Paris Pranaya

Paris, it does elicit a variety of reactions. To a lot many it is a romantic destination, to some it means fashion, for a foodie like me it is a place I have been curious about for a long time, to be precise it's food. Recently I had the chance to spend a few hours in Paris and I think I made the most of it.

My trip started on an Air France Boeing 777-200 from Detroit to Paris. It was my first time flying Air France. Travelers talk about seats, leg room, in flight entertainment, sometimes the flight attendants too. But my compass always stops at food. The first thing that stuck me about Air France was the menu a smiling flight attendant wearing holiday themed earrings handed over to me. The menu was sleek, simple and the choices grabbed my eyes balls - Champagne any one? Dang, I did not keep a picture of the menu. I decided on the only vegetarian option on the menu. It was a pasta in red sauce and cheese. The meal came with a piece of excellent chocolate, Emmental cheese and cake. Champagne was good. The pasta itself was good but was pretty much swimming in cheese. I could not get over the shock of how good the chocolate and cheese were. French are some serious foodies if that is the kind of flight food they get to eat. Paris seemed just like my kinda of place, I had no doubts after the drinks and meal.

Later on during the flight they offered sandwiches and also had a small spread of treats and Ice Cream in the self service area. I landed in Charles de Gaulle mid morning. It was then that I realised the 'es' in Charles and 'le' in Gaulle were silent. Stepping out towards the train that was to take me into the city, I stumbled into a convenience store called 'Relay'. What did I find along with baskets of Croissants? Samosas of all kinds, Naan, Bhajjis and Kababs. It looks like we can never be far from Desi food. I ended up with a Croissants which was just about ok, (Little Chef Pastry Shop in Princeton,NJ has better ones, especially the Chocolate) and a cup of hot chocolate (too sweet for my taste)

Taking the RER-b train, I alighted at the station called Gare Du Nord (pronounced as Gar du Nor) to  walk around the Montmartre (pronounced as Mo Mart). I had a very tough time with French. To Kannadiga who are used to reading what is being written English is funny enough with 'Psychology' ,castle. But French is leagues beyond English. A stranger cannot connect what is being read from what is being written. It sort of dawned on me when my cousin who is fluent in French pointed the thumb rule in French 'ignore the last syllable' .
I went around Montmartre, the church and savored the views of Paris and Eiffel tower from the top of the hill. It was past lunch hour and I was rather hungry. I went around looking to make sense of the menus posted at the door of cafes, but most of them were in French and I dared not go in. Finally, I saw this one 'Chez Ginette' with a bilingual menu. Fair enough, but some how this cafe also reminded me of the movie Casablanca. I could almost imagine Bogart's Rick at a counter inside the cafe.

 It was just that, my imagination. But the cafe was well stocked with wines and gins. There I was trying to figure out something to eat. Finally I ordered this dish with a slice of country bread topped with Tomatoes, Cheese, Pesto sauce and Herb de Provence. It came with a side salad and  a whole basket of fries.

The amount of fries actually shocked me, even for someone used to big fires in American fast food joints. The salad was very good with a light balsamic dressing. I enjoyed the meal despite the guilty thoughts for having abandoned most of the fries. It was by then post lunch hour and I saw a few couples animatedly converse in French. They kept going on a week day post lunch hour. What a contrast it was. Mostly tourists can be spotted in New York restaurants post lunch hour. French it looked took leisure seriously. Also they were all dressed well, so was a solitary coffee drinker a few tables away on my left. There I was unwashed in a down coat and a Viking hat chowing down my bread in a French cafe with people relaxing over cups of coffee.

Lunch done I decided to walk around a little more. There is something uncomfortable about Paris, cat calls or  was it just something harmless in French. I would never know. After Van Gogh, a General in Napoleon's Army and the French Christmas equivalent of Chitrasante, I was ready for some Macaroons. There is this charming little shop right opposite the stairs as we descend the hill and they had a very colorful collection of Macaroons. I bought a dozed and a half and that served as my dinner later in the night.

