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The Paris Food Scene: Bistros, Brasseries, Boulangeries, and Bouillons

When you mix culture, art, history, geography, flavors, cuisine, and people in everything you eat and drink, you get Paris! For all you food lovers out there who are going to Paris, you need to savor this episode. Get the culinary experience of a lifetime in Paris.

[01:43] Paris-Food Capital of the World

[02:52] Understanding the Language of the French Food Scene

  • Bistro
  • Brasserie
  • Bouillon
  • Boulangerie
  • Patisserie

[07:36] The Ultimate-Michelin Star

[09:01] When to eat in Paris

[10:05] Finding a Nice Restaurant

[16:21] Be Respectful of the Culture-Know Some Phrases

[19:36]Bouillon Chartier

Dream. Learn. Plan. Prepare. Go to Guidester/Virtual-Vacation

Season 1: Episode 10

#Paris #France #Frenchcuisine #cuisine #bistro #brasserie #boulangerie #bouillon #patisserie #chef #cafe #wine #sidewalkcafe #Eiffeltower #Louvre #croissant #Bouillonchartier #culture #French #Language

Transcript
Arnold:

When our family was in Paris last summer, Jack, we had a great time enjoying the food. We love to eat. We love good food. We woke up in the morning and one of the things that woke us up was the smell of the croissants coming from a bakery...

Jack:

I like your French accent.

Arnold:

across the street. Our daughter went down and got some, she brought them back, we sat out on the little porch, outside the window, looking down the street, sipping a cup of cafe au lait and having a croissant

Jack:

Beautiful.

Arnold:

It's wonderful food. So what's the food scene, like from your perspective? You've been over there quite a bit.

Jack:

Yes. I have been to Paris a couple of times and I have a good friend that lives in Paris, so Morgan if I say something wrong, I apologize. But I'm gonna do my best.

Arnold:

Morgan, I'll try to help direct him with my junior high and high school French.

Jack:

I give him crap for his American accent or English accent, but he speaks several languages fluently. I speak none. I'm learning Italian, but I have no reason to judge, but I do like to poke fun at the French it's good fun; all in good fun.

Arnold:

Bonjour and welcome to the 10th episode of the podcast Virtual Vacation with Guidester where each week we explore European destinations with host Jack Baumann, founder of Guidester and travel enthusiast Arnold Stricker. We're obviously talking about food in this episode, the Paris Food Scene. What is it like? What's the difference between a bistro, a brasserie and a restaurant? What time do Parisiennes eat and why that's important? Those and more so let's join our host, the Guidester himself, Jack Baumann.

Jack:

So the food scene. Paris is the food capital of the world. It certainly is the food capital in Europe. It has some of the best food in Europe. Paris doesn't necessarily have its own cuisine so to speak; Paris is the epicenter of all the cuisine in all the regions of France. So if you want something from Provence or Bordeaux, or the Loire Valley or the North, the West you go to Paris and you'll find it. You will find whatever you want in any type of French cuisine, style of dish you'll find it in Paris. So it's boldly reclaimed that title as the best food city in Europe. It really has a good mix, a brilliant mix of new restaurants by talented young chefs from all over the world, all over Europe with a diverse array of dining options that are constantly changing. But you still have your custom long established places, your traditional bistros, your brasseries, your stylish restaurants serving a classic French cooking. And then you've got, the typical French or the classic haute cuisine. Haute is like the high level establishment, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotel establishments characterized by that meticulous preparation and careful presentation and of course, a very high price.

Arnold:

Now you mentioned bistros, brasserie and a restaurant, so what's the difference?

Jack:

Great question. The French love to designate and differentiate and when it comes to their language, the French language is the most sophisticated sort of language in the world. There's more layers to their designations of everything, but food. They take it to a crazy level

Arnold:

Different than fast food and a sit down restaurant and in a place you're going to see, white tablecloth?

