We’ve been to Paris several times before, even for longer periods of time, but the city never succeeded in attracting us, mainly because it’s super touristic and crowded and quite expensive. We never managed to get the true Parisian vibe, to understand what this city is actually about, leaving aside La Tour Eiffel, Champs-Elysées, Musée du Luvre or Notre Dame.
But things went completely different this summer, as we decided to pay our good friend, Guillaume, a visit in his hometown. Guillaume is a tour guide in Paris for many years now, he also does restaurant reviews (most of them in Paris) and he’s also a traveler around the world himself. Guillaume is the type of Paris guide that will show you how Paris is in reality, not the idyllic image that this city is officially promoted to have. His tours don’t necessarily include the main touristic attractions of the city, but will for sure include street food authentic and cheap places, less visited neighborhoods, nice restaurants (both French and international cuisine) and they will give you a clear view about what this city is all about.
After walking around the city for a couple of days with Guillaume, there were a couple of things that I finally understood and maybe also accepted about Paris. The most important one would be that Paris is not and has not been for a very long time and most probably will never again be a city of French and Parisians. It’s a city of so many nationalities coming here from all around the world, who are still learning and sometimes struggling to live together.
The mixture of nationalities brings, of course, a mixture of cultures, including own holidays, own ways of living, own way of organizing their families and own home ingredients and food, arriving to have a multiculturalism all around the city. If you still have this image of a romantic, bourgeois Paris, with fresh baguettes, pain au chocolat at every corner, with drinking wine and eating fancy dinners facing the river Seine, forget a bit about that and think it more like an international city , with people of all colors living in it, with kebabs, pizzas, noodles, mezze or quesadillas, with mosques, synagogues and churches, with so many foreign languages spoken around you.
I have to admit that I liked more this side of Paris, as presented by Guillaume. The city started to become more interesting and appealing for us. I like when cultures come together in a rather small area, like Paris – in the morning you walk around the Arab neighborhood and have some kalentika on the rush, then you go to the local vegetables market, then check out an art gallery, a small bookstore, at night you have an Ethiopian dinner, next day you end up in a big flea market, buying accessories and music records, then you eat a pho soup in the Asian district and end up in a new-wave, punk music bar for a couple of drinks.
Walk around the 18th district – Barbès-Rochechouart area
In our first day of Paris, we had a guided walk with Guillaume in the 18th district, around the Barbés-Rochechouart area. Checking a few facts online about the 18th district, I only found that it’s where Montmartre Cathedral is, that the architecture is beautiful (which truly is), that you can see the Moulain Rouge and the Sacre Coeur Cathedral.
The 18th district is known as being mainly an Arab district, which means that the Arab culture is visible all around. We started our walk with a short stop at a small street food place to try the Algerian pizza – pizza dough with anchovies, olives and tomato sauce. Next stop was again an Algerian fast food place to try Garantita, an Algerian food, which is a sort of pudding made from chickpeas flour, water, salt and oil, baked and seasoned afterwards with cumin and harissa paste.
Right under the Barbés-Rochechouart metro station, every Wednesday and Saturday there’s a food market. With everything you need, from vegetables, fruits, to cheese, meat and fish, spices and any other stuff people from the neighborhood are in search of. For a few hours in the morning this place is full of people doing their weekly shopping. It’s also a good place to try out the Sfenj, an Algerian doughnut.
After walking a bit around the streets, we stopped for a quick lunch at Sidi Rached, to try, among others, mechouia – an Algerian roasted peppers, chilies and tomatoes. Plus some kebabs made on charcoal and a lentil soup. The cool thing about doing this tour with Guillaume is that he is very passionate about simple, quite affordable and authentic restaurants and places to eat out. So he’s constantly in search of these kind of places, always testing, exploring and recommending the good ones.
For desert, we headed to a small pastry shop, located on the Goutte d’Or street, to have some fresh mint tea and some Arab sweets.
The area around Barbés-Rochechouart is relevant to the Arab world – you will see all sorts of small business, shops selling clothes, traditional food, herbs, spices and everything around those. And with Guillaume next to you giving a lot of explanations about how this neighborhood evolved, you will better understand the actual situation of the area.
The area of Goutte d’Or is also famous for its artists (painters, designers, sculptors, photographers, jewellery creators) and while we were there, there was a sort of open doors event to promote all these artists. We walked around on the streets and entered some small workshops to check out what’s in there. More info HERE.
A cool place that Guillaume showed us was Libraires Associés, an amazing book store, with an old books exhibition for kids and with very nice and educative books for sale. We totally loved this place.
In the afternoon, we had a few drinks up on the terrace of the Louxor Bar and headed for dinner at an amazing Ethiopian Restaurant, Abyssinia. As Paris has many international restaurants, we decided to pick some that we don’t necessarily find in Romania and to try some of the countries we never had before. Ethiopian was for a long time on our list, but it had to wait until Paris. Guillaume had previously tried this place out for many times and it was an excellent recommendation. For us it was a true delight to try the Ethiopian cuisine and their delicious coffee – it opened our appetite for more.
Walk around the 13th district
Our second day in Paris was dedicated to the 13th district, mainly because we were in search of some proper Asian food and Guillaume knew where to take us. Part of the 13th district around the street Butte aux Cailles used to be an area filled with social apartments. A bit surprising for us, as those buildings looked better than any high class neighborhood in big cities in Romania. Beautiful architecture, wide streets, areas with small houses, lots of quiet and green areas.
We were lucky to also find a big flea market ongoing, so we did spend a couple of hours wandering around in search of music records and all sorts of accessories for girls. It was a nice surprise to see how people come out and sell what they don’t need anymore, to see all the crowd walking around in search of a bargain.
The 13th district is also home to a very big community of Asians, and part of this district developed, like the 9th one with Arabs, in an Asian direction. Lots of restaurants, markets, supermarkets, anything people living in this district would need. Also, in opposition to the area around Buttes aux Cailles, the Asian area has lots of high buildings, most of them serving as block of flats.
Our late lunch stop for this day was Restaurant Mây Hồng, in search of the perfect Pho soup. Guillaume had been doing tours in the 13td district for a long time, but he only found this place only a couple of years ago. Since then, he’s a loyal customer. They use quality ingredients for their menu and they cook the Pho the traditional way, taking more than 8 hours to finish the process. For us, the food was excellent, and exactly what we needed after a full day of walking.
Other places we checked out
Ground Control – super cool place to hang out on a good weather, with a nice and big outside terrace and with lots of options for food and drinks. Also inside, there are regular events, including flea markets, designers stores, concerts and many others.
La Mechanique Ondulatoire – a cool bar, open until about 2AM with new wave, punk, post-punk music, in the Bastille area.
Maille Mustard shop – for getting some very tasty mustard with all sorts of seasonings, from classical, to honey, walnuts, garlic, basil and others.
Balades Sonores – cool record shop, with lots to chose from in terms of music, plus some very nice designer clothes.
Coureurs de Terroirs – for a very good selection of natural, organic wines, some at quite affordable prices for a high quality.
La Ferme Saint Hubert – for cheese heaven.
Guided tours and many more
For some very authentic guided tours around Paris, I suggest you contact Guillaume, via his page Le Vrai Paris (facebook, tripadvisor and website). He also runs a blog where he writes about his travels and reviews restaurants in Paris (he has a very big database of restaurants already tested) – 716 La Vie (facebook, website).