One of my favourite things to do when travelling to new places is to try the local food. And by try, I mean eat everything around me for days on end. I wouldn’t say that I’m a “foodie” exactly, as I’m awful at describing food or wine, I simply know what I like and when I find it I like to eat a much of it as possible. Like cheese, for example!
Over the past few months I’ve signed up to quite a few tours and activities revolving around food such as a cooking course in Thailand and walking food tour of Vietnam and more recently I joined a Fab Food Trail of my home city, Cork. Taking this into consideration, it’s no wonder I was keen to sign up to a Paris food tour.
I chose Secret Food Tours for one main reason, it was due to take place in one of the most beautiful districts of the city of love; Montmartre. What I did not realise when booking was that Montmartre is actually famous for its food and markets, and has been that way for hundreds of years. In fact many Parisians actually travel here at the weekends to check out the markets and but their bread, cheese, meat and sweets from all the various shops and stalls.
While our Paris food tour mainly involved walking through the beautiful cobbled streets of Montmartre, learning how to pick a good cafe from a bad one, how to know where to buy the freshest bread or the best quality local cheese, and testing what wines help bring out the flavours of the dried meats or cheeses, we were also given a mini history lesson of Paris.
While doing a walking tour of a city can be a great way to get your bearings and see a nice overview of what the city has to offer, a Paris food tour is about a million times better as you really immerse yourself in the city, meet and chat to local shop owners and get to actually taste the fruits of their labour.
We learned all about the different cuts of meat, why some are more expensive than others, which cuts locals like the best and how to ensure you are getting a good piece of meat! From Saucissons to great pieces of Steak, these local butchers sure do know a thing or two about their trade!
The tour started with our guide pointing out which shops he forbade us from entering – chain stores where most of the products are mass-produced. Boo to corporate greed! Boo to yesterdays bread today! We were told how to identify an award-winning shop, what stickers to look for on the outside window.
We looked for cafes and small shops that concentrated on selling just one item, such as chocolate or macaroons, rather than every sweet thing under the sun. We learned all about apprenticeships and Master Chocolatiers and how to tell a great chocolate maker from a good one. And of course we got to taste plenty of chocolate too!
One of my favourite parts of the tour was getting a behind the scenes tour of one of the most famous Boulanger in Paris. The owner of this particular bread shop is so famous for his bread that he actually supplied baguettes to the President of France for an entire year. There is also always a long queue outside!
We were brought into the kitchen and shown exactly how he makes these award-winning baguettes and were pretty much blown away by how effort, but more so how much precision and care, goes into making each single baguette!
While we did get to taste a few things during the tour, our guide mainly gathered up a huge array of tasty treats which we then feasted on for over an hour at the end of the tour. I can’t count the amount of different meats and cheeses we tried, and I would not be surprised if we all drank about a bottle of wine each! Ian and myself said we probably would not be able to eat for a full day once the tour was over!
The guide always talked us through everything we ate, making sure we understood how it was made, why it green, where it comes from and why certain foods in France may not look the same as food with the same name in our own country.
Here’s the best thing about our Paris food tour: We have brought with us what we learned on our travels. Four days have passed since our magical afternoon in Montmartre and yet we are still talking about PJ and his excellent advice. When we got to Annecy, we could hear his words ringing in our ears and stayed clear of the super touristy restaurants and went down a side alley to have lunch in a very small cafe with a small menu. Guaranteed to be cooked in-house and it was cheap and delicious.
For breakfast we went to the local market and made our way around the stalls picking out the best pieces of meat, cheese, bread and juice and had a picnic brunch by the lake. I know PJ would have been so proud!
One thing to avoid?
Taste is obviously very personal but everything about the head cheese (even the name of goodness sake!) made me want to vomit. I hate to be so crude but honestly it’s best avoiding. The smell, the taste and ever the texture will send shivers down your spine.
Massive thanks to Paris Secret Food Tours for hosting Ian and myself on this wonderful tour – If you are travelling to Paris soon I can’t recommend it enough. Your taste buds will thank you.
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