Jack:

We're just going to barely touch on a few of the designations. You go to this place for this style of food and experience, and if you want drinks with that, you go here. So let me get to the basics, the brass tacks, if you will. Bistro is usually a very casual neighborhood restaurants, your neighborhood restaurant. It offers typical French cuisine. These can be trendy and they vary greatly in price. So that's your neighborhood place. A brasserie, which brasserie comes from the French word brewery, it's usually pricier neighborhood restaurants. A little bit more formal, but they serve beer and wine and simple food all day and night like an informal bar restaurant combination It's also very popular with your business professionals. Then you have your restaurant, which is simply any eating establishment in which diners are served food at their tables. Okay. So if you're served food at your table, that's a restaurant. But then you have further designations a Bouillon is traditional late 19th, early 20th century spacious restaurant that usually serves traditional French cuisine. So you think Jack, that sounds like a restaurant. There are subtle differences. The bistro is your neighborhood, small neighborhood restaurant. Your brasserie is going to serve beer wine. Your restaurant is going to be your catch all name for a lot of other eating establishment and then your Bouillon. Then we can get into, what some other designations of what Paris is known for.

Arnold:

What are they known for?

Jack:

So the really important thing they're known for anywhere in France, especially Paris, the boulangerie. They're known for their bread and pastry dishes.

Arnold:

And their croissants.

Jack:

That's bread based, so their bread based dishes is really what France is known for. In addition, Paris is the epicenter of that. So key thing to understand here, a boulangerie is a bakery that focuses mainly on baking breads and a patisserie is a bakery specializing in pastries and headed by a pastry chef. So that's really important.

Arnold:

Let me tell you what; the pastries over there in one place that we went to, they were absolutely crazy. They melt in your mouth. They had just a great flavor.

Jack:

Oh, absolutely. So one worth mentioning, if you want to put one on your patisserie itinerary, Gerard Mulot Patisserie is considered one of the best in the city; offers a wide range of pastries colors, kind. From what you mentioned, the traditional croissant my personal favorite is a pain au chocolat, which is basically a chocolate croissant. Gerard Mulot is definitely a must-see and of course you can't do Paris. You really can't do France at all, but particularly Paris without a crepe. Now we'd say crepe but crepe is the more accurate way to say that. The street creperies; it's some of the best street food on earth. They have all these little vendors, a couple of places to go to get a really good crepe is under the Eiffel tower. There's food trucks and other local vendors. But really just finding a nice little stall walking the streets of Paris is a great way to get a local crepe. And if you like chocolate again, one of the personal favorite the Nutella and banana filled crepe.

Arnold:

Oh, yeah.

Jack:

It's beautiful

Arnold:

Magnifique.

Jack:

Delicieux is what you want to say if you're describing, some dish.

Arnold:

You're right, when you're walking around Paris a lot and we walked 10 miles a day, just going from place to place. You would look for a place to sit at a corner...

Jack:

Corner bistro.

Arnold:

and you would sit down, you would get some coffee, you would get a little pastry and if you needed to use the restroom, you could do that then. And then you were on your way and it was a nice break.

Jack:

Yes. Thank you for sharing that because I did forget to mention, of course, and this is a unforgivable, but the cafe. That's a staple when you think about Paris and France in general. You're envisioning a romantic couple sitting in a cafe, eating a pastry and drinking some coffee or maybe some wine. So the cafe scene is absolutely a staple, a feature of the Parisian food scene and the culture.

Arnold:

It is. It's great people watching.

Jack:

It really is. It's a great way to get a bead on the locals, so when I try to speak French and this was told to me by my German friend and he said, picture the most stereotypical person in that language to speak it. So when I speak French, I actually envisioned a Parisian sitting in a cafe, smoking a cigarette, drinking a little coffee and having a croissant.

Arnold:

With a beret on?

Jack:

Of course he's got a striped shirt and a Stripe horizontal striped shirt, the sailor shirt with the beret. But I do think of the sort of disgruntled Parisienne sitting in the cafe judging everybody is the envision that I have when I start to go to speak French.

Arnold:

Those restaurants over there, some of them are internationally known and they carry Michelin star ratings.

