Lise Charlebois-Ludot, Context Travel’s docent for this three hour gastronomic walk, met the group at the corner of 38 rue de Bretagne and rue Charlot, heart of the north Marais. In the 4th arrondissement of Paris, this once gritty commercial area with roots in the 13th century, is a progressive neighborhood for artists, young professionals, musicians, trend setting designers, centuries old food markets, and it’s the birthplace of BoBo. Bohemian bourgeoise, BoBo, is more a way of eating than a new cuisine but even that raises eyebrows among some Parisians.
One of several culinary themed walking tours in Context Travel’s repertoire, the BoBo Palate, New Trends in Parisian Cuisine, deals with cultural shifts as much as fine food. The urban pioneers of the 1970’s that sought out vacant commercial lofts for their studios and living spaces, morphed into the successful designers and professionals that have restored the north Marais into a creative hotspot. Yet even in Paris, 21st century success takes a toll on personal time, and the traditional three hour lunch and dinner doesn’t always fit reality.
Even though cafes will never lose their popularity, Parisians still favor their cheese shop, butcher, wine merchant, farmers market and their patisserie. With little time for cooking, these French traditions have spurred a modern movement that has democratized the concept of French eating among young urbanites. The markets and shops still abound with all that’s necessary for a day of cooking, but many have added venues that take grazing to a new level.
Nicolas Ferrand, owner of Des Saumons & Des Ailes, expresses a preference for Saumon de L’Adour, the rare Atlantic salmon from the southeast of France, smoked over alder wood using techniques perfected in the Pyrenees. His foie gras is from southwestern France and his Iberico hams are moist and sliced paper thin. Try his Waygu chorizo as a new taste pairing with cheese.
Fromagers de France, family owned with an advantageous location, remembers the preference of its regulars, including which farms they enjoy. They have a fine selection of goats milk chevre, and the shop makes its own butter. William Jounnault said he leaned the dairy business as a child in a typical French fashion – from his grandmother.
Thiercelin has been in the spice, coffee & tea import business, and in the same family, since 1809. If it exists as a dried herb or spice, it’s at Thiercelin, plus their own blends, vinegars and honey. Specializing in that most exotic of spices, saffron, Thiercelin has its own saffron crocus farm in Iran. Their saffron honey would lend an aromatic glaze to grilled lamb.
Tarte Kluger sells only tarts, but what tarts. A current special is carrots, lemon confit and coriander among the very popular savory offerings. Sweet ones, such as dark chocolate or fresh raspberries and ricotta, are featured as well. Catherine Kluger has positioned herself within this niche market with shop, books and future expansion plans. Take-out is available, which is wise considering the communal table sitting area is usually full. For more substantial take-out there is Ramella’s where imaginative salads, couscous, stuffed breads and pates make an artistic display in the long refrigerated cases.
The elegant, starkly modern, chocolate shop of Jacques Genin is an ideal stop for an afternoon coffee and a nibble on his handmade creations. For years Genin has strictly been a wholesale artisan, but pressure from his devotees resulted in his Marais shop in 2008. His jellies glisten like gem stones, his caramels melt in your mouth, and his chocolates may be flavored with teas and exotic spices. Jacques Genin is consistently rated among the top chocolate makers in France.
Last stop on this Context Travel tour, the Marche des Enfants Rouges exemplifies BoBo’s blending of old and new. Considered the oldest market in Paris, circa 1615, its produce is 100% certified organic. In the 21st century, it reflects both the immigrant past of the north Marais and the current ethnic diversity in Paris. Prepared dishes from sushi to Moroccan tagine can be purchased and eaten at communal tables. Versant Vins, wine shop and wine bar, offers an excellent selection of vintages, especially from the Loire Valley, along with wine tastings, cheese and charcuterie plates.
The 17th century French commentator on human behavior, Le Rochefoucauld, noted, “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” Having bohemian leanings, and the means to enjoy the abundance and creativity of French cuisine, is celebrated in this Context Travel tour. The times may change, but the French do not give up on the art of eating.