The Best Crêpes in Paris

Crêperie Josselin, Paris | Crumbs de Vie

Crêperie Josselin in Paris

Le crêpe: One of the great French creations. These thin, crispy-edged, buttery pancakes are filled with everything from ham and eggs to caramel and apples, and can be bought from both colorful street stands and snug sit-down cafés. You can order a galette, (a savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour) or a crêpe, (a sweet crêpe made with wheat flour). They might be flambéed, à la glace, doubled layered, single layered, folded in squares, or folded in triangles, but they are always delicious. And of the crêpes I’ve had in Paris, two stand out as my favorites:

Crêperie Bretonne Fleurie
67, rue de Charonne

Galette at Crêperie Bretonne Fleurie, Paris | Crumbs de Vie

A galette at Crêperie Bretonne Fleurie

The full name of this café is La Crêperie Bretonne Fleurie de l’épouse du Marin, which translates as “flower-filled Breton crêperie run by a sailor’s wife,” so it certainly wins as the best-named crêperie. Leaving the noisy Place de la Bastille behind, you head down the narrow rue de Charonne until you reach the bright blue storefront and worn wooden booths of Crêperie Bretonne Fleurie. While you wait for your order, you can pass the time by photographing the white and red porcelain coffee cups on the table, because then you’ll have your camera ready for when these crêpes arrive. Folded in squares, these photogenic crêpes have a little opening in the center from which the inner ingredients peek out. I ordered a ham and egg galette and a caramel beurre salé crêpe and all was right in the world.

Crêperie de Josselin
67, rue du Montparnasse

Galette at Crêperie Josselin, Paris | Crumbs de Vie

A galette at Crêperie de Josselin

This café is tucked away on rue du Montparnasse, a narrow street crowded on each side with bustling crêperies. Small café tables line the sidewalk and brightly colored napkins flutter in the wind as you make your way through the wafting scent of butter to Crêperie de Josselin. You must complete a feat of gymnastics to squeeze into your seat, but as your crêpe is placed on the table in front of you, all is forgotten. Crêperie de Josselin is famous for its crispy, double layered pancakes, which make the galette just a bit thicker than the competition. I ordered a ham, egg, cheese, and onion galette as well as a homemade toffee-filled crêpe with vanilla ice cream. Très bien!

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Oven-less Thanksgiving

Oven-less Thanksgiving, Paris | Crumbs de Vie

An oven-less Thanksgiving dinner

When I first moved into my lovely and very typical Parisian apartment, my first worry wasn’t that there was no bed, or that there were no shower doors, or that the television seemed to be in black and white. My first worry was, “how on Earth are we going to make Thanksgiving dinner without an oven?” You see, upon hearing that I would be in Paris for the holidays, two of my dear friends eagerly agreed to come celebrate Thanksgiving in the City of Light. Facing dire adversity and several naysayers, we boldly stepped forth, determined to conquer a traditional American dinner in a country with no turkeys, a metric system, curious can openers, and oven-less apartments. Here, my friends, is the perfect oven-less Thanksgiving menu:

  • Mashed potatoes with salted butter and cream
  • Whipped sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar crumbles
  • Sautéed garlic green beans and broccoli florets
  • Roasted sweet corn with salted butter
  • Whole cranberry sauce
  • Stuffing with sliced green beans, onions, and carrots
  • Baguettes & French wine (our Parisian twist)
  • A combination no-bake pecan and pumpkin pie

November turkeys are nearly impossible to find in Paris, as they are all being saved for French Christmas dinners. So forgoing a main course, we had a Thanksgiving dinner of side dishes. My friends smuggled in cranberry sauce and and stuffing from the United States and made a quick visit to Thanksgiving, an expat store that carries a variety of American grocery store staples. We even managed to make a no-bake pecan pie and pumpkin pie. You simply can’t have Thanksgiving without pie. As it turns out, you can end Thanksgiving dinner just as stuffed and sleepy and happy in France as you can in the United States. A very belated happy Thanksgiving to all!

Life can be quite lovely

Gargoyles on Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris -  Crumbs de Vie

The ever-watching gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris held a chilly glint as I wandered the narrow alleys of the Marais. Perhaps because the cold winter winds have finally begun to whip around the city’s tight corners, or because the once festive Christmas decorations wait unlit to be removed from their perches, or because the city seems a bit empty without its inhabitants, many of whom are nestled in their country homes for the holidays. But perhaps this glint is instead due to the realization that I’ll be leaving Paris in just a month and the inevitable reflection that accompanies the start of a new year.

