“We’ll meet by the little red door on the side of the church,” she said. Never mind the espionage-style appointment, the person I was meeting at my rendezvous couldn’t be less spy-like! Lisa Rankin, my guide for a Parisian food tour, is a warm, bubbly Canadian blonde who feels like a good friend within minutes of meeting, as she endeavours to share her passion for food and all things Parisian with us, her small group of foodies for the day.Lisa runs the very personalised Flavors of Paris walking food tours in the charming, artsy St-Germain-des-Prés, her adopted home.
A short walk from the St Germain Church (the one with the red door) took us to our first stop, which turned out to be – rather under-whelmingly for me – a branch of an international chain, which didn’t really fit into my idea of the artisanal, local heroes-style tour I was expecting on a tour like this. But, credit where it’s due to Eric Kayser, it was a good ‘let’s get to know each other’ opportunity over coffee and croissants, and once I’d tried some of their dizzying variety of bakery offerings, I realised where their appeal lay. Even though they have a global footprint, this is a chain that stays true to artisanal baking methods, using natural leavening agents to produce breads and baked goods of exceptional quality (the financiers, made of almond flour were the perfect gluten-free pick-me-up for me)!
All reservations withdrawn, I threw myself into the rest of the tour, which next took us to a gourmet boutique, Ma Collecione. Its tiny size belied its huge pedigree – it’s home to what is officially the ‘world’s best jam’, as well as a highly curated selection of luxury food products, from oils and mustards to jams, honey, and cheeses.With its vintage vibe and the designer packaging, this was literally my ultimate retail heaven. Everything in the store is French-made, and usually from an artisanal/family producer. After a tasting of some of their most unique offerings (violet mustard or molecular-style truffle pearls, anyone?) I defy anyone to not end up spending a small fortune on souvenirs (I certainly did)!
We then meandered on to the historic cobble stoned Cour du Commerce St-Andre – a narrow, covered street dating back to the 1770s, where a lot has remained unchanged (including the cobblestones) even if its former revolutionary residents may have been replaced by cafés and boutiques. Lisa peppered our natter throughout the tour with insider insight into the artsy neighbourhood, history and food stories, while at many of the stops, we got to chat with the passionate people running these the culinary concepts.
We drank comforting hot chocolate and nibbled on hand-crafted chocolates; did an olive oil tasting at a store dedicated to all things Provencal (be warned, this is another magnet for your wallet, with so many beautiful things to buy!); and munched on macarons (no French food tour would be complete without some of these now, can they?) at acclaimed Parisian pâtisserie/culinary concept store/chocolate bar/tea salon, Un Dimanche à Paris. They may not have the international fame of, say, Pierre Herme or Laduree, but those in the know do flock here for the hand-made bites of sugary heaven, in some seriously interesting flavours. This felt like the ultimate embodiment of contemporary France.
And while I could have happily just stayed here all day, we had places to go, and things to do…
Next on our agenda was a visit to a local market, to stock up on some cheeses, charcuterie, and boutique wines, which we then proceeded to sit down and make a quintessential Parisian picnic of baguettes, charcuteries, cheese and wine… the banter flowed easily, our laughter rang through the afternoon sunshine, and we bonded over fine French food. This is exactly what travel memories are made of, non?