I arrived in Paris this morning. I deliberately chose an apartment in a neighborhood known for its food. An historical marker notes, “Mecca of gastronomy and alimentary commerce since the thirteenth century… known especially for oysters. Since 1794 the restaurant "Au rocher de Cancale" has been celebrated for its seafood, immortalized in the "Comedie Humaine" and frequented by Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Theophile Gautier, Eugene Sue.” (My translation)
This street includes the oldest patisserie in the city. Their website explains, “In the year of grace 1725, Louis XV married Marie Leszczynska, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland. His pastry chef Stohrer follows her to Versailles. Five years later, in 1730, Nicolas Stohrer opened his bakery at 51 rue Montorgueil in the second arrondissement of Paris. In its kitchen, where desserts were invented for the Great Court, king’s delights are still prepared.”
The street also includes several cheese shops, a fruit stand that people were willing to stand in line at on a Sunday morning, and of course, many sidewalk cafes.
As soon as we dropped our suitcases, we headed out to have brunch – coffee, baguettes, ham and cheese omelets. And to watch the people, of course.
Some people come to Paris for the art or the fashion or the romance. I come for the food, but not just the sensual pleasure of eating; I get a special kind of thrill from connecting with foodways that have been operating continuously for so long.
For one thing, traditionally prepared food doesn’t have a lot of added chemicals, coloring, or preservatives. Even the white flour, white sugar creations at the patisserie don’t have dough conditioners and guar gum. The food is mostly made by hand. These are not empty calories. It is dense in nutrients (even the patisserie uses real fruit, eggs, and cream) but also something deeper.
People in this street care about where their food comes from, how it’s prepared, and how it’s eaten. Food here is not something to be hurried over or eaten standing up. People who uphold these traditions understand that food nourishes more than our bodies. Food is also a connection to a place - there's a lot of mention of terroir, the unique properties imbued in a product by the territory where it is grown or produced. It's a connection in time - to this moment and these people we are enjoying it with but also to all the people who have created this tradition over time.
And ultimately, for me at least, a meal which includes being mindful of its history and taken joyfully in the moment nourishes my soul.