It is funny that some of the best places I have eaten while traveling have been places more stumbled upon rather than the ones recommended by guidebooks or even recommended by an informative host or concierge. When away in a foreign place it can be easy to lose track of the time since your last meal, but when your stomach starts to play that familiar tune letting you know its time to eat, your nose and eyes can be better than the conventional traveler’s tools.
The adventure begins with heading to a local hotspot; areas with museums, shopping, and other attractions are a great place to look. When you get there take a peek around, you’ll most likely see one of two things: some that are nearly full, and some that are maybe not seeming so popular, which can be deceiving. Take a look at the crowds, are they more travelers like yourself who have all flocked to the same spot that was recommended by a book or guide? Backpacks, maps, and clothing can be a a good clue to the type of clientele that are flocking there. I like to look for the location with more people speaking the native tongue, dressed not in t-shirts but the clothes they wore here on their way from work and not carrying cameras.
More important than the customers at the restaurant, what are your senses telling you? Did a smell drift into your nose and make your mouth start to water? Is there a particular dish the masses seem to be picking? (Hint: If everyone is having a cocktail rather than eating you should check the menu before sitting down)? The sights, smells, and sounds you discover are your friends, and they will no doubt guide you to something delicious.
While staying in Paris, Steven and I were in the 1st arrondissement, from the minute we stepped outside on our first morning the smell of buttery delights being baked, and freshly brewed coffee beckoned us towards the Centre Pompidou. The amazing kinetic sculptures and fountains in the area and the Centre Pompidou itself lend to great photo opportunities. The randomly placed tree-houses contrasting with the industrial looking pipes are very interesting to capture. When you manage to avert your gaze from the mammoth structure take a stroll around to the Northwest corner of the museum. Cavalier Bleu is situated on a great corner, flowers from the nearby market lend to a pleasant smell that can brighten up the dampest weather, and when it is especially cold the heat lamps can’t be beat.
When you get to Cavalier Bleu don’t worry about waiting for a host to seat you, if a table is open, grab a seat; as this seems like a popular location, you don’t want to waste time. The menus for breakfast are already on the table when you arrive, giving you the opportunity to pick your meal while you wait for a server. My favourite option here is the breakfast with baguette, croissant, coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice. The café au lait is good and strong for starting your day, and while I’m not a big fan of pulp, the orange juice is so fresh it is easy to look past the texture. My favourite part of breakfast at Cavalier Bleu is the preserves provided for the baked goods, while I’m sure there are other varieties, the most common seem to be raspberry and apricot. At home, I had only used apricot jam as an ingredient when baking, or as a glaze on chicken, but never actually used it as a spread. After trying a little bit on my croissant, the remainder of the petite jar did not last long once slathered onto my baguette, and applied generously to every bite of the croissant. While you are enjoying the meal, the street artists in the area will be glad to provide some entertainment. Most of them stick close Centre Pompidou to attract the crowds, but it is always nice to walk over and give them some change when you are done your meal.
Night time can provide a similar challenge and opportunity while looking for a place to eat in Paris. One night after having a late lunch Steven and I were having trouble finding a location that was either open, or with a menu we liked; while our French is good enough to identify kinds of meat, and Julia Child has taught me all of the sauces I can expect to see, some of the non-English menu items still manage to elude us. After wandering through the Marais we stumbled upon a busy looking restaurant emanating the smell of basil and garlic, but better yet, everyone eating there was speaking French and there was English on the menu. We were surprised at the size of the crowd when we started reading through the options and discovered that this was in fact an Italian restaurant. This restaurant, called Pasta Papa has been one of our all time favourite finds but we might change our minds after going to Italy later this year.
The menu has each type of pasta organized by category and tells you which part of Italy the noodle is from, you get to pick whichever sauce you want from a variety of tomato, meat, and cream sauces. Steven and I each ordered a pasta dish and got bruschetta to share, which when it first arrived only looked like ordinary pieces of toast with seasoned tomatoes on top. I’ve had bruschetta lots of times before, I always enjoy it and the way it combines simple ingredients to make a savory starter. This was no ordinary bruschetta, the tomatoes tasted like they had marinated in the oil, balsamic vinegar, and spices for days, every bite was completely saturated with all of the tastes you would expect to find, but deliciously strong, it wasn’t too oily or wet so the bread stayed crispy right to the end of the meal.
When the pasta arrived we realized we might have over ordered as the portions were huge. Each bowl of pasta was brought to the table with a side plate, which was our first tip as to the sharing aspect we are now sure this restaurant was trying to encourage. After about 45 minutes of enjoying the pasta we had only finished a bit under half of each dish. My stomach was getting to its limit of chili spice it could handle from the all’Arrabiata sauce and the ring of fire surrounding my lips was getting pretty intense (but what more would you expect from sauce named the Italian word for angry?), so we made the decision to call it quits. While we would have loved to take it home with us, staying in refrigerator-less accommodations did not work in our favour. Pasta Papa is an excellent choice for lunch or dinner and is sure to please anyone who enjoys Italian food. While I can’t necessarily speak to authenticity, the quality speaks for itself, if you find yourself in Paris around Les Halles, or in the Marais I highly recommend stopping in, even if it’s just for the bruschetta.
The Best Tomato Soup I Have EVER Experienced (and other good eats in Poland)
Gnoshing in Brussels
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe
Sightseeing on the Seine