Always hungry in Paris

I’ve been very blessed recently to have been afforded the opportunity to travel to two of Europe’s greatest cities on somebody else’s dime. That’s right, not only am I a well paid home-based employee; but also sent to foreign cities on an all expenses paid business trip. Yes, life is sweet.

So after heading to London for a couple of days – well, Marlowe in Berkshire to be exact – I was sent to the city of lights; fair Paris. Armed with my very basic french and a mental checklist of foods I needed to eat; I hopped on the direct Egyptair flight seated comfortably betwixt a retired Wall Street business writer and some uninteresting french woman who smelt curiously of smoked ham.

After 2 days of grueling business meetings and trainings, I had a great 3 day weekend and countless boulangeries, bistros and brasseries to conquer. On a Friday night, I headed to the Eiffel Tower, and was lured instantly by the hot dogs and apple-filled donuts being sold at the food stall nearby.

Hot dogs with Dijon mustard FTW

Hot dogs with Dijon mustard FTW

I love a good hot-dog; and I miss the hot dogs sold right outside of Grand Central Station in New York City smothered in yellow mustard and globs of delicious sweet relish. So when the opportunity to have another street vendor’s hot dog presented itself, I jumped at the chance; but any hopes I had for a familiar New York hot dog were immediately replaced by the excitement of having a Parisian Hot dog. Served in a hollowed out short baguette with Dijon mustard, this was uniquely French, and alot more filling than it’s American counterpart. The denouement of my street menu was a donut filled with an apple compote; surprisingly light and non-greasy.

The next morning, I made a beeline to St. Germain and Le Relais de l’Entrecôte for a highly recommended Entrecote steak. Disappointingly, they were closed that day, so I spent the next half hour walking along the boulevard, trying to pick a cafe that gave off the “pick me” vibe. I settled on  Brasserie La Rouquet which, like all the cafes that morning, had no free tables in the open air and an empty interior (and non smoking) dining room. I sat inside, and after 10 minutes, was given the privilege of asking for the menu.

Funky warm 50's era decor

Funky warm 50's era decor

I was loving the 50;s era decor; complete with the semicircular separate telephone booth. I could see late night dramas playing out right in this room; tragic lovers coming in from the rain to sort out their differences; drunk phone calls made from the booth, apologizing and pleading, asking her to stay. Wonderfully romantic.

Even though it wasn’t especially polished or well-maintained, it was clean. This was the honorable grandfather of the modern American greasy spoon diner. In lieu of the BLT, the french get the Croque Monsieur. Instead of lukewarm instant Folgers coffee, the Parisians sip cups of Cafe Creme. I was loving it! It was 2pm and already people were drinking glasses of wine in the glorious Saturday sunlight. It’s just a nicer way to be. And then it hit me, what sets it apart from an American Diner comes down to 2 things: Attitude and Alcohol.

Croque Monsieur, Tomato Soup, Coke.

Croque Monsieur, Tomato Soup, Coke.

Once the waiter noticed me, and accepted my profuse apology for being ignorant in french, the service was intensely quick and smiley. I ordered a Croque Monsieur, Tomato Soup and a Coke that set me back 20 Euro. Pricey for what I recieved, but I really didn’t care.

the Sandwich was slightly charred, but still tasted OK; but the tomato soup was all aroma and no flavor. I didn’t even finish it, and when the waiter came to bring my bill, he looked genuinely concerned as to why I had not gulped down the tomato and butter flavored water. I told him I was full, smiled and went on my merry way.

Even though I hadn’t finished my lunch, it was surprisingly heavy, and I needed dessert. I didn’t feel like getting disappointed again, so I made my choice very carefully – I chose a restaurant that was crowded both inside and outside. In the end, I settled on Mucha Cafe (also on Boulevard St. Germain). I sat street-side, listened to the french girls talk about cleaning up nuclear waste (or something similarly heroic) and had myself a Tart Au Citron, Cafe Creme and a cigarette. The weekend weather just kept getting better and better, and I once again felt the subtle charm of being in Paris. Good food, good conversation, good weather. I could almost hear the accordions in the background, and it made me wish I was not single – it was the kind of mood where you grab your woman close, and greet her in a way that would make the french stand up and applaud. “That’s Amore” might be in Italian, but I’m sure whoever said it was in Paris at the time.

Tart Au citron et Cafe Creme. Magnifique!

Tarte Au citron et Cafe Creme. Magnifique!

The coffee was probably the best I’ve had in my entire life – rich, creamy, smooth, sweet, coffee – it was awesome to say the least. The Tarte Au Citron looked a little sloppy, but it was perfectly flavored – each bite was an electric shock of lemon flavor to my salivary glands. The crust was, of course, perfectly short and crisp.  and even though the cups seems to have been borrowed from a nearby cafe (Cafe Florio), I could not find reason to complain. I only wish I knew how to say “could I have some more?” in french.

Fully satisfied and energized by the lemon tart, I walked from St. Germain to the Eiffel Tower – a healthy few Kilometers littered with couples besotted with passion and ubiquitous Parisian street-side cafes. I turned off my iPod, preferring to listen to the natural ambient sounds of the city. I gotta say, I prefer walking in Paris to walking in Vienna or even New York; and I wondered if the only difference between all these cities was the language being spoken on the street. No, it’s not; it can’t be. There is something more, something grand and ancient about this city, something that leaves me with the strong suspicion that every great city in the world has tried to emulate Paris in one way or another, like trying to live up to your grandfather’s reputation.

After a few hours of walking and taking pictures, I made it to a brasserie nearby the Eiffel tower, called Le Ribe. I was

Le Ribe

Creme Brulee, 2 minutes before it disappeared.

hankering for a Beef Bourginion (even though I was still full), but sadly, it was not on offer. Instead, I went for another dessert, one of my all-time favorites, the Creme Brulee. One bite into it and the first thing that sprang to mind was the poor excuse for a creme brulee served at an otherwise decent Seqouia. That unfortunate bowl of soupy baby food bears no resemblance to this divinely light and flavorsome creation, and is a black mark on Seqouia’s menu.

The second thing that sprang to mind was the brilliant Creme Brulee at VIP atop the Cairo Tower. Now *that* is a Creme Brulee! The creme brulee served to me in Paris was very good, very good indeed, but not the best I’ve had. Nevertheless, I wolfed it down quicker than you can say “floriocappucino”

That was just one day; I’d probably do better to write this up in a book or something. I could go on and on about the food in Paris, but then again – what else is new? The french make great food, and have great ingredients – not exactly news for people out there. If it is, you’re either:

A) Belgian,

B) think Tamarai makes great food

C) Love the shrimp Bonne femme at Sangria.

In all three cases, please stop doing everything you’ve been doing in your life up to this point, and do the exact opposite. Then maybe there’s hope for you.

Cooking time: 40 minutes

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About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

4 Responses to Always hungry in Paris

  1. Mister Hankey the Christmas Poo says:

    Croque Monsieur? The tasty meat in that bad boy is ham, my friend. And if you had it without the ham, well, then all you had was a grilled cheese.

  2. Sayed Kawawi Basha El Primo Numbur 1! says:

    You like Paris because it reminds you of Downtown Cairo…BOOM, ya fallah!

  3. Pingback: NCHIA Test Kitchen: Tart Au Citron « Not Hungry Cuz I Ate

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