I am in love with food, especially sweets (cakes, cookies, pastries, you name it). Given that Paris is considered to be the gastronomic capital of the world, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to sample many of the culinary delights that Paris has to offer during our recent visit.
So much to eat, so little time. We knew we wanted to fit in a lot of sightseeing in Paris which didn’t leave us a lot of time to pop into little pâtisseries, boulangeries and cafés all over town sampling all sorts of French food at our leisure.
Enter My Private Paris, a local tour company offering private tours and food tastings in France’s capital. I knew taking a food tour with an expert guide would be the best way to sample as many of the best Parisian specialties as possible in a short period of time.
My Private Paris runs a number of specialized food tours all over the city, from Montmartre to Belleville to Le Marais and beyond. Since we planned to go on our food tour on our first morning in Paris, we opted for the Notre Dame tour to first get acquainted with the city centre.
We met our guide Marie at 10am at Place Maubert, located right off of the Maubert-Mutalité metro station. We were warmly greeted when we arrived and immediately felt that we would be in excellent hands on our tour. Marie, a true Parisian, was not only super friendly, charming and easygoing, but also extremely knowledgeable about French food, history and culture.
We kicked off our tour at Fromagerie Laurent Dubois, a well-known cheese shop at Place Maubert. A Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), Laurent Dubois is recognized as a master cheesemonger in France. We marvelled at the gorgeous selection of cheeses on display though we didn’t sample any since we’d yet to have our breakfast! Marie informed us that in France, cheese is served for more substantial meals such as lunch or dinner.
On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, Marché Maubert takes places at Place Maubert. Here you can find all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meat, sausages and seafood. Marie introduced us to a seafood stand selling shellfish and fish, both local and foreign. She bought a few French bulots cuits (cooked common whelk) for us to try later at lunch.
We proceeded to the organic pastry shop next door, Carton Bio. While I was busy oogling the macarons, éclairs and palmiers the size of my head, Marie ordered us a butter croissant (croissant au beurre) and pain au chocolat. The trick to finding a great croissant is to look for the flaky layers. If the layers aren’t obvious, the croissant is likely made with a mixture of fats rather than all butter (croissant ordinaire). The croissant was marvellous – buttery, flaky and rich, while the pain au chocolat was the tastiest breakfast pastry one could ever hope for.
While greedily licking the croissant crumbs off of our fingers, Marie guided us a couple of blocks away to Aux Merveilleux de Fred, a gorgeous pâtisserie/cake shop fit for a queen. A Merveilleux (meaning ‘marvelous’) is a small cake made of two light meringues sandwiched together with a layer of whipped cream. The cake is also covered in whipped cream and sprinkled with chocolate shavings. The original Merveilleux is a cake, but Aux Merveilleux also offers mini and individual cakes in a variety of flavours. I couldn’t resist the cherry pink L’Excentrique, while S opted for the traditional dark chocolate Le Merveilleux. So light and delicate, I had a little mess on my hands when I tried to eat mine in several bites. My advice? Eat it all in one go!
As we walked around the neighbourhood, Marie enlightened us with the history of the area, pointing out the differences in building architecture and notable landmarks such as the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop, the first vegetarian restaurant in Paris, the narrowest street, the oldest church and the oldest tree. I loved these insights into the city that I would have completely missed if I’d toured the area on my own.
Next we stopped at Odette, the most adorable café with a stunning view of Notre Dame Cathedral. We grabbed a small table outside while Marie placed our order for tea and coffee. Odette is known for its beautiful little flavoured choux (cream puffs) and we each got to try one. I opted for lemon while S ordered vanilla. Marie selected chocolate for herself so we got to see a variety of different choux. This café stop was one of my favourite parts of the tour – sipping Earl Grey tea, sampling choux and chatting with local Parisians stopping by the café, all while admiring the Notre Dame Cathedral right in front of our noses.
After our snack, Marie gave us an up close and personal tour of the Notre Dame exterior, explaining the significance of the carvings and sculptures. The cathedral itself is quite a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture and definitely worth seeing up close.
We strolled from Île de la Cité to Île Saint Louis by crossing the Pont Saint Louis that connects the two islands. Île Saint Louis is an elegant, mainly residential neighbourhood of Paris, though it does offer a number of shops, cafés, hotels and restaurants.
Marie introduced us to Berthillon, a luxury ice cream and sorbert manufacturer on the island. The main location was closed on the Tuesday when we were there, but luckily there are little ice cream parlours all over Île Saint Louis that sell Berthillon ice cream. Having picked up on my love of light and refreshing flavours throughout the food tour, Marie recommended the renowned Berthillon sorbets. S and I shared a scoop each of raspberry and roasted pineapple with basil. The raspberry sorbet was unbelievably flavourful, as if bitting into freshly frozen whole raspberries. The roasted pineapple with basil was unlike any sorbet flavour I’d ever tried and reminded me of a mojito with the herb-citrus combination. I can heartily recommend both!
After all of our delicious sweet treats, it was time to collect the items for our lunch. We picked up a fresh baguette at a small local bakery and some French saucisson sec (dried, cured sausage) from the tiniest streetfront butcher shop I’ve ever seen before heading to cheese paradise. La Ferme Saint-Aubin is such a fantastic fromagerie that many Parisians will come onto the island just to get their cheese from this shop. The cheesemonger was incredibly knowledgeable about the different kinds of cheese available and offered us generous samples of anything we inquired about. Mouthful after mouthful of both young and old Comté, Brie de Meaux, Morbier, Tomme aux truffes and Bleu d’Auvergne were the perfect appetizers before our picnic lunch.
What is a Parisian picnic without some wine? Our final stop on the food tour was L’Étiquette, a little wine cave specializing in organic and sulfite-free wines. The owner introduced himself and guided us through our wine tasting. We sampled a few different white and red wines and settled on a Malbec from Touraine. Meanwhile, Marie prepared our cheese plate including the cheeses we’d purchased earlier, chunks of baguette, sliced sausage, cured ham, truffle oil and our little bulots cuits from our morning visit to the market. Sipping wine, nibbling on the best baguette I’ve ever eaten, sampling new cheeses and chatting with Marie about Paris, food, wine and everything in between was our favourite part of the tour.
I have a newfound appreciation of French cuisine, history and culture after our My Private Paris French food tour and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a fabulous culinary experience in France’s capital. Thank you to My Private Paris for hosting us and to Marie for a memorable and delicious tour!
What are your favourite French foods? I’m dying to go back to Paris to eat as much French food as possible so please help me with a list of things to try!
P.S. Looking for tips on sightseeeing in Paris? Here’s my guide of some key sights to check out for first time visitors.