Searching Through Paris

The hardest thing about living in France (aside from speaking French) is that most of us Americans here expect things to be like ‘back home’; corn-on-the-cob, Office Max open on sundays, and cheery customer service.

I tried explaining that uniquely American concept of, “The customer is always right” to a French friend, and he just kept giving me this blank look as if I was explaining how aliens were impregnating Republicans in an effort to achieve global domination through procreation.

It seems like everything that I look for, I can’t find. Whatever I’m looking for, will surely elude me.

The good news is that everyday staples like…

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My Beloved Fleur de Sel

and
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Er, Any Takers for Dried Algue?

…are easily available.

But I wanted to make Meg’s Pickled Onions a few weeks back. I couldn’t find white wine vinegar at any grocer. Last night’s risotto almost didn’t happen either…I couldn’t find Arborio rice and, naturally, the local Italian épicerie was (still) closed for vacation.

For the past few months, I’ve been considering an all-out search for a Cake Carrier.
Now, that’s not something that one searches for everyday. Perhaps you’ve never searched for one. Maybe you have.
But I knew it would take a bit of work; I began to gather my strength and prepare myself.
Sometimes takes me hours to prepare myself to do simple daily tasks, like going to the bank here. It’s exhausting. Or having a key made. Or choosing just the right baguette.
And never mind the amount of mental preparation it takes me to enter a French department store…the frenzy!…the jostling!…les resquilleurs who the cut in line!…(although when I try to do it, I always seem to get nailed.)

And just in case you think I’m picking on the French (I’ll leave that for the US government), it’s a chore to find exactly what you’re looking for, no matter where you live.

Don’t believe me?
Quick!
Where can you find a Cake Carrier where you live? You probably wouldn’t know where to look either, whether it’s Portland or Peoria (and searching the internet doesn’t count. No cheating.)
Now imagine me mètro-ing around Paris, frantically searching for something that I didn’t even know the name for in French.
(And for some unknown reason, my otherwise excellent French dictionary doesn’t provide a translation for something so important, so vital to one’s existence, as a ‘Cake Carrier’.)

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So imagine my surprise when snooping around the enormous BHV department store and finding this cloche de gâteau!
And to top it off, it was only 9 euros!
(If Emile Zola referred to Les Halles as; “The Belly of Paris”, I’d dub the BHV; “The Digestive Tract of Paris” since everyone in Paris needs to go through it at one point or another. And no one comes out exactly the same way as they went in.)

But a Cake Carrier is not something one can easily do without, thank you very much.
If you think it’s not an essential item, you try schlepping a carefully-frosted cake on the steamy mètro, dodging the crush of Parisians during rush hour and see how your cake (and you) fare.

And speaking of baking essentials, here’s something I’ve re-discovered that I tucked into my suitcase at the last-minute when I returned last winter from the US…and you should discover them too:

OXO Measuring Spoons

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These are the best!
Oxo tools don’t have a lot of bells-and-whistles: they just work.

These are the best measuring spoons I’ve found. They’re affordable, well-designed, and…if you put liquid ingredients in them, you can rest them on the countertop without them spilling or tipping over.
See above?

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that make a baker happy, and these measuring spoons are one of them.
And sometimes it’s the bigger things, like my new cloche de gâteau .

Now I gotta scour Paris looking for corn syrup and pecans in preparation for “Celebrity Foodblogger Survivor” for Katrina disaster relief.

Coming soon….

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12 comments

  • Before reaching the part where you found the cloche de gâteau, I thought, “he must go to BHV”. Now I have yet to go there – but I have a mounting list of things that are clearly not urgent. The title of this list? BHV That is the answere whenever I am looking for something, have checked a few “normal” sources, and come up nul.

    I think that all Monoprix’s are not created equal, but you can find white wine vinegar and Arborio rice at the one close to me.

    Nice spoons and cake carrier!

