Food tour company Eating Eating has finally come to Paris, with the aim of offering tours with a difference, promising to take you away from the tourists and off the beaten track. I went along to see what their intriguingly named “Hip Eats & Backstreets Tour” had in store.
Our guide for the day was Leo, a born-and-bred Parisian, who was not only knowledgeable about the culture of French food, but also gave us an unexpected history lesson throughout the tour. After we had introduced ourselves, Leo introduced us to Paris and its 20 arrondissements, including why we we’re on a food tour in the 10th. It is an area some tourists never make it to when visiting the city, but after you’ve done Le Marais, Saint Germain, and the Latin Quarter, the 10th is one of the neighborhoods where you can really get to know Paris and how the locals live and eat. And as it’s Leo’s own stomping grounds, he researched and designed the tour himself, so we had an expert taking care of us.
Knowing that many come to Paris wanting to taste all those famous French foods, but also wanting to show us something different, Leo had planned a mix of traditional French fare as well as a selection of dishes that are reinventing the French classics. Like true Parisian bobos, our “hip eats” part of the tour started by sitting by the Canal Saint-Martin, although instead of drinking wine (that would come later), we munched on Croque Monsieurs, as well as some new versions of the famous sandwich. Leo was full of information, explaining how the Croque Monsieur got its name, the rule that bakers must follow to call their shop a boulangerie, and the very French way the state financed the building of Canal Saint-Martin (clue – it involves wine!). On the way to Belleville we stopped for un verre de vin and some French charcuterie at a cute local épicerie, which for those who live here is a new spot to add to your address book for well-priced wines and French deli products, and for visitors a good opportunity on the tour to pick up some treats to take back home.
Our next stop turned out to be a delicious couscous restaurant in the heart of Belleville, which at first seemed an usual choice for a Paris food tour. With another short history lesson Leo explained how couscous has become the third most popular dish in France, therefore to miss out on it would actually be to missing out on a large part of the modern food culture. Once again Leo had picked a spot that was authentic and with its own style and character. And when the confirmation email says come hungry, believe it – all of us were surprised to be served a full-sized dish of flavorful, hand-rolled couscous.
Not only were the portions more generous than some other tours, but we also had the chance to sit together over a meal. Swapping stories, cultures, and Paris recommendations was just as much part of the tour as the food, and it gave us an opportunity to get to know Leo more – and tap him for more of his address book secrets! Like all good Frenchmen one of these secrets involved cheese, which was our next stop. I thought I had already discovered my favorite fromagerie before the tour but it may now have competition from Leo’s local, which unlike mine offers wine and cheese – French food at its best!
While the tourists head to Ladurée for macarons, Leo had something else in mind for us for dessert. Yann Couvreur was a surprise to find in Belleville, and again demonstrated how a new generation are changing French cuisine. With his younger, more diverse location and the casual atmosphere of his store (its the only patisserie I’ve been in that plays pop music), Couvreur is helping to make luxury food more accessible and take some of the snobbery out of gourmet patisserie. You might also want to brush up on your own French history for this part of the tour– if you’re in a group with left over pastries, you’re in for a chance to win them if you can answer Leo’s pop quiz questions correctly! And if, like me, you think you’re finished at this point, there is still more! The tour finishes with a coffee in a pretty little café, with its own little piece of history, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself on the tour…
For more information, visit https://www.eatingeurope.com