bite-sized dessert, and their endless flavor combinations are always a good excuse to try just one more.
My first stop was Un Dimanche a Paris, a modern chocolate boutique on a small cobblestoned street in the Latin Quarter. Their chocolate macaron was sweet with a hint of cinnamon, and their salted caramel was superb.
Next up was Gerard Mulot (pictured above), a more homey boulangerie with a lot of breads and cakes in addition to an entire case of macarons. Although some of their macarons seemed a little too bright to be naturally flavored, Mulot is home to my all time favorite macaron: the Cafe. It was bold yet uber-creamy, and only lightly sweetened. When I drink coffee now I often find myself wishing I could just be eating that dreamy confection instead.
And finally for the biggest player in the macaron game: Pierre Herme, aka the “Picasso of Pastry”. He’s famous for his delicate and uniquely flavored macarons – which were also by far the most beautiful macarons I had ever seen. The “Eden”, a peach, apricot, and saffron macaron, was a delightful surprise – no flavor overpowered the others, yet they effortlessly combined to take command of my senses. The olive oil and mandarin orange was another favorite. But the one that took the gold for me was the chocolate. Its rich, deep flavor was not tainted by any extra sugar or cinnamon, and the ganache filling was luxuriously intense.
At Maison Georges Larnicol, above, I was reunited with a long-lost love: the kouign amann. My first encounter with this sweet, gooey, croissant-like pastry was four years ago at the Patisserie au Kouign Amann in Montreal’s Plateau. I gave my heart away the day its crackled, caramelized crust graced my lips, and I never really got it back. Larnicol’s version of the kouign amann was just about the best thing I have had since.
Their kouignettes (mini kouign amann), are crispy on the outside and tender in the center, with layers upon layers of sweet butter that melt onto your tongue with every bite. The flavors at Larnicol were what really sold me: from orange, raspberry, and chocolate to almond and salted caramel, there was no shortage of deliciousness. I was a beast unchained, and devoured them for breakfast two days in a row.
On the way back from seeing the Notre Dame, I stumbled upon a little place called La Maison du Chou, selling exclusively profiteroles. They filled them to order, so the pastry was always crisp and the filling was always fresh. I opted for the profiteroles filled with chilled, almost ice-cream-like salted caramel pastry cream, drenched in hot chocolate sauce. No regrets.
Unsurprisingly, the French are fiercely proud of their pastries – I was told at a number of patisseries that no photos were allowed (but luckily for you, I can be sneaky). One such boulangerie was Maison Kayser. Eric Kayser is known for his part in revolutionizing how bakers use liquid bread starter: he helped to invent a machine that allowed liquid levain to be used again and again, so commercial bakers could finally make consistently awesome bread. The bread at Maison Kayser is proof of his genius; it was rustic, flavorful, and chewy, and everything I dreamed French bread would be. (They also have some locations in New York City, if you don’t feel like flying out to Paris for a good baguette).
In addition to their delicious bread, Kayser is also on top of the pastry game: the eclairs, cakes, and croissants were all some of the best I have ever had. But it was their chocolate chip pecan cookie that stole my heart: slightly crunchy on the outside yet soft and chewy in the middle, with hefty puddles of both dark and milk chocolate throughout, and not too heavy on the pecans. Every bite was buttery, chocolatey bliss.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I take chocolate consumption seriously. Just like making sure I drink enough water to stay hydrated, I have to make sure I get my daily chocolate fix to stay sane. My typical breakfast in Paris was a chocolate croissant and an espresso (tough life, I know). But why have coffee when you can have hot chocolate?
Welcome to Angelina.
Famous for “the world’s best hot chocolate”, I knew I had to try it. Even though it was a sweltering summer day, I needed to see if these claims were warranted. And let me tell you, it was indeed the most decadent chocolate drink I have ever imbibed. It cost an arm and a leg (8 euros!) but was so, so worth it. They serve the hot chocolate by the pitcher, alongside your very own generous serving of whipped cream. (The cream in Paris, by the way, was inexplicably creamier than any cream I had ever had before). The hot chocolate is intensely dark, but not bitter; very smooth, yet not sweet. They have it down to a science – just bold enough to shock your senses but silky enough to keep you wanting more.
A few sips is plenty, but how is one supposed to stop sipping when it tastes like liquid chocolate gold? So I drank two cups. I couldn’t eat the rest of the day.
If you’re wondering by now if I only ate sweets in Paris, you would be mostly correct. Even with pastries in the morning and macarons as a snack, I would still manage to squeeze in a banana-Nutella street crepe from La Droguerie (above) for lunch and feel pretty damn good about myself.For you savory lovers out there, Paris did not disappoint. The escargots, swimming in garlic parsley butter, were exceptional at La Place Royal, as was their coq au vin.
Mon Vieil Ami on the I’lle Saint Louis (smack dab in the middle of the Seine) served rustic fare with a modern twist and was so delicious I forgot to take a picture before digging in (sorry). And finally, as unlikely as it sounds, I got to try the supposed “world’s best falafel” at a tiny place called L’as du Fallafel in the Jewish Ghetto. While I haven’t tried all the falafel in the world, I can honestly say it was the best I’ve ever had (hint: if you ever go, ask for extra eggplant).
And that’s all, folks. While by no means an exhaustive list, these are the places I loved in Paris.
Stay tuned for Part II of Eating Through Europe coming soon!