40 In France: Paris (2nd in a series)

A food lover’s (40th birthday) tour from north to south. Here: my favorite boulangerie-patisseries, scenes from a market, and a bridge for lovers.

Paris – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

LyonPart 1, Part 2

Aix en Provence – here

Marseille – here

My favorite boulangeries/patisseries

Visiting a boulangerie (bakery) and/or patisserie (place where sweets are sold) in France is enthralling and all-consuming. The quality of bread is very high, the variety, nothing short of tremendous. I don’t think however that I’ll get used to eating cold croissants and pains au chocolat, even if they are very fresh. And a baguette that’s a day old becomes so tough overnight that I almost crack a tooth trying to bite into one.

When it comes to boulangeries and other sweet places in Paris, I’m well aware of the famous ones like Stohrer, Lenôtre, Poilâne, etc. But my favorites are those that I stumble upon on this trip, even if they’ve been around for decades. Forgive the few photos I have to offer; photography is frowned upon in some of these establishments.

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The Moulin De La Vierge (MDLV) on rue St Dominique is in a charming area in the 7th arrondissement. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from around the corner and a few streets away is Rue Cler, a pedestrian-only market. MDLV is a viennoiserie, meaning it deals in laminated baked goods (flaky pastries, etc), and the bakery uses organic flour in its products. Interestingly, everything is baked in a wood-fired oven, one of the oldest functioning ones still in existence in Paris, thus accounting for the breads’ exceptional crusts and flavors.

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The pain de campagne and the pain au raisins fly out the door and since MDLV is a viennoiserie, the chausson au pommes (above, apple in puff pastry) and croissants are beyond exceptional. My Bin and I make a mess on the sidewalk outside taking bites from the still-warm pastries, shards and crumbs littering around us. Our mouths and chins and coat fronts are strewn with crumbs but we’re overjoyed. We bicker over the last bites.

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I’ll declare now that Du Pain et des Idées is my favorite boulangerie in Paris. A discovery brought about through extensive research and happily confirmed by my new friend-in-coffee (thank you, Antonella!). It’s quite a hike to get to where it is in the 10th arrondissement, but oh so worth it.

While the pain au chocolat is somewhat ordinary, the escargot chocolat pistache is a dream in spirals of chocolate and pistachio, brown and green.

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But the monumental finding is the mouna, a bread I’m so enamored with that its taste haunts me to this day. A sublime – really, there can be no other word to describe it – brioche is perfumed with orange blossom water. The fragrance permeates through the tight but soft crumb, weaving its way into every bite, while crunchy sugar crystals proffer contrast. This is a heavy, perhaps 2-pound loaf that I finish over four days. Oh, I miss it so…

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On my birthday, my Bin takes me to the Pierre Hermé boutique in the St-Germain-des-Pres district. This is my view as I wait in line with the other severely sweet-toothed; the sweets in sight are enough to make any dessert lover delirious! Afterwards and clutching my stash, my Bin and I hie off to a nearby park (similar to the one pictured below) where we blow an imaginary candle for me and use plastic forks to partake of my birthday treats. (Sorry, no photos, am too busy eating. It is my birthday after all.)

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Scenes from the Marché d’Aligre, an open-air market in the 12th arrondissement

I have to visit a market in each city I visit. Because I’m a market junkie. And because the sights and sounds and tastes scintillate like nothing else.

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Caught in the blue glow of dawn, 7.46am to be exact, I’m here early enough to watch the vendors set up. Even dim light can’t subdue the colors of nature.

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In and around Paris

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Being inside a fromagerie (cheese shop) is an extraordinary assault on the senses.

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Watching life passing by from a café…

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… or from the seat of a hired Vélib’ (bike for hire).

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The Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde.

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Winter has made barren the Jardin des Tuileries but the golden sphere sitting on the surface of the Octagonal basin pond stuns.

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The Pont des Arts is reputedly Paris’ most romantic meeting place. An arch bridge linking the Seine to the eastern end of the Louvre, its 360° views can’t be beat. Standing on the bridge and turning around slowly, I can see the Notre Dame, the Pont Neuf, the entire riverside façade of the Louvre, the Pont Alexandre III, and far away in the distance, the tip of the Eiffel Tower.

Why is the bridge festooned with locks? Couples who want their love to last forever (ostensibly), scribble their initials on a padlock, attach the lock to the railings, and then hurl the key into the Seine. Hmmm. My Bin and I kiss each other instead and walk off the bridge to our next stop.


Addresses of establishments mentioned in this post:

Le Moulin de la Vierge
*64 rue St Dominique 75007 Paris
*Rue Vercingétorix, 75014 Paris
*166 avenue de Suffren

Du Pain et des Idées
34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France

Pierre Hermé

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