  • Yes, BHV is the one-stop shop for everything (I keep hearing rumors about it’s demise, but I’ve yet to see any evidence…). I like how they have those railings at the end of the escalators to keep people from cutting in front of each other! It’s a real sport here in Paris, isn’t it?
    And yes, all Monoprix’s are not equal. I live between 2, and neither has plain white wine vinegar (which I found at another, although it’s tarragon-flavored). For Arborio, I got mine at Shopi.

    How come all the supermarkets here end in “i” or “e”, or sounds like they do: Shopi, Franprix, Monopix, Grand Epicerie, and Proxi?

  • I so understand what you mean. Living in Holland is like that for me – the supermarket doesn’t stock some things and besides knowing where to look, you have to think what the name for it is in a foreign language and then find out where to look. For your arborio or carnaroli I recommend an organic market (our name for organic is biologische, not sure what the french name is).

    There should be a grain seller there who will have all the elusive things you need, like arborio, poppyseeds!, carnaroli, spelt, sunflower seeds, various kinds of beans and other grains that aren’t commonly found (here in Holland for eg its impossible to find couscous that doesn’t have those ghastly flavourants in it).

    Good luck and well done on the cake hat ;)

  • Wow, I have total cake carrier envy. That’s something I never thought I’d say. Look how cute it is, with its little indentation for the serving knife. Mine is tan and wan. Maybe a trip to BHV is in order.

  • In case you’re still on the prowl, you can find pecans pretty easily in the baking section of Franprix or Monoprix (next to the vanilla beans, etc.). Corn syrup is a little trickier…perhaps you can substitute Lyle’s Golden Syrup, found wherever you can buy British food?
    I LOVE BHV! It’s like Target and Home Depot rolled into one!

  • Thanks for the tips…I use glucose in place of corn syrup, which works the same way.
    BHV like Target??? I wish…it’s a great place, but usually so expensive; they can get away with it since they have everything! (including cake carriers)…last year I was searching for mineral oil for a cutting board and they were the only place in Paris that had it. (No one else knew what I was talking about, even the restaurant supply shops & hardware stores.) It was 25 euros at BHV!!! Luckily I found it at Ikea…for 3 euros.

  • I fully agree with you about the cake carrier. I’ve got one which is very convenient but I bought it in UK. I’m quite surpise that you could not find it, it’s really common in France.
    See you soon.

  • I loved reading this. And didn’t you just find the cutest cake carrier ever? I definitely will have to look for some of those measuring spoons next time I’m in the Big City–thanks for the tip. I totally hear you on the hours of mental prepping before doing anything. And even though everyone out here in the middle of nowhere speaks English, I can’t understand half of what people are saying. I usually just avoid the whole thing by not even trying to search for most things–yes, I’m so lame I give up before even starting. But, (and this is a big but!) I don’t know what I’d do without the saving grace of the Dollar Store. It’s not Target, but it’s amazing what you can actually find there.

    P.S. Unbelievable they wanted that much for mineral oil. You can also use almond oil.

  • I love Dollar stores! When I was in Japan last year, they were all shocked that all I wanted to do was go to the “100 Yen” (about 1$) stores…you would have flipped at all the cool stuff they had. I bought EVERYTHING.
    I didn’t want to use almond oil on my cutting boards, since it gets rancid eventually, doesn’t it?

  • I am such the sucker for kitchen gadgetry of any sort. I have a long-standing love for my Cusipro measuring spoons, but those Oxo ones seem so very sensible. And love the cloche for the cake!

  • Oh I am so envious you went to the Japanese Dollar Store! As far as the almond oil, I know you store it at room temperature, so I figured it was better to use than canola or whatever (if you don’t have mineral oil). I use it on my wooden bread dough bowl, and it works great. Seems to absorb better into the wood than mineral oil, too.

  • OK, I completely understand what you’re saying. I just moved to Paris last month, and the amount of Americans saying “I want it to be like it is at home” makes me want to scream. I told one guy on Line 1 the other day, “Look, if you want it to be like home, go home, stop bothering me about it”. Apparently this is the wrong answer.

    I love cooking in Paris, and I love the city, I just sometimes wish I could find all of the ingredients I need for things! Oh well!

    I love your blog, take care, and enjoy the sun while it’s still out!

    -Meg