Sunday, June 07, 2009

Paris street food

Ah, Paris. I'll be there in just a few short weeks: five days of bliss, tramping around the French capital, poking into walled courtyards, ferreting out sunny gardens, smearing my grimy paws on every shiny windowpane in sight, avoiding Eiffel towers and museums, digging out the juiciest strawberries at the market, inhabiting every last dishevelled cafe in every grotty side street, nursing cafe cremes and Le Figaro for hours on end. Bliss.

Why? Because I can. And because the catacombs are open again for business, after renovations, and it's high time I was exploring skeleton-lined underground caverns and dreaming of Valjean's tunnel escape in Les Miserables.

One of the real delights of Paris is food, but not the high-end restaurant classics, or even the mid-level salades composees and bistro standards. It's the street food: the stuff prepared by dubious-looking immigrants and entrepreneurial fingersmiths on every street corner, with nothing more than a hole-in-the-wall to sell from or a portable hotplate. Street food varies according to the seasons, and in winter you'll find a roaring trade in crepes spread with Nutella and hot roasted chestnuts outside Galeries Lafayettes.

In summer, things are a little different. I have a soft spot for the ubiquitous jambon beurre, a crusty baguette section split down the middle and stuffed with fresh cold butter and fat slices of carved leg ham. Sitting on a bench in one of the gravel-lined Parisian parks, the sun on your back, unwrapping the thin paper that wraps your simple sandwich and taking your first big bite is a plain and exquisite pleasure.

Less simple but just as lovely is the merguez-frites. Better for when you crave an injection of something hot, salty, meaty and juicy: a baguette stuffed with spicy North-African sausage and hot chips, sometimes with tomato, chili or garlic sauce as well.

Footpath vendors sometimes also have little containers of tabouleh, layered with hard-boiled egg, red onion, mint, basil and lemon juice. These are incredibly light and refreshing after a morning's walking and sightseeing over hard cobblestoned streets.

Alternatively, if you are more the deep-fried snacktacular calorie-feaster, go for the brik a l'oeuf. This is a square of light puff pastry, deep-fried and with a runny fried egg inside. It's tasty but not all that filling and only really good with a vinegary salad to cut the oil content.

If you have a serious sweet tooth, then beignets are for you. I confess that I have never been able to eat an entire beignet, for the extreme sugar content is just too much for me. However I am in the minority and most people fall into ecstatic raptures over a fresh beignet. Think of a doughnut with no hole, crispily fried, dredged in grainy sugar and oozing a thick filling of chocolate or fruit. With a coffee, on a cool morning, I concede that this must be a good thing.

1 comment:

Karen said...

This made me cry....why can't I be in Paris ?