So reflect we shall. 2013 has been a year filled with both familiar comforts and new adventures. My family has grown even closer despite our physical distance. There were countless bouts of laughter and reflective conversations with old cohorts. My long-time goal of living in Paris was realized and accompanied with delightful new friends and delicious new food. While three months ago, I could stammer through only a few sentences in French, I’ve just returned from my Christmas holiday, having spoken only French for three days. I’ve biked through glaciers with my sister, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with my parents, eaten scones, ice cream sandwiches, and far too many cupcakes with friends, sung at Carnegie Hall and with Andrea Bocelli, lunched with one of my real-life inspirations, the Countess of Romanones, and truly enjoyed my work and coworkers. Certainly, I have much to be grateful for.

Locks on the Pont de l'Archevêché, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

Locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché

So after watching the sun set over Paris with the gargoyles of Notre Dame, I fastened my own lock to the Pont de l’Archevêché as a memory of my time in Paris and walked home along the Quai de la Seine, listening to the lapping waves of the river on its banks. I was reminded of the words a wise friend had told me the day before, “When you pay attention, life can be quite lovely.” How true, indeed. Here’s to 2014!

Quai de la Seine, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

A view of the Quai de la Seine

The Best Baked Good in Paris

Baked Goods at Vandermeersch Bakery, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

Pastries at Pâtisserie Vandermeersch in Paris

My most important mission while in Paris? Find the best baked good. This all-consuming mission has led me to pâtisserie after pâtisserie after pâtisserie. I’ve read articles, sifted through travel books, and asked the locals. Then I stumbled across a blog post by the famous pastry chef and reliable source, David Lebovitz, in which he claims that the Vandermeersch kouglof is not only one of the best baked goods in Paris but, “one of the all-time best things I’ve ever eaten, anywhere.” Well then. Having some sense, I hopped on the subway, tuned into my longest Christmas carol playlist, and ventured across Paris to the Pâtisserie Vandermeersch to put David Lebovitz and this kouglof to the test.

The bakery was buzzing with Saturday morning excitement. Strapping young lads hopped off their vespas to buy the day’s baguettes, inquisitive old men peered through the brightly lit shop window, and the salesladies within twirled about wrapping up little packages of pastries and counting change. I stepped into the shop and my eyes quickly alit on a happy pile of kouglofs in the far corner of the case. I chirped out, “Deux kouglofs, s’il vous plaît!” (never order just one pastry), and the nearest saleslady quickly slipped two of the pastries into a brown parchment bag, which she spun closed in typical Parisian fashion.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

A view of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

A believer in suspense, I tucked the package safely in my purse and hiked over to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a lovely garden sculpted from an old quarry. The whimsical park is situated steeply on what can only be called a mountain, for by the time I reached the top I was entirely out of breath, certainly due to the added weight of the two pastries in my bag. Solving that problem, I settled myself on a bench with a lovely view and took my first bite of this famous kouglof. It was delicious. It was cakey, yet flakey. Sweet, but not too sweet. Delicate and moist, but with a nice crunch from the sugar coated exterior. Flavored with orange and raisins, yet not overtly so. It was simple, yet positively extravagant.

Vandermeersch Kouglof, Paris - Crumbs de Vie

The best baked good in Paris: kouglof from Pâtisserie Vandermeersch

By the time I finished, I was covered in sugar and a nearby crow was eyeing me unnervingly. So, comforted by the fact that I had another pastry in my bag, (never order just one pastry) I ventured to my last stop of the day, Galeries Lafayette, to see this year’s Christmas display. I squirmed my way through the sea of last minute Christmas shoppers and was rewarded with a jaw-dropping view of the beautiful center gallery, which was bringing smiles to the faces of both children and adults alike.

To conclude, what have we learned? Never buy just one pastry! You never know if you’re about to buy the best baked good in Paris. David Lebovitz, I concur.

Galleries Lafayette at Christmas - Crumbs de Vie

Galeries Lafayette at Christmas

Le Salon du Chocolat

Chocolate at Le Salon du Chocolat, Paris

Chocolate at Le Salon du Chocolat in Paris

The Salon du Chocolat, one of the world’s most famous chocolate expositions, recently came to Paris. Rest assured, yours truly would not miss such an occasion. With more than 250 chocolate vendors and 25,000 attendees, the Salon du Chocolat is a delectable wonderland filled with cases of exotic candies, towers of colorful macarons, stacks of sticky nougat, elegant chocolate sculpture demos, vibrant cultural dance showcases, and even a luxurious chocolate fashion show. But most importantly, the Salon du Chocolat is a wonderland filled with… free samples!

