Paris Day IV - St. Germain & Pierre Herme

Today I mostly wanted to visit St. Germain des Pres, where Boris Vian used to live and work and play his jazz trumpet; and where now Pierre Hermé established his legendary patisserie. We were also planning to go to the Louvre after dinner but that never happened. I think my boyfriend is going to spend the entire day there tomorrow (and this way I can get away from the task and go sneak into Pierre Hermé again!)

We first headed out to Le Marais, an old neighbourdhood with narrow streets and Jewish population. My boyfriend insisted on showing me the falafel stands even though it would be the last place for me to eat while in Paris (I had to keep reminding him I am here for the macarons!). The falafel places were pretty close to the Israeli version, ran by loud Israelis of course who know how to make fast food fast. It was pretty good but I just tasted a little bit because I really do prefer the falafel back home and I can wait until than to have it. One thing to be said to their credit – they do use the proper pita bread (in Vancouver the pita bread is so think it’s ridiculous – the so-called “pita” is rolled like a wrap and everybody is suppose to pretend it’s ok). Le Marais is filled with little Jewish bakeries and on Friday the window displays are full of breaded Challas and the air was full of caramel-scent. After another mundane mission was accomplished (I had to buy a bag after the one I brought with me broke, sadly), we took the metro to St. Germain des Pres metro station.

It was again one of those terrible weather days when the weather couldn’t make up it’s mind. It repeated endless cycles of sunny-rainy-sunny-rainy etc. I was wearing l’Ecume des Jours and feeling particularly moody. Searching for Pierre Hermé we stumbled upon another Laduree location on Rue Bonaparte, where I bought some macaroons for later (the train ride to Grasse) and also some guimauve for my daughter. I was a bit disappointed – though not surprised - to learn that macaroons don’t travel well; but since she loves marshmallows, I think the guimauve will be perfect – especially when they come not only in white (orange blossom) but also in purple (violet) and pink (rose). I guess I will have to learn how to make flavoured macaroons until I’m able to take her with me to Paris again!

Pierre Hermé is a tiny little patisserie and everything there just looks spectacular. For some reason, I was particularly attracted to a vanilla tart and also wanted to try a few macaroons: Pink Grapefruit, Mint, Jasmine, Cassis, Pistachio with a clove-soaked redcurrant in the middle, Rose, Passionfruit-Chocolate. We walked to the nearby square to sit and eat our newly found treasures. The macaroons were hopelessly amazing. We just had two to start with: the mint – a flavour I would have never picked, and that was actually spearmint (with the leaves ground or chopped very thinly into the filling) and it was really delicious with the jasmine macaroon (which was obviously pure happiness).

And than came the vanilla tart. I’m afraid I’m unable to describe this without being profane, so I will just let you stare at this picture and imagine to yourself tasting something that is more creamy and vanilla than vanilla every thought it could be. It was like biting into a piece of cloud and a few minutes later I felt happy again.

We walked aroud a little bit more and went to Café Deux Magots where they serve Ispahan, a large rose macaroon with rose cream and lytchee fruit in the middle and rapberries all around. On top there was a rose petal with a dot of honey, which looked like a dew drop. It was perfect.

We than walked to Luxemburg Gardens, watched the people playing speed chess than walked towards the tennis courts and sat in lounge chairs to munch on the rest of the macaroons (the other flavours were unabashedly amazing – but what else to expect from Pierre Hermé?).

In the evening we went to the Morrocan restaurant l’Atlas on St. Germain for a couscous dinner. The restaurant was very pretty and the staff very friendly and hospitable. The chef even came out to check on the guests and see how they enjoy the food. The appetizer-salads we very flavourful and suprising – for example, sweet tomatoes with cinnamon and anise. We had Morrocan tea before we left, which is gunpowder green tea with fresh sprigs and leaves of spearmint, and sprinkled with orange flower water. A good way to end the day!

Awaiting Samosas

Samosa Making, New Delhi, India, originally uploaded by pavangupta.

As I was waiting for my samosas to be fried at the nearby Indian restaurant last night, I sat down for a moment of silence and anticipation. The sweet and savoury aromatic steam of spices and herbs frying in ghee filled the space and convinced me to stop my daily worries for a moment, and just sit down and indulge in the pleasure of anticipation.

I couldn't help but wonder about the connection between fragrance and food. Without the enormous variety of aromas of vegetables, fruit, spices, herbs and so on - food would be limited to tastes (there are only 5 of these), texture and colour.

There was both of the familiar and the mysterious in the aromas of curries simmering in that kitchen: the boldness of cumin, the melismas of cardamom, garlic and onion changing colours and flavours in the hot fat... I felt instantly at home even though there was a lot of the unfamiliar too: a rich, intriguing combination of coconut milk, ghee, foreign homemade cheeses, pastries which I never tried to make and the tandoori oven mulling over its current victim.

I sat there, forgetting that I've come to eat, not to smell, and wondered about the long tradition of spice uses in so many different places, and how the same spices have been used in different ways in different cultures and cuisine. For instance: cardamom is used mostly to spice-up the dark coffees and the syrupy-sweet baclavas in Arabia, while being a staple in almost any "garam masala" in India. Or basil, with its refreshing, rustic aroma, paired with tomatoes and pastas in Italy and also thrown into the refreshing and creamy Thai curries. Or ginger - the gingerbread's favourite companion in Europe and North America, while used mostly fresh in stir fries in Asia... And so on and on the list goes...

In mankind's search for a better life, the spice caravans have created a connection between the people of the earth, making them silently connected by their passion for finding flavour in their life...

New Tree Mini Chocolate Boxes

New Tree Chocolate, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I spotted these miniature chocolate packages at Capers yesterday, and couldn't resist getting a couple to try (they were placed right before the checkout, of course, the oldest trick in the book and they still manage to get me!). As you can see, they are $3.79 for a little sample package for a chocaholic on-the-go of three little chocolate tablets weighing 9gr each. These made-in-Belgium chocolates (for the US based company New Tree) are not organic, and rather pricey in my humble opinion.

I picked two to try:

Tranquility (milk chocolate with lavender) and Renew (dark 73% chocolate with cassis). I wouldn't have picked the lavender one unless it was for one of my chocolate truffle workshop students who raved about a lavender infused hot chocolate, and the lavender infused steam milk that she now drinks before bed time. I had to try it just for her!

The list of ingredients on the Tranquility mentioned natural lavender flavour and lime blossoms extracts. The term "natural lavender flavour" seems quite suspicious, especially after tasting it. It was quite awful and I have a feeling that rather than just putting in some lavender extract or essential oil, there is a lot more to it, and it ruins the flavour. It tastes artificial, somehow.

Renew, the blackccurant one, lists "blackcurrant with other natural flavour" and "grape extract". Maybe there is real blackcurrant there, maybe not. It's hard to tell with this kind of labeling. But what I am sure about is that it tasted marvellous.

I am not too keen to try the other flavours, because most of them did not make sense to me so to speak. I absolutlely don't dig their "Forgiveness" - dark chocolate with lemon, which sounds quite unforgivable to me. Ginger in chocolate does not appeal to me either as a flavour, and the other more agreeable and sensible choices were simply non-original (bitter orange with milk chocolate; coffee with dark chocolate or cinnamon and milk chocolate). But the cassis one was quite something, so I may come back for more.

Otherwise, the marriage between aromatherapy and chocolate craving seems quite scary to me...

Back to the top