Courtesy of husband's camera play
For Ascension weekend, my husband and I took a trip to Paris. I've always wanted to bring him back to Paris as his first experience many years before left him with a certain fear and dislike for the city. I had already visited the city three times before, and I loved it. We didn't have many days (only 2 full days), but we did our best to do the essentials. Aside from the obligatory attractions, food, of course, was a biggie.
We found out that our hostel was located near the Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement. Not one to be too touristy, the idea of living near Chinatown sparked curiosity because no decent Chinese restaurants exist where we live, and the selection at the only Asian supermarket in town can be limited (although we fully appreciate having even one!). Such a desert made the possibly of having decent Chinese food and stocking up on much missed items all the more enticing. I did my research and knew that Chinese food in Paris was still foreign and not well-understood, but we tried nonetheless.
The first dinner was an utter mistake. We should have asked the locals. Instead, we walked into a trap---albeit full of people with a developing queue---where food arrived cold so quickly that one could only guess that they were prepared in advance and re-heated to order. We regretted choosing that restaurant, and it certainly left us dubious on the others, but we returned two nights later, as we needed to eat in the area. We had one marked down from our scouting on the first night, so we headed straight for it---a Laotian/Vietnamese/Thai restaurant called Lao Lane Xang. Our choice was supported by a local advice that the only Asian food worthy in Paris was Vietnamese and Laotian.
Beef salad (far center) and prawn curry (lower right)
The restaurant on both nights was busy and packed, but our wait was short. It was long enough to make us salivate at the food being served. At least 50% of the dishes on the menu were spicy, but the restaurant was fully accommodating in reducing/eliminating the heat. I ordered two separate salads (a beef and a prawn), and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. The beef was pink in the center and the prawns large ones, and the sauce was flavourfully spicy/sour/sweet. My husband ordered a prawn curry, and he enjoyed it. I was intrigued by the dishes ordered from the neighbouring table only to learn that one of the diners was a native Southeast Asian. Prices were decent, too. It was certainly a recommendable restaurant, and we were glad to have found it.
The last Asian meal was dim-sum. My husband grew up eating good quality dim-sum, so I knew I had my work cut out. And Paris was, as I found out, not the ideal place. Dim-sum was only beginning to enter French vocabulary, and all the restaurants I encountered from hours on the internet yielded pictures or reviews that were mediocre at best. Still, I learnt that the other Chinatown in Belleville in northeast Paris (straddles four arrondissements: 10th, 11th, 19th, 20th) was the source for Cantonese food. I found two possibilities and left the rest for judgement on sight.
(L to R): Rose wine soy sauce chicken, spring rolls (Thai influence), veggies to wrap spring rolls, char siu bao (baskets below contain ha kao and siu mai)
We settled on Le Pacifique and were quite thoroughly satisfied. The dim-sum was decent, but the biggest surprise was the "rose wine soy sauce chicken" (玫瑰豉油雞). It was hands-down the best dish that we ordered. My husband and I happily ignored the dim-sum because the chicken was just too good to waste our limited stomach space otherwise. We left happy with our Parisian friend pleased to know that there may finally be a place to eat decent dim-sum in Paris.
Highlight of the meal: rose wine soy sauce chicken in the center; surrounding (L to R): spring rolls, shrimp cheong fun (rice noodle rolls), and beef balls
Aside from the Asian, we had many other good meals, but the most memorable may be our afternoon tea at the Angelina tea room in the Chateau de Versailles. It was a splurge, but given the availability in the area, we took the chance to indulge as the offering at the tea room looked decadent. I settled on a smoked salmon salad (for tea!) as I was hungry, and all the desserts (besides fruit) contained dairy. My husband went for the selection of 4 macarons and an in-house special tea blend---a mix of Chinese and Indian teas, cacao, almonds, and rose petals. The macarons were light and pleasant, but the highlight was the tea. It had a strong flavour profile, and part of the intrigue was the play of flavours. At first encounter, the aroma suggested cacao, but hitting the tongue, the cacao disappeared into the predominant soothing flavour of almond. The rose petals provided the necessary lightness with a bit of fruitiness while the cacao gave the earthiness. It was certainly a tea that made its presence and not for the faint-hearted.
Macaron flavours (L to R): salty caramel, Vienna (raspberry, hazelnut, cinnamon), raspberry, pistachio; smoked salmon salad on bottom
Besides the mainly overcast and rainy days, we enjoyed our stay. My husband has learned to appreciate Paris and even wants to return to see the many things that we missed! Paris may have its darker sides, but it nonetheless still charms in so many ways.