Salon du Chocolat Map, Paris

This is just the first floor!

However, due to the aforementioned 250 chocolate vendors and 25,000 attendees, the Salon du Chocolat requires focus. Without a strategy, you could easily end up overwrought and spinning in circles, clutching a map and laden down with 20 pounds of expensive chocolate. Thus, I offer up my top ten tips on how to get the most [free samples] out of your visit to the Salon du Chocolat:

  1. Don’t spend too long at the big brand name booths. Their showy displays are gorgeous and entirely tempting, but linger as you might, there will be no free samples. Take your “I-was-here” photo and move on.
  2. Similarly, be cautious around the booths that display only pre-wrapped chocolate bars and delectibilities. While these products are most certainly delicious, there are no free samples. Continue on your way until you find a booth with mountains of unwrapped chocolate bricks. These are the vendors that will chisel off a corner for you.
  3. If you don’t speak French, it’s good to know that “puis-je essayer…” means “can I try…” and seems to work well when stammered with a look of complete innocence and naiveté.
  4. There is always one vendor at each booth who is holding out a tray of samples while talking to a potential customer. Swoop in and snag one of these samples without fear of the vendor striking up a conversation with you in French. Long arms are useful here.
  5. Carry a notebook and pen with you. Pick your vendor of choice and pause next to their booth with a discerning look in your eye. Glance at their logo and then scribble something in your notebook (I prefer a nice doodle). The vendor will think you are a critic and free samples will pour into your hand.
  6. Move past the cookware, bakeware, and jewelry booths. Shop later: you’re on a mission!
  7. If you have access to small children, bring them! Vendors think it’s adorable when a small child snags a fistful of chocolate samples. I found that their reaction is different when an adult does the same. Clearly, there is some age discrimination happening here.
  8. Attend a live cooking demo and sit in the front row. The chefs will bring out surprise trays of their creations, but only enough for the first row. Children receive preferential treatment here, as well. See Tip #7.
  9. Consider going later in the day when the crowds have started to thin. A vendor’s chocolate chunk sample size corresponds negatively with their stress level.
  10. Bring crackers and a bottle of water. If you implement the above tips correctly, you’ll have a sugar high in no time and be in desperate need of some non-chocolate based sustenance. The sandwich lines are hours long and will suck up precious free sample time. Come prepared.

And that, my friends, is how you master the Salon du Chocolat! Take in the delightful energy of the show around you as the scent of cocoa powder wafts through the room and smiles light up the faces of both vendors and attendees alike. I can think of no common denominator loved more dearly around the world than chocolate! Coming soon to a city near you!

Chocolate Fashion Show at Le Salon du Chocolat, Paris

Chocolate Fashion Show at Le Salon du Chocolat in Paris

Nougat at Le Salon du Chocolat, Paris

Nougat at Le Salon du Chocolat in Paris

Fall has come to Paris

La fontaine Médicis in Jardin du Luxembourg

La fontaine Médicis in Jardin du Luxembourg

Fall has come to Paris. The air is brisk and sweet with the scent of fallen leaves and the city basks in a golden glow. The ice cream flavors at Berthillon taste of autumn and fallen leaves whip poetically around the windows of Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ oldest English bookshop.

The city beckoned, so after devouring my Caramel Beurre Salé ice cream cone and passing an hour carefully pulling new books from the hidden nooks and crannies of Shakespeare and Company, I headed to one of Paris’ most well known parks, Le Jardin de Luxembourg. I strolled past the large Fontaine de l’Observatoire, where children steered their toy sailboats through a floating maze of leaves, and found a chair beneath an orange canopy of fall foliage. I sat and read while watching well-dressed Parisian mothers wheel their babies about in high-tech strollers and Parisian fathers wrangle excited children who were waiting in line for one of the park’s pony rides.