Jack:

That was created in France, that's now global. The Michelin star is something everybody's heard of but for those that don't know, Michelin star, it's the ultimate hallmark of culinary excellence, awarded to restaurants, judged to be of particularly high standard. So it's a rating system used by the red Michelin guide to great restaurants on their quality, which was originally developed in the early 19 hundreds to show French drivers where local amenities and restaurants were located. So it was just a practical need at the time. And it's just evolved from there. So it's a three-star rating system and the star system was first introduced in 1926 with a single star denoting, a very good restaurant. Two stars, meaning excellent cooking -that's worth a detour. The third star, exceptional cuisine worth a special journey. So one star is very great restaurant, two stars excellent cooking, worth a little detour. And then the third star is you got to go here. That's, it's a destination onto itself. Unlike other rating systems, the Michelin stars are not based on customer reviews at all. But it's undercover inspections by anonymous food experts known as Michelin inspectors. So it's really the culture of the Michelin star restaurant and the inspectors. It's an industry onto itself.

Arnold:

It's a big deal.

Jack:

It's a very big deal and people take it very seriously.

Arnold:

They do. So if we're going to sit down and eat and we want to avoid the crowds when do Parisiennes eat? What times, so maybe we have to make reservations if we're going to be during those times, or if we're outside of the times, maybe we do maybe we don't?

Jack:

The French are very meticulous and cultured in the way they do things and food is no exception. So they do have designated time blocks, if you will. Americans, it's a foreign concept cause Americans, we go to New York City, restaurants open all day long. That's how it is. Europe is not that way, but particularly France and Paris. Paris is a touristy city so you're going to have exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking there's two distinct service times. Lunch typically served from 12:00 to 2:30 and then dinners typically serve from 7:30 to 11:00. If you're hungry in between, you can always step into a patisserie or a boulangerie, or a cafe. Those are usually open throughout the day. Cafes are a great place to go to if you want those in between times, but if you want to go to a set place you do it like the French do, like the Parisians do. 12:00 to 2:30 for your lunch and then 7:30 to 11:00 for your dinner.

Arnold:

What's a good way to find some of these nice restaurants.

Jack:

It's a great question. Avoid the restaurants with laminated menus. You can get good restaurants in touristy areas because really the whole city of Paris is a tourist trap if you will. There are definitely local areas not around the Louvre and not around the Eiffel Tower. But geography is not as important as the menu and the style of restaurant. A tip that I was given that I think is, it makes a lot of sense to me is avoid laminated menus. And why is that? It tells you something very important about a restaurant. It means they never, or very rarely change the menu because why are you going to laminate if you're changing it? The changing menu is a hallmark of French cuisine of Parisian style food. It gives the. Chefs creativity and this ability to be flexible and try new things and new flavors. So an ever-changing menu is a good sign. That means it's local. That means a chef knows what he's doing. You've got a good, conscientious chef that wants to try new things and explore, and then you not only try his own thing, but other influences that come in from outside Paris. So the laminated menus is is an important thing. At every restaurant the menu was either written in chalk or a giant chalkboard or when the waiters told you orally. So again, that's very counterintuitive to an American. I want to set menu and I want that menu outside the restaurant. Be open and be flexible if there's not a set menu or if the set menu, is said varied; to change, give it a shot. But the menus that are on the chalkboard or that are given orally, those are usually going to be good, local restaurants or establishment that you want to try out.

Arnold:

So what are we talking price wise; I imagine some of these high-end restaurants pretty overpriced, pretty high priced?

Jack:

Yes. Paris has definitely overpriced in everything and the foods no exception. But not always if you know where to look. It really depends where you go. We mentioned earlier about the side streets and the smaller neighborhoods away from the very major tourist attractions are the way to go. Relaxing evening meals off the beaten path joints, they're reasonably priced, and you can get authentic Parisian culinary experience. You don't always have to go to the Michelin star restaurants to get the Parisian culinary experience. You just don't have to do it. Some of them are well worth going. As we mentioned the three stars are a destination onto themselves, but just look for the off the beaten path the grungier sometimes the better. Paris does not have the best reputation for being the cleanest city in the world but you look down an alleyway and it looks a little dirty grungy, that might be a good sign. Don't do it at night but during the day; take that little small street, go down that little pathway and see what becomes of it because it's, in central Paris it's full of as little neighborhood kind of bistros and brasseries that you would never know is there, unless you walked in and explored yourself.

Arnold:

And we should probably get reservations at these places.

