There’s a lot to love about Paris—the art, the culture, the cheap wine—but for me, there is no greater Parisian joy than that of its stunningly simple, creative and satisfying flavors. From staples like cheese and tea to flamboyant add-ons like mustard and fruit preserves, the French know how to turn eating into a sensual experience. No trip to the City of Light is complete without a visit to one of the many Paris gourmet boutiques. Here are the best and brightest.
In 1909, Henri Androuet decided he wanted to illuminate his fellow Parisians about the delights of cheeses from all over France. He traversed unpaved roads across the country to learn about and find the finest and most varied cheeses that he could bring back to his shop on rue d’Amsterdam. Over the years and generations, he and his offspring expanded their expertise by seeking cheeses from all over the world, and shared their love of great fromage by opening a tasting cellar, releasing “cheese calendars” and eventually opening a restaurant in the 1930s that made the Androuet name famous, as it was attended by the likes of Colette, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway.
The original shop (and its restaurant) on rue d’Amsterdam has since closed, but never fear—over 100 years after its humble beginnings, Androuet now has six boutiques in Paris, London and Sweden, and online. Don’t know the difference between a Camembert and a Comté? A stop into any Androuet shop ensures expert assistance by the in-house fromager. He or she will teach you everything a budding gourmandise needs to know about choosing, presenting and conserving cheese, in addition to being subtly hilarious (the website warns against perfect-looking cheeses, which are “often industrial and insipid”).
As common to a French table as ketchup is to an American table, French moutarde is a dazzling way to give your bites a little punch. This is not like American mustard, though: its zingy heat tastes brings it closer to the taste of wasabi than that of the sweet stuff you buy at an American grocery store.
Maille is the ultimate in French mustard: since opening its first boutique in 1747, the Maille brand has provided spice to the tables of European royalty for centuries and currently welcomes visitors to its flagship boutique just across from la Madeleine, where it sells more than 40 different flavors of mustard as well as vinegars, oils, specialty mayonnaise and even its signature cornichons. Many Parisians keep a classic corked black Maille jar at home and refill it at one of Maille’s three “mustard pumps,” porcelain kegs full of fresh mustard in the Chablis, chardonnay and black truffle flavors.
A recent Maille tasting event enlightened me as to the many uses of its mustards and vinegars, from veal with Parmesan and basil mustard, to duck maki with honey mustard, to a cocktail made with vodka and Maille mango vinegar—a combination I never would have dreamed up but that tasted incredible. If you want a long-lasting gourmet addition to your table or a gift for the spice lover in your life, Maille is sure to perk up your taste buds or your friend’s day after day.
Tea: Mariage Frères
France is not known for its coffee. Though a half-burned espresso at a café is part of the French tradition, an even better one is that of the French tea salon. At these nooks all over Paris, you can steal away from the cold and rain or the hustle-bustle of tripisty avenues for une petite pause, ideally one of quiet conversation and delicious, warming tea in an elegant setting.
There is no better place to do that than at Mariage Frères. A brand that goes back some 350 years, Mariage Frères has spent the centuries perfecting the art of tea, scouring the earth for the wildest and most comforting flavors and bringing them back to Paris to experience in their signature salons, which are cloaked in elegance and decorated with opera music and hushed voices. Many of the Mariage Frères locations also have “tea museums” in the caves downstairs, where you can learn about the history of tea and the brand and check out ancient teacups and teapots, including my favorite, the “mustache teacup” (used in the olden days when all proper men had mustaches but didn’t want to dip their facial hair into their tea).
In the boutiques you’ll find every imaginable flavor of tea, teas for Easter or Christmas, teas called Latin Lover and Opium Hill and Swan Lake and the very intriguing Full Moon Party. The perfect French tea experience would be to have cake and tea in the salon upstairs, then bring home a canister of one of Mariage Frère’s many fine teas to enjoy throughout the year at home.
Preserves: La Chambre aux Confitures
The youngest boutique on the list, La Chambre aux Confitures has only been around for a couple of years but already has two locations in Paris, and is well on its way to becoming a Paris gourmet classic. Owner Lise Bienaimé (whose last name translates to “beloved”) opened the shop after growing up with a grandfather who, with his own grocery store, instilled in her a love for preserved fruits and their endless possibilities. Turning her boundless passion into business, Bienaimé scours every corner of France, searching for new flavor combinations from dozens of confiture craftsmen.
“Each craftsman has his own specialty, whether it’s red fruits, or seeded fruits or pastry combinations,” Bienaimé told me. Each jam is handmade and free of preservatives, giving each a one-of-a-kind fresh flavor. In addition to nabbing the preserves of French craftsmen across the country, Bienaimé creates many of the flavors at La Chambre aux Confitures.
Arranged by flavor profile, from fruit combinations ideal for breakfast or for stirring into yogurt (like lemon vanilla), to savory jellies ideal for cheese plates and meat toppers (like fig and Jamaican pepper), there is a kind of jam for every taste. My favorite is the friponne section, what Bienaimé calls “the silly jams,” as one does not even need an excuse to eat them—just dip your spoon into the jar and enjoy as is. Here, there are candied chestnut and pineapple-rum-coconut jams. The fruit section is arranged by season, so you could get geranium jam for spring, cherry mint for summer, pear ginger for fall and grapefruit orange for winter, keeping yourself stocked with spreadable fruits all year long. With flavors like white chocolate and tea, rose and raspberry, and a downright heavenly apricot lavender, your taste buds will be piqued, surprised and delighted for as long as you manage to keep your jam.
Next time you’re in Paris and crave a delicious experience, each of these gourmet boutiques, steeped in tradition, history and artisanal craft, guarantees that you’ll be tasting France long after your trip home.
La Chambre aux Confitures
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