Reading in Jardin de Luxembourg

Reading in Jardin du Luxembourg

After meeting briefly with friends, I headed to Notre Dame Cathedral for an evening mass. Storm clouds had gathered above Paris and despite hundreds of visitors, the cathedral was quiet. The stained glass windows were dark and thunder boomed outside, echoing through the arched dome and mixing with the deep strains of the organ. It had rained, and as I walked to the Metro, the city was clean and refreshed. A brisk breeze swirled through the dark streets and Parisians hurried to the comfort of their warmly lit homes. Yes, fall has come to Paris.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris at night

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris at night

From Museums to Markets

Flowers at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

Flowers at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

After a busy week which included an exclusive exhibition visit at the Louvre and a delicious cooking class at L’atelier des Chefs (which paraded as a work event), last weekend passed as any good weekend should, with good friends and food. A friend and I ventured to Le Marais, where we followed a gloriously lengthy brunch with a stroll through Le Marché des Enfants Rouges. Here, locals clustered at small outdoor tables enjoying the market’s varied Mediterranean fare while the indoor stands displayed flaky piles of honey-steeped pastry, overflowing buckets of hydrangeas and roses, and stacks of vintage black and white photos.

Photos at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

Vintage photos at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

After a gelato stop (rule: there’s never a reason to not stop for gelato) and brief visit to the beautifully restored Paroisse Saint-Paul – Saint-Louis, I walked home along the Seine as dusk began to fall. The trees along the path were lit happily with Christmas lights and the Eiffel Tower burst into its first sparkle of the evening as I passed. I was so distracted by the beauty of the city that it was two hours later when I realized I was far past my turn and halfway to Portugal. I scurried to the nearest metro to make it home in time for the night’s Skype dates.

The Eiffel Tower at Night

A view of the Eiffel Tower from the Right Bank

Mission: One Navigo

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Who needs a visa when you have a Navigo?

Here’s a fun game to play the next time you’re in Paris: find a Parisian and tell them that you’d like to purchase monthly metro pass. A look of distress will shoot across their face and the color will drain from their cheeks. They will throw up their hands and gasp something along the lines of, “Ooh, le Navigo! But you will never return!”

Obtaining a monthly subway pass in New York City is simple. You stroll up to any of the automated ticket machines, select a 30-day pass, and part begrudgingly with your hard-earned $112. So I was perplexed when several even-tempered Parisians nearly fell from their chairs when questioned about the dreaded Navigo Mensuel. I now understand:

  • 15:00. Ticker: 446. I locate the Navigo office easily: it has a line of 30 people stretched out of what appears to be a very complicated door system. I head to the back of the line. I look like I know what I’m doing.
  • 15:15. Ticker: 453. I notice that newbies to the line are pulling numbers from a machine near the doors. I quickly snatch a slip of paper from the dispenser: 508. The ticker inside displays 453. I once again head to the back of the line. I no longer look like I know what I’m doing.
  • 16:00. Ticker: 479. An employee emerges from behind the mysterious sliding doors and begins presorting the line dwellers. In French. I try to decode the numbers she is reading off her list.
  • 16:05. Ticker: 483. The employee approaches and I mutter something that sounds vaguely like, “Navigo Menseul for one, please.” This is not the magic password as I had hoped.
  • 16:10. Ticker: 487. After a lengthy display of my French ineptitude, I am bumped from the line dwellers and emerge from the station. I must obtain a letter from my company stating my employment, address, and honorable intentions.
  • 16:11. Ticker: unknown. I stop mid-step, pondering the probability of my returning to the office, obtaining said letter, and returning to the metro station before the ticker reaches 508. Mission accepted, I take off in a mad dash, searching my pockets for crumpled number 508.
  • 16:20. Ticker unknown. I burst, disheveled, into the HR department, startling several quiet Parisians. I quickly babble, “I tried to get my Navigo…” and was treated to a chorus of French empathy. Frantic work begins on my letter.
  • 16:30. Ticker unknown. I fly across La Défense, scarf whipping in the wind, a still-warm letter clutched in my fist.
  • 16:39. Ticker: 506. I skid to a stop in front of the Navigo office, my letter now rather wrinkled. The ticker displays 506. I squeeze my way through unfamiliar line dwellers and examine the overly complicated door system.
  • 16:40. Ticker: 507. I squeeze through the doors behind Mr. 507 and emerge in a waiting room complete with brochures displaying model families glamorously using their Navigos. I am envious of their perfectly coiffed hair.
  • 16:42. Ticker 508. I move to one of the ticket windows, placing my passport, cash, all-important letter, and dictionary on the counter. The woman laughs at my attempted humor and begins entering my information.
  • 16:50: Ticker 511. The woman suddenly snaps my picture and prints the precious card. I look like a content chipmunk in the photo, happy to have successfully navigated the maze that is Navigo.

You can buy a baguette without being a real Parisian. You can wear a scarf without being a real Parisian. You can even rent a Parisian apartment without being a real Parisian. The mark of a true Parisian? Le Navigo, of which yours truly is now a proud owner: watch out world!

