A Secret Food Tour Of Saint Germain In Paris
A Secret Food Tour Of Saint Germain In Paris
Over the years, I’ve had a love and hate relationship with eating in Paris. On my first trip 10 years ago, I was blindsided by how hard it was to find a good place to eat in this city without breaking the bank. Seems counterintuitive to say that about the capital city of a country that’s known for their cuisine, but there are just so many tourist traps around if you don’t spend hours doing your research beforehand.
My local friends have mixed feelings about my sentiments. Paris has amazing food, they say, you just need to know where to go. And they are right.
Over the years, my love/hate relationship has slowly turned into a love relationship because 10 years after my first visit and a few subsequent times in between, I’ve finally figured out how to avoid the tourist traps and I’ve got a good list of places where local Parisians go to dine.
Aside from Tokyo, Paris is one of my favorite major cities to eat in. Where else can you find duck confit on almost every menus and usually as one of the lower-priced options? Where else can you find the flakiest croissants for 1 euro at almost every patisserie or boulangerie? Where else can I find a bottle of wine for 1.5 euros that I can actually enjoy? Savory tete au veau, tender boeuf bourguignon, delectably sweet coq au vin, and bouchee a la reine where you can’t decide if you like the pastry more or what it’s holding inside. Paris is food. You just have to know where to eat and what to eat.
Side Note: There have been many times recently where I’ve been turned away from places because it’s full. They don’t ask me to wait or even care if I’m disappointed. They get enough local business and don’t need nor have the capacity for more demand, from backpacking wearing tourists who have stumbled on this local gem. I LOVE these places and leave only wishing I was lucky enough to sneak in the next time I’m around.
How To Find Good Food In Paris?
The complicated way to do this is to cross reference a bunch of different blogs, travel forums, and review sites to look for common denominators, hone in on certain key words and red flags, find recent photos of their menus, and figure out when the place was “discovered” by travelers. You’ll have to learn to spot when bloggers are just regurgitating information they’ve read off other blogs.
The slow way to do this is to just walk 10 kms a day stopping to look at restaurants, check out their menus, read reviews about it, and possibly just try it out for yourself if there are no red flags. This is actually how I come across a lot of my own curated list of recommendations.
The easiest way to know someone from the city. Don’t ask where the best restaurants are. Ask where they eat regularly, ask where they go for special occasions, ask where they go to impress visitors. Ask about old institutions that are still worth visiting. I get some of my best dining experiences this way, but what do you do when you don’t know any locals or if your friends aren’t updated with the food scene?
Joining A Food Tour?
A little disclosure. Until I went on the Secret Food Tour of Saint Germain in Paris, I had never been on a food tour. I used to think that it a bit overpriced and they’d be taking you to places you’d probably find anyway on TripAdvisor. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just go around sampling food on own? Yes, it would be. So read on and I’ll tell you more about the tour and who it is for and why I’m happy to say my thoughts on food tours have changed.
I’m always looking for new ways to see a city and more so when I’ve to a place a few times. I wanted to challenge my preconceptions about food tours.
Some details first about the tour. This one is put on by Secret Food Tours who organizes hundreds of food and wine tours in major cities around the world. Most of these tours last 3-4 hours where you’ll be eating and drinking in a particular neighborhood guided by an actual local from the city.
We met our guide, Aurora, at 11 am outside the Mabillon metro station where she gave us a brief introduction about Paris and then St. Germain. I love hearing little facts about neighborhoods because it’s not something you generally read about unless you’re specifically looking for that information. Just around the corner, we stopped into a confectionary shop to whet our appetites with some salted butter caramels and fruit jelly. The chocolates looked amazing, so I made a note to come back.
Our next stop was to try out a tart from St. Tropez made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s. When I came home, I did a bit of googling and found quite a few stories written specifically about this place and Mrs. Bardot’s iconic history with it – and yet in my research of Paris, I hadn’t stumbled across any of these articles nor the delicious salted butter caramel.
Local Tip #1: Look for the Gault & Millau award stickers on the windows of establishments when you’re just window shopping for places to eat. It’s a prestigious food award on par with the Michelin Guide, except it’s not just for high-end cuisine. It’s award to the best boulangeries, patisseries, charcuteries, etc.
