Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Around Paris: Lunch Time and Tea Time in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

When ever you travel or visit a place, when a local person tells you where to go to experience a delightful meal at a very reasonable price, take down notes and go. 
In our case, a friend of mine and I were led to a little restaurant, by our common French friend, in a side street from the Boulevard de Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Tucked away on rue Saint-Benoit is Le Restaurant du Petit Saint-Benoît, established in 1901. After being around for over a hundred years, this place would be considered historical, right?
We took a little tour and inside, we found several frames hanging on the who's-who wall - about who has been here. There were artworks and autographs of French artists, intellectuals, and writers who frequented this place. 

Among them were Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980, Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964; best known for his writings on existentialism),  Jacques Prévert (1900-1977, French poet and screenwriter who was active in the surrealist movement), and Serge Gainsbourgh (1928-1991, dubbed as the greatest French songwriter in the sixties and seventies who wrote and sang about his decadent lifestyle). 

The weather had warmed up to 18°C, the sun was out and there was a cool breeze.  We came early enough to choose prime seating - outdoors. After we read the menu of traditional French food, our server came to give us the special for the day and that was what we each ordered.
 Pave de Cabillaud aux croûte de sésame
Sesame-crusted cod, the fried fish skin, with potato/broccoli puree floating on a blend of olive oil and the saucy part of the purée. This was simply outstanding, all for only13 Euros.

4, rue Saint-Benoit 75006 Paris France
Tel, no. 01 42 60 27 92

For our tea or coffee after our meal, our friend recommended that we walk down the street towards the boulevard to a special place to be among interesting people.
This is the place - Café de Flore - in art-deco style, which appeared on the scene in 1887. It is one of the most famous sidewalk cafés which was popular among the 19th century French personalities, and now frequented by the modern-day French intellectuals and artists.
We ordered the decadent chocolat de Flore, instead, and while we were sipping our hot choco drinks our friend identified the person who was previously seated at our table in the covered-outdoor section as a French writer; and someone who she thought was Amanda Lear, who was seated inside, within direct view of where we were seated.

Amanda Lear was the model who posed for Salvador Dali in some of his paintings and was his confidante for seven years. She was a fashion model in the sixties, a disco queen in the mid seventies, a television personality in the mid eighties, and has been dabbling in television and the movies, music, writing and pursuing a painting career since the nineties.
Where Jean-Paul Sartre lived, diagonally across from l'Eglise de Saint-Germain des Pres, just a short walk to Café de Flore

Back to Jean-Paul Sartre - he used to meet up with Simone de Beauvoir at Café de Flore. These two had a relationship as "intellectual equals" and they made their life commitment to each other with an open-relationship, fashionable - "with the freedom to love others with openness and honesty". One of her writings entitled Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) was about how "one is not born a woman; one becomes one." This work established her as a "political and philosophical thinker" and summed up the defining points of the women's liberation movement - for equality and independence. She dedicated herself to the feminist movement. 

It was an afternoon of reminiscing about some of the noted french personalities of an era gone by. There are many more tales about this section of town...if only the walls could talk! 

Café de Flore
172 Blvd. Saint-Germain-de-Prés, corner rue Saint-Benoît
75006 Paris, France
Tel. 01 45 48 55 26

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Around Paris: Discovering the Neighborhood of "Little India"

Every now and then, my daughter and I get a craving. This time, it was for some Indian food which could be found in the Indian and Sri Lankan neighborhood in Paris... 
easily accessed by Metro - line 2, exit La Chapelle. The other streets that spell out the boundaries of this section of Paris are rue Louis Blanc and rue Perdonnet.
It was a regular day and there was no traffic. We were window shopping at first as Sri Lankan and Indian businesses/stores were beckoning us to come in and take a look.
The Indian saris were simply beautiful silks, intricately detailed with silver or gold threads and beads. The jewelry was just as equally attractive. And yes, we did go in to see more!
When we got to the restaurant row, we looked around at the menus of different restaurants and settled to have our late lunch at this place, Krishna Bhavan on 24, rue Cail 75010, which is 100% vegetarian. The restaurant looked clean and inviting.
First to be ordered was lassi mangue (mango lassi)     3.40 Euros

Lassi is a favorite Indian drink. This lassi mango was probably made with yogurt, mango fruit, cardamon spice (optional), sweetener, and ice cubes. This is a cross between a milkshake and a smoothie. 

Lassi originated from the Punjab region which is in the border between Pakistan and India. It can be made sweet or salty. The sweetened lassi may be flavored with rose, mango, banana, saffron, khus (an essence from vetiver - a tropical grass). 

For our main courses, we ordered dosa. It is a South Indian food, similar to a very thin pancake, made out of rice and lentil flour, usually served with a variety of chutneys. 
Masala Dosa      5.50 Euros

The dosa had a Masala filling made up of potatoes, coriander, green chilies, some other Indian spices, cumin, curry and turmeric. There are a variety of recipe sites that may call for other ingredients.
Oignon Dosa     4.50 Euros

For this, the  dosa came looking like a thin, pizza-sized crust, made with the same ingredients of the pancake above. It was topped with caramelized onions, peppers, and grated raw carrots.
The chutneys: coconut chutney (idlis), mixed-vegetable chutney - this was like a spicy vegetable stew, tomato chutney.
Dessert: Payasam - tapioca pearls with creamy sauce
Next time, this is what I will order: Thali Krishna Bhavan     8 Euros
If you have a big appetite, a prefixed, three-course meal is offered at 13Euros.

Our experience here was enjoyable. The food was good and the price was better than right. We loved the food so much that we decided to buy a package of dosa mix at the Sri Lankan market so we could prepare it at home. The following day, my daughter got to work to prepare the dosa. After an hour and several attempts, she declared that it was just easier and so worth it to go back to Little India!

Krishna Bhavan
24 rue Cail 75010 Paris
Tel. 01 42 05 78 43

There is another excuse to come back to this area. 
A festival to honor the Hindu god of success, Ganesh, is held annually in Little India here in Paris. This year it will be on a Sunday, August 28, 2011.
It's a long procession with dancers, drummers and musicians, and costumed participants.
This was the front part of the float, pulling the main star of this procession...
in the red and white topped... 

canopy housing the statue of "Ganesha" - the elephant-headed god honored as the god of success. The design of the canopy was like a temple made of fabric with symbolic patterns, and decorated with garlands, whole banana plants, fresh flowers, fruits and coconuts. 

These ladies had camphor incense burning in the clay pots they carried on their heads.
Blessed gifts, sweets and soft drinks were being given out to the attendees during the procession.
Images of Ganesha were being displayed and sold.
The store façades were all festively decorated for the occasion.
What a treat it was to come to this area of Paris to experience something new.

It was such a discovery for me, by coming here, that I actually like Southern Indian cooking. It is less spicy and quite tasty. With or without an occasion, it is fun to take a trip here, from time to time.


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