Jack:

Yes. Reservations are an absolute must in Paris. They have very limited seating capacities, and that's before COVID. Dinner service hours are shorter than America so they have to pack more in less time. And the best restaurants always book up very fast. The top places getting hundreds of reservation requests every single day. One more thing regarding the reservations. You don't have to show up on time. In the US, if you have a 7:30 reservation, it's customary to come a little early, 7:15. In Paris it's quite a bit different. You don't have to arrive until at least the reservation time if not a little later If you've got a 7:30 reservation time, you're not going to sit at 7:30 so if you showed up at eight, that might be okay. I would probably show up at 7:30-7:45 just to be safe, but you don't have to show up early, they're going to be running behind because the French, do you like to sit a little longer than Americans. I dated a French gal from Provence when I was living in Wales and her father came and visited and we went out had dinner. Arnold we were there four hours.

Arnold:

Yeah.

Jack:

We were there four hours. He wanted to meet me and talk to me and stuff, but that's not out of the norm. A minimum dinnertime for a French group of friends or family it's going to be two hours to three hours. You and I we'll go to dinner with a friend and we could be in and out in an hour. Now it might be an hour and a half but if we have a dinner reservation in America, let's say a Tucker's here in St. Louis at 7:00, we're going to be home by 8:30, or maybe at least walking out at 8:30. You won't even be getting your meal until 8:00 so just keep in mind that the dinner time, they don't follow the reservation times because people do linger and they stay a little bit longer. All the more reason to make a reservation to make sure you do get seated at some point.

Arnold:

That's a great point. As we experienced and as you experienced the French culture, they do like to take time. They do like to talk, converse and get to know other people or find out about the day. It's not the rush that we have here in the States. So they really do take their time. It's great to find a place near the rivers too so you have a view. Or maybe you're over at the Louvre or by the Eiffel tower. You don't want to be in a place where you're going to get a lot of traffic and hear noise and get a lot of fumes. So you pick a place; good view, good vibe, good vibe you're patient with the chef, because chef's doing their thing in the back. There's no rush. We're not going anywhere. You're taking in the culture.

Jack:

Absolument. I think you're absolutely correct. The dining experience in Paris is part of the local culture. It's part of the whole feel. In the Northern part of central Paris is a really cool neighborhood-y vibe. That's where Sacre Coeur.

Arnold:

Right.

Jack:

Very famous, beautiful church...

Arnold:

Big art area,

Jack:

But that whole neighborhood around Sacre Coeur is beautiful. It's worth going to just walk around, but as you said, just picking a little local brasserie or bistro or a Michelin star restaurant. But sit down, take your time. The idea is not to get food, get in and get out. The idea as you said you're taking in the ambiance of the neighborhood. You're people watching, you're talking to the waiter you're getting some advice and tips on some wine pairings, how should I pair this dish with a wine that you've got on your menu? Tell me about the new flavors that you have and what are some of the cool things that the chef is doing? Don't be afraid to engage. The garcon, the waiter. Excusez-moi, garcon I have a question for you.

Arnold:

And they all speak English.

Jack:

Yes. In Paris. Yes. That's actually another thing worth mentioning. If you want an English menu, you go earlier. Not every restaurant's going to have an English menu, so that's really important. Even in Paris, you're gonna get a lot of restaurants that do not have English menus and the French are not the best at English, but they're not the worst. Italy is very difficult outside of Rome and Venice and Florence, some of the major cities. But the French; it's actually funny and it's a generational thing. The young people, everybody speaks English. But they don't like it. The French want you to speak French in France and I get it. It makes sense. You're in our country. You don't have to speak it at least, s'il vous plait, bonjour; it's the basic things. Merci thank you. The meal was good. Just some basic phrases and that's again, going to the Guidester guide. If you get a Guidester guide, we're going to give you a couple of pages of common phrases. So you don't need to know any French, but a few phrases and words really help go a long way. So if you need an English menu, do your research or show up early because it will take the waiter a little bit longer to translate or to get you the English menu. And when it gets later in the evening they don't want to do that. You don't want to slow up the garcon later in the evening with a lot of these questions if you don't have to. That's another way to find a really good local establishment. If it doesn't have an English menu, that's a good sign and just stumble through it. Getting back to whether they speak English, they should speak some the older generations, not as good as the younger, but if they're under 40, certainly under 30, they will speak English. Now one tip I will say if a person that's younger, someone that's under 40 if they say they don't speak English, they're probably lying to you. I've watched this happen because they just don't want to engage with you and there's just this concept; you should speak French and I just don't want to speak English, I don't want to translate, so I'm just going to pretend. This happens particularly in Paris, but it happens in other places in France. I watched them say this to it, travelers, don't understand, they pretend they don't understand and then they're speaking English a few minutes later. The same guy. So it is something you be aware of, but here's what changes that if I walk up to you as an American, where is this or where can I find this and I don't even, excusez- moi. If all I said was, excusez-moi, versus where can I find this that automatically lowers the draw bridge if you will because Paris is the most visited city in Europe. It literally is the most visited city in Europe. They get millions of Americans. Sometimes people are rude and many times we don't respect their local culture. So they're going to make an assumption about you as being an American. Break down that barrier break down that assumption and just excusez-moi s'il vous plait. Excuse me, please. Then ask your question in English. Or how about parlez vous Anglais? If I walk up to you and say, do you speak English versus parlez vous Anglais and I've watched this happen from waiters to street stalls and shop workers and just people that I've met out and about. Parlez vous Anglais, oui or yes and then you've now engaged their facial expressions change from, I don't want to be bothered to I'm interested.

Arnold:

Like good morning, good afternoon.

Jack:

Yeah.

Arnold:

And then followed by that.

Jack:

But in their language.

Arnold:

Exactly.

Jack:

Parlez vous Anglais really goes a very far way in lowering that Drawbridge.

Arnold:

I agree with that. So favorite restaurants of yours?

Jack:

I did go to a restaurant that was really exceptional. Last time I was there, I think 2018 worth mentioning Bouillon Chartier,remember bouillon is just a designation of a restaurant. It's a great place to discover authentic french cuisine with all your typical cliches without breaking the bank. So it's classy historic place. It's over a hundred years old, I guess for France it's not that old. It's a very well-known establishment. It has a whole lot of French culture in a single dose. When I went there, I got the escargot, the snails. Worth doing I'm not an escargot guy I'm not a snails guy...

Arnold:

But if you're going to get them- in Paris.

Jack:

You're going get it- in Paris exactly. It was quite delicious, the meat, the actual texture of the meat was good, but the sauce! Whatever sauce they put on, this was just amazing. Delicieux, it was really top-notch and that's really what made it. And just the presentation, the escargo comes out in a little dish and then there's like little pockets of sauce and you dip it in that, in the sauce, it gives it really good flavor. It's a laid back atmosphere, that you might find it a higher end spot. So you get the quality of the best French cuisine without the pretentiousness that accompany some of the top tier of Michelin star restaurants. It feels like a local vibe. It's quite big for a French restaurant or Paris restaurant. It's not small. I was up on the second story so you get all the best bits and bobs of the Paris food scene without the pretentiousness of some of the other, sophistic K sort of restaurants.

Arnold:

I know when people go to visit Paris, many times people want to go to see museums or they have specific sites that they want to see, like the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe. But you must also take in the food scene. That's a whole nother venue that you need to prepare and take time for

Jack:

Absolument. I think if you go to Paris without some effort to engage and immerse into the food culture, you've missed something.

Arnold:

Agreed

Jack:

You nailed it. Me personally, food doesn't motivate me. I love good food. I don't travel for food, but I made an effort to go to a nice bouillon, to a nice brasserie and bistro and some cafes. The way that I think about food establishments in Paris is how I would probably think about pubs in England. You cannot go to England without experiencing some cool local pubs. It's the same way with the food in Paris.

Arnold:

That's a great, great analogy. And I like the sign, will travel for food.

Jack:

Exactly. Will travel for food.

Arnold:

appreciate you listening to this episode of Virtual Vacation with Guidester. If you enjoy this episode, please consider letting us know. The best way to do this is by rating us on Apple Podcasts; reviews are always welcome and encouraged. Virtual Vacation with Guidester is produced by Motif Media Group. For Jack Baumann and Virtual Vacation with Guidester I'm Arnold Stricker.

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