Gourmet Food Gifts from La Grande Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché
When you’re looking for a special gift from Paris, you can go to always go to Baccarat and leave the boutique with a comme il faut cadeau. It’s hard to find much wrong in the world of crystal. On the other hand, leaded and hand-blown glass doesn’t come cheap and you may blow your entire budget with one small item.
If you’re not out to break the bank and simply want a small something that says “I care” or “thank you,” or a tiny remembrance of your Paris trip, one of many places you can visit is the the grandest gourmet grocery in Paris, La Grande Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché on the Left Bank. It’s a short walk from St. Sulpice, the Luxembourg Garden and St. Germain-des-Prés.
One of the things that makes the Bon Marché special is you can go around the world without leaving the store. People who set foot inside it for the first time invariably have this amazed and dazed look as if they’ve entered the temple of haute cuisine delicacies.
The entire ground floor of the large store is stocked with packaged and fresh food items. Most are upscale, gourmet products, but there are also seasonal and trendy novelty items. When I visited, the store was promoting its “So London” section of foods from the UK, like Marmite and teas. Unless you’re in Paris for an extended stay, run—don’t just walk—past the UK and American foods sections, where homesick travelers can buy marshmallow fluff and strange brands of peanut butter at inflated prices.
You can easily spend hundreds (or thousands) of your hard-earned euros here, but my mission was to find small, easily toted items priced under 35 euros that make nice souvenirs or gifts for those who did not journey with you.
Before you buy, check this list of foods you may import into the US for personal consumption. Commercially packaged and sealed candies, condiments, spices, coffee and teas are generally ok. Bulk teas and spices, etc., are subject to inspection and if they are found to have insects, they may be seized and destroyed, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection folks who greet you on home soil.
Caviar and Foie Gras
Starting with the best, depending on your tastes and budget, head for the decadent and perhaps not so politically correct counter where the caviar is housed as if it were gold. There were stacked tins of the very best, but the colorful portable tins of Kaviari caviar-to-go were certainly unique novelties. Slide back the lid and find a tiny caviar spoon with 15 grams of top quality caviar. Ingenious and comparatively affordable at 35 euros. Or try a small pot of Kaspia sturgeon caviar for 10 euros—yes, 140 grams is one of those small pleasures meant to be savored, not inhaled.
Then there’s the foie gras, presented in various sizes and forms that allow you to prepare it in your favorite way.
Baker’s decorations for cakes, cupcakes, cookies and more
Cupcakes are still a craze in Paris (though the fad may be fading) and your friends who enjoy baking will love receiving jars of sprinkles, candied violets and toppings that will make any dessert look more festive. People have been known to sprinkle them over ice cream that’s been drizzled with a tiny bit of liqueur.
For tea and coffee drinkers
Tea—glorious tea. The afternoon ritual of sipping tea is so civilized that even your friends who aren’t necessarily Francophiles will appreciate a lovely tin of loose tea. Add a tea strainer if you like, and if you’re putting on the Ritz, two teacups and some scones or macarons will make them feel as if they’ve gone English. Skip the scones if you’re buying Chinese tea. Five tins of Kusmi Tea in five flavors costs less than 20 euros. And for the coffee drinkers? A box of milk chocolate spoons by Daniel Mercier that add chocolatey goodness to coffee (under 10 euros) and a pair of Grande Épicerie mugs adorned with their whimsical brand characters (under 20 euros).
Fancy oils and flavored vinegar
Vinegar is available in so many flavors that it make us wonder how we ever lived without raspberry vinegar and other distinct flavors of vinegar. Ditto for olive oils. Dedicated cooks know that there are olive oils and then there are olive oils—those that are substantially more pure, lighter and, sometimes, fruitier than others. And did you know olive oils come in different grades? No self-respecting Italian at a street market would buy a liter of olive oil without sampling it first. Here you’ll find high-quality nut oils, truffle oil and oils that are better than the kind you throw on a salad before calling it a day, including the spray-on Provençal olive oil by Château d’Estoublon priced at 15 euros.
Mustards, sauces and jellies
Think a wee bit out of the box when buying gifts. For example, most people have a jar or two of mustard. Add to their pantry by giving them some out-of-the-ordinary ones. There’s an incredible selection that might inspire you to get a different flavor for every day of the week. The jar of Maison de la Truffe mustard with truffle flavoring, orange sauce by Tour d’Argent and Cassis Violette confiture by Carla are all priced below 10 euros.
Sugar, spice and flavorings
You’ll find aisles of spices, salts and sugars in every conceivable flavor and color. There was an entire section devoted to salt: red or black from Hawaii, grey from Guérande and some with truffle flavoring. Many people swear that truffle salt can make or break a beef dish. Some bottles start at just 6 euros and go up from there.
The French have perfected packaging and a couple of bottles or tins really make a favorable impression. And on that note . . ..
For the foodie with everything
These days salt is collected like gold. For your foodie friend (or perhaps it’s you?) with everything, how about a Himalayan diamond of salt with its own grater? For a price of under 10 euros, it’s a memorable and uncommon gift.
Chocolates and fancy candies
To end on a sweet note, La Grande Épicerie has a selection of chocolates and candies that can give you a sugar high just by glancing at them. We’re not talking just chocolate in every form but cocoa, spreads, drinks, crystallized gingers and so much more. If you’re a chocolate addict and can’t make it to France, you can order handmade, small batch French chocolates from our very favorite chocolate supplier, zChocolat.
Sweets for the sweet, as they say.
One of the nice things about buying French food gifts is that they’re always appreciated, always attractive and now you know where to go to find the very best without spending a small fortune.
If you’ve spent any time in France, you’re fully aware that packaging can make or break a gift and help it look more important. Even if you’re not in France and aren’t buying items pour offrir, add some ribbons and panache to your presents. It takes so little time and makes a difference.
Tél: 01 4439 8100
38, rue de Sèvres, Paris 7th
Open: 8:30am-9pm Monday through Saturday
© Paris New Media, LLC
Photo credits: Saif al-Islam
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