Sunday, August 17, 2014

Paris Favorites

Another quick post of my recent Paris visit:

*as readers of my Paris book already know, I am a big fan of the fresh mustard at the Maille boutique on place de la Madeleine [at number 6].  Though Maille is now owned by mega-conglomerate Unilever, the company was founded in 1747, and Antoine Maille was named official vinaigrier-distillateur for the royal court of France in 1769.  Maille mustards and condiments are of course reliably be found throughout North America, and at the Madeleine shop there are even more mustards and a few other culinary items, some packaged quite beautifully for gifts.  The reason to come here is for the fresh mustard pumps at the central counter.  Three different varieties are offered, all of which are more potent than the Maille mustards sold in the States.  The staff fills earthenware jars (like the one pictured above; you can choose small, medium, or large jars) with the mustard of your choice (I am most fond of the moutarde de Dijon au vin blanc).  The jars are sealed with lid made of coated paper and cork and the staff are quite adept at packing the jars for airplane flights.  If your mustard is a gift, they give you a sturdy, attractive black bag with gold foil (again, pictured above) with black cord handles, folded flat.  When I first began buying the fresh mustard, it was permissible to put the jars in carry-on bags, but nowadays they must be put in checked luggage.  Not a problem -- and on this visit I bought four jars and they fit perfectly fine in my small wheelie bag.  Note that the staff does recommend you try to keep the mustard refrigerated, so it's a good idea to plan a visit to the boutique on your last day in Paris.  As I was traveling on to the Côte d’Azur, I simply asked the hosts at my b&b and hotels to keep the mustard in the fridge for me and they were happy to do so.

I saw the Place de L’Apéro plaque displayed on a shelf in a cafe one morning, and I loved it (l’apéro  refers to the slang word for apéritif, and the phrase for cocktail hour is often referred to as l'heure de
l’apéro; it's also sometimes called cinq à sept, indicating the traditional five to seven time for pre-dinner drinks, and it's also a phrase that refers to a traditional time of day when men met their mistresses).  I thought I might find the plaque at the BHV department store -- there is a selection of the classic blue-and-white Paris street signs as well as those oval-shaped, black-and-white signs on the store's street level floor (52 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement).  I didn't find one there (though the store takes custom orders) but I did find one on a spinner rack of postcards and plaques in Nice.  It's now in my kitchen and it brings a smile to my face everyday.

Years ago, when Patricia Wells introduced her first edition of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, I learned about a wonderful shop called Le Furet-Tanrade (readers of my Paris book may recall the entry for this in the Paris Miscellany).  Initially, I went to the store (then on rue de Chabrol in the 10th) in search of confiture de poire passée, a smooth, somewhat runny pear concoction that Wells recommended for mixing with plain yogurt.  Ooh-la-la was it ever delicious! Later, I discovered pêche de vigne jam, and as I noted in my book, if you think you've had better peach jam anywhere in the world than this one, you are dead wrong.  Later still, I discovered the shop's orange-flower water made from the blossoms at the orangerie at Versailles, and the chocolates, which are of quite good quality.  Tanrade has, according to Naomi Barry in Paris Personal, "enjoyed the reputation of being the first house in Paris for fine jams, jellies, and fruit syrups" for nearly 250 years (her book was published in 1963).  So I was crestfallen when I learned a few years ago that Tanrade had closed.  Before my recent visit, I learned that it had reopened, still in the 10th but on rue des Messageries at #1.  The new space is not nearly as nice and welcoming as the old one -- not that the old space was ever a gem, but still, this new one seems rather depressing -- but coming here is still vaut le détour (worth a detour).  I tried to get the explanation for the move from Alain Furet -- something about a fire, and something about the arrondissement and the city not helping out the way they should -- but I couldn't quite follow it.  I gave up and steered our conversation to the goods at hand, and I walked out with confiture mi-figue mi-raisins (half fig, half grape), abricot, and speciale NKM: noisette, kiwi, and mangue, now all firm favorites.  (Note that all the confitures here are seasonal, so I was too early for both the poire passée and pêche de vigne.) 

Anyone reading this who may be going to Paris before the 31st of August is in luck: the absolutely fabulous Il Était Une Fois l’Orient Express exhibit at the l'Institut du Monde Arabe closes on that day - do not miss it!  I'd read about the exhibit before I arrived, but somehow I didn't really grasp that the actual train cars from the original Orient Express were there (set up opposite the south facade of the museum) and that visitors walked through them.   !!  This is one of the very best shows I've ever seen and it was one of the highlights of my entire trip.  Tickets are timed as only about a dozen people are permitted in each car at a time.  I tried to buy a ticket one afternoon but the times I wanted were all sold out, so I returned the next morning about a half hour before opening time and was able to buy a ticket with no trouble.  Truly, my head practically popped off when I was walking through these cars, and fans of train travel, wanderlust, quality craftsmanship, the Near East, European history, and Agatha Christie, James Bond, Mata Hari, Graham Greene, and Josephine Baker will positively love this. 

And, in enthusing so much about this exhibit, I don't want to take anything away from the wonderful l'Institut du Monde Arabe itself, which (again) readers of my Paris book already know is one of my most favorite museums in the city.  The Institut is not only a museum but also a cultural center, library, concert hall, bookstore, restaurant, and cafe (on the 9th floor, with a great view of Notre-Dame and beyond).  I won't repeat here what I noted in my book, but I will quote from a little book (Spirit of Place) about the building found in the museum's bookstore:  "Those who designed it were able to express an Arabic style without resorting to overly simplistic Oriental stereotypes.  Here, the Orient is neither copied nor parodied, neither reinvented nor even re-examined.  Instead, it is simply and brilliantly interpreted."

Lastly, since it seems apropos, an excellent article, "A Walk Through Historic Arab Paris," may be found in the July-August 2012 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine.   

D'accord: one more Paris post and then on to the Côte d’Azur..... 


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