I’m nearly at the end of my trip already and as usual have been racing around our garment and accessory suppliers.
The 10th arrondissement is very close to where some of our suppliers have their showrooms and I’d recently read that it’s a great area for food. Since I was nearly there it made sense to explore. What I discovered is that there’s much more about it than only food – although that’s definitely an important part. It’s an area of huge diversity, contrast and colour, it’s lively and interesting. Definitely different than the usual tourist areas of Paris.
I started at Porte Saint Denis, the triumphal arch built in 1672 by Louis IV to celebrate his military victories. Then I carried on into Rue Faubourg Saint Denis, the extension to the seedy Rue Saint Denis, and originally outside the city walls. Way back in our rag trade days in the 80’s and 90’s, every time we were in Paris we’d eat cassoulet at Chez Julien restaurant just near the beginning of the street. It’s a traditional Art Deco brasserie still known for its profiteroles with hot chocolate sauce. Because it was always night and there always seemed to be dodgy things going on in the street, we never went any further.
From there the diversity starts – think Indian, Turkish, Pakistani, Italian, Syrian to name but a few different nationalities including those from various countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. You can find many of the foods from those areas represented in lots small ethnic restaurants, cafés, greengrocers, spice shops, mini markets and more. And, amongst all those are very traditionally French epiceries, boucheries and patisseries. Leading off Rue Faubourg Saint Denis are several passages or arcades each of which seems to have a different theme. Passage Brady for example specialises in Indian and Pakistani restaurants.
Originally, because the area is close to the centre of Paris and also close to both Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord, it was rich in manufacturing activity. This included ateliers making luxury clothing from furs, fine leathers and top quality fabrics as well as manufacturers of crystal and porcelain. It was easy for materials to come in by train to the two stations and for the finished items to be delivered to customers in the heart of the city. As I wandered round I could see there’s evidence of some of this activity still going on. In fact I went into one place selling fine leather hides because, looking through the window I couldn’t believe that there could be so many colours available. Next door I could have bought furs for a coat!!
I understand that in the last 10-12 years architects, advertising agencies, artists, art galleries, writers and others have come into the surrounding streets such as Rue Martel, Rue des Ecuries and Rue de Paradis. That’s added a different life altogether. Now business people, workers, students, many nationalities, young and old work, live and mix together. This in turn has meant new cafés, bistros, bars and retail stores. I stopped for lunch at Cafe-restaurant Paradis, a typical new bistro serving delicious seasonal market-driven food. Naturally, because it’s Spring here, asparagus is on every bistro menu so I had to have that. Yum!!
From Faubourg Saint Denis I walked towards Canal Saint Martin, not far away, still in the 10th and quite a contrast to where I’d walked from. It’s become more and more trendy in the last few years with many bistros and cafés, tiny bars, quirky boutiques, book stores with titles you wouldn’t find elsewhere and lots more. Quai de Valmay and Quai de Jemmapes on either side of the canal are good place to start if you want have a wander.
The most unusual place I found is Le Comptoir General down a driveway on Quai de Jemmapes. It is very very difficult to describe this place – a poster on the wall (in French and English so this isn’t my translation) tells you that you’re entering a dignified 20th century colonial hall. It also describes the place as a museum devoted to putting light on ‘off-the-tracks exploration and marginal cultures thriving in dire straits.’ It seems that there’s a very organised programme of events such as art exhibitions, food markets, movie nights, Sunday school, gardening and more. Delicious smells of freshly baked bread and cakes wafted through the place as people sat around eating and chatting (you could buy food there). On the street front they have a small shop selling retro stuff. Apparently part of the proceeds go to running the place and helping others. I hope it works for them as their goals and values sounded very worthy.
Anyway time to finish now. Over the next few weeks I’ll share more of my Parisian experiences.
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