A Frugal Eats (mostly Japanese) blitz through Paris
As I wrote a couple of days ago over on Just Bento, I recently spent a scant 3 days in Paris, on the way from Brittany back to Zürich. A normal person would spend such a short time in the gastronomical capital of [insert your favorite geographic superlative here] exploring la cuisine française. But my objective for this trip was different. My digestive system and palate were rather exhausted from 2 weeks of consuming the delicious salty cultured butter, crême fraiche, galettes (crêpes), seafood in creamy sauces, and oh yes, pastries to die for, all washed down with cider both brut (dry) and doux (less dry), that are the specialities of Brittany. I was craving the plain white rice and tea like you wouldn't believe.
Because of a lack of planning, we had to book a rather expensive hotel in Paris, which meant our food budget was really tight. No indulging on sushi fests and kaiseki dinners, even though both are possible there. So I made it my objective to pursue cheap Parisian Japanese eats. Therefore, this article is part of Frugal Food Month. (See how I shoehorned that in?)
There seem to be three major concentrations of East Asian food in Paris. One, and the biggest, is the Chinatown area in the 13th arrondissement. Then there's another enclave of sorts in the 15th arrondissement. But for tourists with little time, like myself, the most convenient area especially for Japanese food is the area that straddles the 1st and 2nd arrondissements near the Opéra. Every other storefront on certain streets there seem to be either a Japanese restaurant, or a Japanese-oriented store.
You do need to take a good look at those allegedly Japanese restaurants though. I have been reading a lot of Japanese expat bloggers (and there are quite a lot of them in Paris), and most complain that these so-called Japanese restaurants are not good. Not all are run by Japanese people or have Japanese cooks. That does not of course preclude an establishment from not being good, but I guess you could say that the odds may worsen.
So, the best thing to do may to just follow the crowds. By 19:00 (7pm), the popular restaurants are crammed full. Some even have lines around the block.
The center of this Japanese community in Paris is arguably Kioko, a small grocery store that's been in business for 37 years.
Inside, you'll find a regular Japanese grocery store. The selection is comparable to similar stores you'll find elsewhere - nothing fancy, all the basics. They also have a baby food club (join up to order Japanese baby food), special events, a free Japanese community paper, and so on. (For bento fans, they do have a small selection of boxes upstairs.)
BookOff is a Japanese second hand book store, with branches throughout Japan as well as in several North American cities. They have two stores in Paris right by each other. This is the Opéra store, at 29-31, rue Saint-Augustin. They have a Point Carte that you can also use at Kioko (get enough stamps on your card, get free stuff.) (Book Off English web site.)
There are also Korean grocery stores that carry a lot of Japanese food. Here's Ace Opéra. I found their prices to be a tad cheaper for things like bottled green tea compared to Kioko and the bento store Jujiya.
So, what did I eat? Well, the best cheap food I found in the area (besides takeout bento) was ramen. We tried a couple of places, and weren't disappointed at either. Here is tonkotsu ramen (pork bone soup ramen) at Sapporo Ramen. The soup was very good, the noodles could have been better. But then, this is Paris, not Tokyo, and I was happy.
And here's negi ramen (ramen with lots of sliced leeks) at...I think it was Higuma. Again, soup was fine, the char siu a bit fatty but good, noodles could have been better, but was still ok.
A bowl of ramen on its own is around 7 to 9 Euro; as a set menu with gyoza dumplings and such, it's around 12 to 14 Euro. It compares favorably to set menus at French restaurants in the area.
(On the other hand, cheap sushi in Paris - just say no.)
We did venture out beyond the Opéra Japanese area. Following up on a rave review on a Japanese blog/site aimed at expats and tourists, we sought out some Korean fried chicken at Han Lim, an established Korean restaurant in the 5e, right off the Rue Mouffetard at the Place Contrascope.
I had been craving KFC ever since...oh ever since I was in New York in November, to be honest. And the version here did not disappoint. It was some of the best Korean fried chicken I've ever had. Crispy, light, and juicy; very more-ish. It was 14 Euro per person for a menu starting with soup (I had a delicious spicy-pork soup), the KFC with the usual delicious Korean vegetable side dishes (kimchi, namul) and rice, and tea. I seriously wanted to take home a bucketful of that chicken, but was reluctantly convinced not to since we had other dinner plans. Not to mention scheduled afternoon stopovers at Sadaharu Aoki and Berthillon. I sometimes wish that I had an extra stomach. (Besides, I don't think they do takeout...)
I wasn't able to stay 100% focused on Japanese/Asian food. I couldn't resist a stopover in the Marais (my excuse: I wanted to check out the newer bento boxes at Muji) for a Middle Eastern food fest at Chez Marianne.
I am not sure what I like the best: the tarama, the falafel, the bland yet oddly addictive chopped liver, or the green olive tapenade. It's all good though. With a big basket of bread it's 12 Euro per person.
And speaking of falafel, there's also l'As du Falafel, right around the corner...we passed on it this time since we were full to the brim from Chez Marianne, but next time...
Epilogue: 'Other cuisines' and Paris
As I write this and look over my photos, it really strikes me that there's something seriously wrong about the last sentence in this article about Paris 'never embracing other cuisines'. Maybe not by the kind of people who participate in Zagat surveys, but judging from the lines forming around ramen places and okonomiyaki places and falafel places and more, it seems clear that many other Parisiens are embracing good food, whatever the origin. I would argue that people who are used to good local cuisine are likely to know what good 'other' cuisine is as well.
In any case, now that it looks even more likely that I'll be moving to France, I'm looking forward to exploring Paris and its inexpensive yet good 'other' cuisines as often as I can. 3 days was far, far too short.
Next time, I'll be talking about a very special Japanese store in Paris, one that's not quite frugal.
A few addresses
The grocery stores are all listed on the Japanese grocery stores in France handbook page.
- Han Lim
- 6 rue Blainville 75005 Paris
- Tel : 01 43 54 62 74
- Métro: place Monge (7)
- Wed - Sun 12:00～14:30 / 19:00～22:30; closed Monday, Tuesday lunch
- Korean restaurant. Has all the usual things - barbeque, soups, etc. The fried chicken is a house speciality. Yum!
There are many ramen stores in the Opera area; here are just two. Look at the menus in the windows, judge the number of people inside and waiting in line, and dive in accordingly.
- 32 bis rue Sainte Anne, 75001 Paris
- Tel: 01 47 03 38 59
- Métro: Pyramides or Opera
- Ramen (or as they spell it on the storefront, Lamen) restaurant. Japanese spoken.
- Mon - Sat 11:30 - 22:00, closed Sun
- Also at 163 rue St-Honoré, near the Louvre
- Sapporo Ramen
- 37, Rue Sainte-Anne, 75001 Paris
- Tel.: 01 42 60 60 98
- Métro: Pyramides or Quatre-Septembre
- Mon-Sun 11:30 - 22:30
- Ramen restaurant. Chinese spoken.
- Chez Marianne
- 2, Rue des Hospitalières-Saint-Gervais, 75004 Paris
- Tel. : +(33) 1 42 72 18 86
- Métro: Saint-Paul, Pont Marie (Cité des Arts)
- Mon-Sun 12:00 - 00:00
- Middle Eastern restaurant; a few tables, plus a takeout window.
- L'As du Falafel is right around the corner on Rue des Rosiers.
For a report on a definitely not cheap Japanese food store in Paris, see Workshop Issé.