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I love French food. Who doesn’t? But even the most besotted Francophile sometimes harbors yearnings for a steaming bowl of chinese noodles, a juicy burger, or perhaps a harissa-spiked tagine. My particular culinary Achilles-heel is spice and heat. I love pepper in all guises and inevitably find myself yearning for hot and spicy food when sojourning in France for more than a few days.
French cooking, of course, does use spices and herbs but the tendency is to be a bit sparing with spice. There are stunningly good spice shops in Paris and we will mention two exemplary choices shortly. Moroccan cuisine in Paris is savory. And anyone dining around Paris will surely have seen more and more use of Asian flavors in contemporary French-style dishes. Certainly a welcome trend if done well!
Recently I discovered Les Pates Vivantes and voila! Spicy food-fix problem solved. This tiny restaurant on rue de Faubourg Montmarte not only serves delicious, correctly chewy Chinese wheat noodles made by hand, but, they also offer true Szechuan food. Not all of the dishes are hot but several of the big bowls of noodles, soups and stir-frys are indeed spicy. When you order the three-starred hot dishes the waiters express concern— do you really want that? It is hot! Precisely. That’s what I crave. Those noodles are delicious and made several times each day. The spice from Szechuan peppercorns and hot peppers is tangible. For milder palates there are numerous noodle dishes that are not particularly spicy and also very flavorful. A very good choice.
To attain fresh herb-spice sensory overload I like to walk through the Barbes-Rochechouart market. Catering largely to an immigrant population, the stalls feature piles of uber-fresh mint, cilantro, parsley in an aromatic tangle of scent. There are also hot peppers for folks from island nations and others who like heat.
For more refined palates there are two superb spice shops in Paris, Gouymayat Royaume and Epices Roellinger. Neither shop is unknown to savvy Parisians and foodie visitors. Both are well worth a visit for cooks and for gifts for people who love to cook.
Epices Roellinger was founded by the famed Breton chef and spice-aficionado Olivier Roellinger. Roellinger has been creating spice blends drawn from the world’s finest spice gardens and plantations for over thirty years. There are three locations in France. The original shop is in Cancale, a small port town near Mt. St. Michel known for oyster cultivation, the second is in St. Malo.
The lovely Paris boutique is located near the Palais Royal on rue St. Anne tucked in among the (not typically spicy) Asian noodle shops. Along with 18 varieties of ‘cru’ vanilla beans, (ripened in the aromatic basement of the shop) Roellinger stocks 28 types of pepper, eight kinds of fleur de sel, plus his signature spice-blends. Roellinger also offers an enviable list of chilis and rare peppers from around the globe. Along with his beautiful curry blends, ras al hanout, and other delectable things, you will find two unique spice blends made in collaboration with Madame Tseng of La Maison des Trois Thés. One uses her exquisite pu ehr teas to craft a seasoning for mushrooms and earthy vegetables. The other blend uses her Mi Lan Ziang tea mixed with cumin and fennel to craft a seasoning for eggplant and more. Fabulous.
Finally, sea salt is employed to great advantage in off-the-charts delicious delicious chewy salted butter caramels. Epices Roellinger
Goumanyat by Thiercelin is another trove of glorious spice. Run by Jean Thiercelin Goumanyat has been in the fine spices and food business for seven generations. This spice-lovers-dream of a shop is located on a small street near Place de la Republique that is home to several quirky boutiques. It is a bit off the main Marais-radar. Noted chefs including Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon are reputedly among the devoted customers for these high-quality spices. Saffron is a particular specialty here. Goumanyat also stocks cookbooks, teas and coffees, wines and an excellent selection of sea and exotic salts, vinegars and other gourmet products. Check their website for Saturday cooking classes. Gouymanyat is open from 11am to 7 pm Tuesday through Saturday.
I also like the Herboristerie du Palais Royale, a lovely old-fashioned shop on rue de Petit Champs where I stock up on herbal teas and savory herbes de provence. This venerable shop is one of those wonderfully Parisian treasures for foodies who love the authentic, historic and delicious all rolled into an utterly untrendy package.
Les Pates Vivantes. 46 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009 Paris
Epicerie Roellinger. 51 bis Rue Sainte-Anne, 75002 Paris
Goumanyat and Son, Royaume. 3 Rue Charles-François Dupuis, 75003 Paris
Herboristerie du Palais Royale. 11 Rue des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris
Sally Peabody is a Paris-specialist. She leads intimately scaled tours in and around Paris, in the French and Spanish Pays Basque, in Andalucia, in Turkey, and new in 2015—to Athens and Crete. All places with fantastic culture and cuisine! She also advises independent travelers. Your Great Days in Paris and Turkish Journeys