In his 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris), Emile Zola immortalized Les Halles, Paris's central food market from the 12th century until the late 1960s, as both the literal and figurative stomach of a burgeoning metropolis. Although the shimmering glass and metal buildings described by Zola no longer exist, we will explore surviving vestiges of the culinary landscape he described. Visiting specialty food shops for some of the best tastes Paris has to offer we will also extend Zola's metaphor to contemporary Paris and explore the connections between food and culture in the city today.
Led by cultural historian Carolin Young whose last book, Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver investigated twelve of the greatest feasts in Western history, this walk begins at the Bourse du Commerce, the old commodities exchange, and, prior to that, the wheat market. We will pass the ancient church of Saint-Eustache, built largely with donations given by those who made their fortunes at Les Halles. As we walk, the history of the lost market and Zola's Belly of Paris will be summarized.
On the newly revitalized rue Montmartre, we will visit several of Paris's premier kitchenware and pastry-making suppliers, discussing the organization of the classic French kitchen and its role in the local culture. We will stop at old-world shops specializing in foie gras and truffles, visit a bulk spice shop, and pay our respects to one of the city's premier boulanger/pâtisserie which recently won first prizes for the best butter croissant and galette aux amandes in France.
At a shop selling delicacies from the gastronomically renowned region of Auvergne we will address the importance of terroir. Perusing artisan boulangers, cheese shops, butchers, and fishmongers, we will explore the history of the elite guilds and associations that, since Medieval times and still today, strictly regulate food quality and production in the city. We will stop for a coffee or drink at the nineteenth-century restaurant Au Rocher de Cancale.
Amidst the evocative remnants of its painted walls, Young will recount the dining adventures of its notable patrons, who included Stendhal, Balzac and the Goncourt brothers. Certainly, we'll save our appetites for a visit to the oldest surviving patisserie in Paris, founded in 1730, which claims to have invented puits d'amour and babas' and whose late-19th-century décor is as just as sugary. We will also pass a favorite haunt of Marcel Proust, Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Jacqueline Kennedy. To conclude, we will visit an organic grocery store, a Middle-Eastern spice shop, and artisanal chocolate producer that reflect contemporary trends in Parisian gastronomy.
Note: This 3 hour itinerary is recommended in concert with Realism: The Paris of Édouard Manet and & Émile Zola.