Le Marais and Nuit Blanche

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The Place des Vosges, Le Marais

Yesterday began with a stroll through Le Marais, a historic district of Paris known for its winding and cobblestoned streets. As I emerged from the metro station, my jaw dropped at the elegance of the buildings, the balconies and shuttered windows rising regally into the overcast sky. Despite the grandeur, I quickly regained my senses; I was on a mission to find falafel. Nowadays, Le Marais is cultural hub for Paris’ Jewish community, and is where some of the best falafel in the world resides. Checklist item? You betcha. I ventured to the bright red storefront of Mi-Va-Mi, where a line had stretched around the corner. Soon enough, I had a giant pita of falafel and plopped down in a secluded garden, in order to keep the disaster that is me eating falafel a secret between myself and the garden bench. It was delicious and worth the wait.

As I scrubbed the tahini from my fingers, I turned the tight corners of Le Marais, finding hidden gardens, gated mansions, and chic shops carrying everything from spools of yarn to colorful watches. Weaving my way through the maze of Parisians and tourists alike, I twisted into one of the neighborhood’s most famous attractions; the oldest planned square in Paris, the Place des Vosges. This entirely symmetrical plaza lends itself to beautiful photos with its vivid red brick buildings and neatly trimmed leafy green trees. One corner holds a small playground, where I learned that the art of chasing pigeons is universally enjoyed. French children flew about the tree trunks, flapping their coat sleeves and kicking up clouds of sand-colored dirt, as their mothers scolded from the benches. It was difficult to tell whether the children or the pigeons more thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Next came the wonder that is L’Eclair de génie. These eclairs are not pastries so much as pops of blazing colors attached to brightly enticing flavors. I carefully selected a Pistache Orange and a Caramel Beurre Salé and walked past the Bastille to the lovely Jardin des Plantes, where I located a sunny bench upon which to take the photo below. Some would say the eclairs are too pretty to eat, but not I. I managed to eat both before the day was done and could have eaten two more.

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Eclairs from L’Eclair de génie

My night ended with Nuit Blanche, an annual contemporary art festival held in cities around the world. Museums open to the public and modern art exhibits are set up in the streets for visitors to explore during the night. I headed to the Seine’s Left Bank, where Cai Guo-Qiang, designer of the Beijing Olympics firework display, put on a show for the thousands of people who had gathered to admire his work. This show was not only one of the most spectacular firework displays I have ever seen, but one of the best performances of any kind. The fireworks seemed to play with each other in the night sky, circling and crossing one another, the colors mixing and crackling as a collective shiver ran down the spine of the crowd below. Let’s just say that if I marry a prince, Mr. Cai Guo-Qiang is officially invited to perform at the royal wedding.

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Nuit Blanche 2013, Paris

QWERTY vs. AZERTY

Yesterday was my first day in both my apartment and the office. Oh what a day it was! I awoke early to meet the landlady and real estate agent and the three of us squeezed into the elevator of my new building, keys in hand. As we strolled down the hallway, the two of them discussed logistics in French while I trailed behind, imagining myself sitting at an open window nibbling a croissant while a Parisian breeze gently rustles the curtains behind me. I missed the the trash room instructions in my daydreaming. But then the apartment door swung open to reveal a charming flat, with a large window perfect for croissant nibbling. Outside were layers of Parisian apartments, seemingly stacked and squeezed together, with balconies, chimneys, and window boxes added for effect. The bells of a nearby church began to chime as I looked out at the view – a sign that I was meant to be there!

Then it was on to the office! The most notable difference between a French and American office is not the people. It is not the language. It is not the fancy espresso machines. It is the keyboard. It just so happens that there are some subtle differences between the QWERTY and AZERTY keyboards. To illustrate, this happened:

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I refused to admit to any of my new colleagues that I couldn’t figure out how to type a period, (you can see above that I hadn’t yet mastered this), so Google France and I spent a frustrating 45 minutes together researching this particular skill. I declare that by the end of my four months in Paris, I may not be a bilingual speaker, but I will be a bilingual typist! Take that, AZERTY.

The rest of the day went smoothly. I gave a presentation in which the French audience laughed when I attempted humor, successfully managed to lug both of my suitcases into my apartment (after nearly flattening the taxi driver who tried to lift my bags from his cab), and unpacked all of my things, which magically disappeared into the drawers, cabinets, and shelves of my new Parisian flat! Pictures to come!