The next place was a dessert place where we sampled macarons. Honestly, I’ve never really understood the whole thing with macarons and people’s obsession with it. I find them expensive for what you and plenty of other desserts and treats that I’d crave before macarons. In any case, at this spot, we got to pick one of a large number of different flavors, and they were slightly better than the ones I’ve had in the past. We also did some tastings of different jams, but the best part was all the deserts were just so damn beautiful. So beautiful that I would have felt bad about biting into and breaking the design. This all made sense when Aurora told us about the owner of the place, who happens to be one of the best chocolate and pastry craftsman in all of France and was awarded the title of Meilleur Ourvrier de France for the Patisserie category. Basically, it’s the equivalent of winning a gold medal in France’s craftsman Olympics. Once every 4 years, one person is given the title of Best Craftsman in France in his category.
When It’s More Than Just About The Food
And this was where I found great value in the tour. Stories. As a storyteller, I know what a good story can do to enhance the experience of visiting a place. I don’t think the idea is to try everything in every place, but to give you some recommendations and tips so you can come back. And I did – after.
For our next stop, we went into an award-winning boulangerie to buy a few different baguettes. You could literally smell the butter coming from this boulangerie 50 meters away. I’ve been to so many in Paris, and this was way up there with their offerings. When we left, they were cooling some galettes and my only disappointment was that it was a part of the tasting. Another reason to come back.
Local Tip #2: There is a set price for basic baguettes in Paris at 1 euro. It doesn’t matter if you get it at the best boulangerie or the worst.
You might be wondering why I haven’t named the locations of our stops. Part of it is to not give away all the names of this SECRET food tour. The other is to give the impression that the tour is just about the stops – that was only half of it. For example, we went to the Marche Saint Germain to get our cheese.
The market is not a secret. It’s place many guidebooks and hotels will recommend if you are in the area. It’s about knowing what to get and from which merchant. Walking through the market, we even stopped by this truffle place called Balme that I’ve put on my list, if only to try the scrambled eggs with shaved truffles.
Another big part of the tour was everything I learned about the food culture in France and Paris. I’ve listed just a few of these local tips in the sidebar.
Breaking Bread With New Friends
Local Tip #3: France is very strict about naming designation. Wines and cheese are named after the region the ingredients are from. It’s all about the terroir, or the “soil”, from which the product comes. You can have the best sparking wine, but if the grapes are not from the region of Champagne, you can’t call it champagne. If you don’t make and bake your bread in-house, you can’t be called a boulangerie. So look for that word when you’re looking for a bakery store. It actually means something.
Between the “oohs” and “wows,” I also made friends with the other people on the tour as we shared our mutual amazement at some of the culinary delights we were seeing and trying.
For our final stop, we came to a tasting room where we saw down together to enjoy the spoils of Aurora’s earlier purchases along with a number of other surprises like foie gras, terrine de trois poivres, a selection of cured meats and a main course of roasted duck with the creamiest and cheesiest potato puree I’ve ever had.
With everything that was presented, we were given a little story or some facts to go with it, from the process of making foie gras and Roquefort to talking about the terroir of wine and what makes a Beaufort cheese a Beaufort cheese.
Around the world, I’ve broken bread with old friends and new sitting around large tables sipping from different bottles of wines, picking at different meats and passing around cheeses before settling into a big roast or pot of stew that silences the table. This had a very similar feeling and not something I expected from a tour. It was lovely.
At 3:30 pm, we realized that we were an hour over the expected tour duration having gotten lost in conversation and food. Everything was eaten and every last drop of wine was drunk. Everyone left full and a little inebriated. Personally, I was happy to go on a long walk after to work off all the different things we tried.
So Who Is This Tour For?
I think that there are so many things to do in Paris and unless you’re living there, you’ll have to use your time wisely. The tour was a great way to explore one particular neighborhood in a short amount of time and learn about Paris and its food culture. It’s a great couple’s daytime activity and it’s a great gift for the foodie or gourmand in your life. If you are into finding things on your own, it’s probably not for you and there’s nothing wrong with that – I’m usually in that camp. I absolutely enjoyed this tour.
I think this is a perfect activity for your second day in a city, and especially one like Paris. It’ll give you a bearing on the neighborhood you’re exploring and you’ll be able to discuss food tips and recommendations with your guide and the other guests as well. I personally got a great recommendation from an English couple about a can’t miss steakhouse near the Louvre and I made sure they knew to go find some Buerre Bordier before they left Paris.