So, why Paris? Well, not for the usual reason of it being “the most romantic city in the world” etc etc. Apart from it being a cultural, historical and fashion hub of Europe, France in general has held a special place in my heart for twenty-odd years. Having grown up in Sydney and receiving no formal Chinese education, I attended a Canadian-run English-speaking school when living in Hong Kong from the age of 10 to 14. French is a second language in Canada and taught in all of its schools, including the one I was at albeit offshore. Thus my affair with the French language began, which was continued through high school upon returning to Sydney. My French is far from fluent, but there is enough of it for basic survival.
As opposed to the usual hot food kiosks we see at parks, Paris has lots of stands selling crèpes and – somewhat curiously – hotdogs. They all pretty much have the same offerings and we sampled one with ham and cheese before picking up a couple of bottles of soft-drink in interesting packaging.
I’d actually wandered into a Ladurée store prior to getting the crèpe and almost started hyperventilating at all the pastel-coloured macarons, small cakes, pastries and Hello Kitty macaron merchandise. We reasoned we needed some savoury food first, plus it was a hot day in Paris and we were worried about the melting of any sweets we would purchase. We finally got our mitts on some macarons at the Champs Élysées store which is undergoing renovations until October this year (I know, what on earth are they doing in there for so many months?!), and where a small replica store has been recreated on the adjacent footpath.
The macarons vary in price according to which design of box and how many you get, but I really couldn’t go past their signature green packaging (6 macarons for €14.85, approx AUD$19.80). I managed to narrow down my choice to vanilla (fragrant with flecks of vanilla), single origin chocolate from Ghana (very chocolaty), raspberry (berry explosion with a jammy raspberry filling replete with pips), lemon (tasted exactly like lemon tart filling), pistachio (tasted of real pistachio and not fake almond essence) and salted caramel (with a gooey filling).
While Ladurée is traditional and girly, Pierre Hermé is modern and edgy. From the design and fit-out of stores to the unconventional macaron flavours, the two couldn’t be more different. Macarons are €1.95 (approx AUD$2.60) each for up to 3; purchase more and they are sold by weight. We settled on 2 flavours – a salted butter caramel (buttery and fudgy), and a rose and jasmine (delicate with a tea-like flavour) from the current Les Jardins collection.
The macarons were consumed at various pit-stops during our afternoon of walking travels, so which ones did we like better? The flavours were wonderful from both stores, with both being less sweet than Australian counterparts. However what tilted the scales towards Ladurée for the husband and I were their denser shells with hardier surfaces and smaller amount of filling, making for a shell/filling ratio and texture which we preferred. Now if you like lighter, more delicate shells with a thicker layer of fudgy filling, then Pierre Hermé is probably more your style.
Many hours of sightseeing under a sweltering sun later, we made our way back to the hotel to freshen up and rest our blistered feet. With little time left for dinner, we fell back on hotel room service, which always feels like a bit of holiday indulgence. We chose the Frenchiest things from the menu – soupe à l'oignon, omelette Emmental, and steak frites – and being a nice in hotel in Paris, the meal didn’t disappoint. The soup was rich, meaty and mellow. The omelette was cooked through without being coloured and the cheese within was melted and stretchy, with a well-seasoned side salad of greens. The steak was medium-rare as requested and surrounded by a sticky, caramel-y jus perfect for mopping up with the separately served fries.
We headed out to the Moulin Rouge at 10pm when Paris was still at dusk. Our night out on the town finished around 1am, so we were thankful for the included breakfast with our hotel package the next morning. It was all standard top-notch-hotel-quality but, being in Paris, with better brioche and pain au chocolat. Then the waiter asked if we wanted to order French toast, and we are so glad we took him up on his offer – three roughly 7cm rounds of brioche saturated in sweet eggy batter were presented simply sprinkled with icing sugar, and in want of nothing else.
Our hotel room package also included an afternoon tea with the promise of yet more Ladurée macarons – this time caramel and chocolate ones – which concluded our whirlwind trip to Paris.
Flying back to Munich in the evening provided a last ditch attempt to consume a few more French food at the airport. They don’t do fast-food the way we’re used to at home, with instead heated slices of quiche and even chain-store éclairs and pre-packed baguette rolls being better than what we have available. *sigh*
To say that finally making it to France is a long-held dream realised, doesn’t even begin to describe the emotions experienced that weekend. It’s not just the language and food which capture you – sure, there are too many smokers and people drive like crazy folk with utter disregard for other vehicles and/or pedestrians, but Parisiens really are effortlessly chic and elegant in a city where everyone is in a hurry. Apart from the haul of goodies below, I take away memories of the city while it stole a piece of my heart.