At around 5 PM I reached Marcadet Poissonniers Subway station from where my walking tour started. My guide was a sweet young French woman who  had earlier waned me to keep my belonging real careful. Paris indeed was much like big Indian cities where belongings need to be guarded carefully.  On my way to the station, I chanced upon a ABBA Mania flyer. It was comforting to know that I am not the last ABBA fan alive.

Next stop was riding the subway to meet the Iron Lady, en route saw a station named after FDR. FDR like MGandhi offered me a fleeting comfort of something familiar in a distant city. The Iron Lady aka Eiffel Tower stood sparkling in the light rain and cold winds. As a fall out of the recent terrorist attacks, approaching her has become a tad bit more difficult and there were fences all around. It is a beautiful sight to see her sparkle for five full minute, every hour.
We then walked along the river to the spot where Lady Diana's car crashed. What followed was a haze, Louvre, Art bridge,Ile de la Cite,Notre-Dame, Latin Quarters, Museum of Modern Art all in a breeze. As the evening got chillier, my nose picked up warm whiffs of crepes pretty much every street corner. But the Country bread and cheese adamantly refused to leave my stomach and Crepes will have to wait. It was amusing to see that Crepes is pedestrian in Paris but super fancy here.

The evening progressively got chiller and my guide stopped to wear the extra pair of socks she had been carrying in her small backpack. By then I was tired and cold. Just then I noticed something simmering on a make shift stove outside a cafe. I was hoping for a warm bowl of soup but it got better, it was warm spiced wine. I downed a glass full in the matter of seconds. The warm liquid thawed my about to freeze blood and soothed my achy bones. It was a touch too sweet but 25 kilometers of walking had made me thanks god for the elixir.

Soon we were at the end of our tour and we found our self in a small cafe which served organic wines. After a quick red wine which I did not understand I was back on RER B to the airport. I bid goodbye to my friendly tour guide and curled up on my seat to happy thoughts of a warm shower in the airport hotel.
Shortly after reaching the airport I realized that Paris is no New York /New Delhi. Charles De Gulle pretty much closed down for the night. No shower, no airport hotel, no coffee shops are open after 12 AM. Damn I was counting on a late dinner at an airport restaurant and there I was with a bunch of sleepy wayfarers trying to keep warm and somehow make it through the night.

It turned out to be the most uncomfortable 10 hours of my life. Till Star bucks opened in the morning at 6.30 AM, there was nothing much for me to do except pace up and down the lobby to stay warm.

The bright morning brought some relief. The food court started buzzing with activity. Chefs in the Japanese restaurant started working on big pots of soups. Coffee shops started putting out baskets of fresh croissants and pastries. After a dinner of Macaroons I was ready to wolf down mountains of rice but that was not to be.  One hot chocolate and a Croissant made no difference and I headed out in quest of something hardy. I ended up with a bowl of hot Parisian Mushroom soup, bread and a slice of Quiche. The soup was earthy and was unlike any mushroom soup I had had till then. This soup had
pulverized mushroom and did not seem like there were many ingredients. Mushroom was the solo hero of the soup.  Chopped Parsley was an optional garnish. The Quiche on the other hand was rich and cheesy. As I bit through it, drops of molten fat dripped. One word about bread. The bread I had was like a raisin bread but it had the texture of a baguette.It was delicious. French know their bread and I will never look at the super market bread the way I did before. I also got a lentil and pea salad with pearl onions and sun dried tomatoes. It had too much going and I did not like it. It would have been better to keep it simple with perhaps just lentils and sun dried tomatoes and may be beets/ carrots/cucumbers. Full disclosure, I am not a big fan of peas.

I headed back to my flight with thoughts of great food I ate during the trip and all the more that I could not. One day Paris, I will be back to meet you and savor the delicacies in your street corners.

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