Disappointment can take many forms.
Some people are unhappy with their lawmakers. Others experience unemployment, infidelity, natural disasters, wrongful arrest, declining stock prices, or social injustices.
And then there’s the poor folks that face cultural challenges on a daily basis, and have to deal with disagreeable bank tellers, reams of bureaucratic paperwork, and a France Telecom form promising a refund, but with absolutely no information on where to return it to.
I’ve got bigger problems around here. Much bigger.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a real, live squirrel.
Yes, yes, I know. I live a city. But when I go out into the French countryside I just don’t see them there either. I never realized how much I missed the little rascals until I was back for a visit to the states and there were hoards of squirrels going about their business everywhere, from the wilds of Central Park to the streets of San Francisco.
Fresh bread is a given, an integral part of life in France and lining up daily at your local boulangerie is just another task one does during the course of your day. For me though, it’s a little more complicated. I’m no longer content to get the bread from the bakery just across the street from me and I’ll spend half a day hunting down grainy breads near and far, a type of bread I’m hopelessly partial to.
As you probably have guessed by now, I’m quite different from the other Parisians. Aside from my less-than-stellar command of the language and a rather bizarre desire not to walk right into others on the sidewalk, I don’t buy that many baguettes.
It’s not that I don’t like them. (Baguettes, I mean—although I like Parisians too…except when they walk right into you.) It’s just that we eat so much bread around here and I have a preference for heartier, more rustic breads, often loaves riddled with seeds, and heavy with les multigrains. And lately Apollonia Poilâne has been spearheading efforts to wean Parisians off baguettes too, although from the looks of things, she’s not having much of an impact: Locals still line up before lunch and then return before dinner for their fresh, crackly baguette at their local boulangerie.
Did you know the word ‘baguette‘ means ‘stick’ or ‘wand’ in French and if you want chopsticks in an Asian restaurant, you ask for “les baguettes, s’il vous plaît”? And I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve been to where the discussion about which bakery, and where, has a better baguette caused nearly violent disagreement. There’s even a contest with a Grand Prix in Paris to come up with a winner every year.
I’ve dedicated a healthy portion of my life walking the streets and boulevards of Paris to find grainy bread here. In a city where there’s a boulangerie on every corner, you can get excellent baguettes or a nice loaf of pain au levain just about anywhere. But it’s hard to find a loaf of bread with lots of seeds and stuff in it. Maybe it’s because the breads in Paris, like Parisians, are so refined. And as much as I love all the breads in Paris, it’s the grainy breads that I find especially appealing.
Here are some of my especially favorite grainy breads from various bakeries across Paris. These are the sturdy, hearty breads that I enjoy most. And the ones that I’ll happily walk across town for one.
I learned about this bread from Clotilde’s explorations and it’s a favorite. Tight and compact, Norlander bread is the heaviest bread I’ve found in Paris. And it’s also small, making it the perfect bread for a little afternoon snack with some contraband peanut butter, which a friend smuggled out of an American army base in Switzerland.
Le Grande Epicerie
22, rue de Sèvres
I’ve been told the Grand Epicerie makes over 80 different kinds of bread underground, beneath this enormous food emporium. This is a lighter, airy bread, yet full of lots of sunflower seeds and a good amount of oat flakes. It’s excellent sliced-thin and toasted. But get there early: for some reason, by mid-afternoon they start feeding all the Pain Nordique loaves into the slicing machine and bagging them up.
Last time I was there, I was in the slowest line in the world, and as the lone saleswoman waited patiently on some madame that was bickering over the prices or freshness of a single roll or something. Meanwhile the other salesperson was tossing the brown loaves into a slicing machine as fast as he could. All I could do was stand there helplessly, hoping that my turn would come soon, before he could finish slicing all the loaves. I ended up getting the last two. Whew!
Pain aux Cereales
8, rue Monge
This is one of thes best breads in Paris, period. I don’t know how Eric Kayser does it, but each loaf comes out encrusted with golden sesame seeds. Slice it open, and you’ll find a delicate but full-flavored bread studded with crunchy grains of millet, sesame and sunflower seeds, with a naturally sweet taste. I used to walk across Paris to his shop on the rue Monge for a loaf (actually, I always get two and freeze the other.) Kayser has opened bakeries across Paris – and even one in New York City – so it’s easy to find this bread. It’s got a lovely lightness, along with the crackle of the grains, and is perfect with cheese or swiped with butter and honey for breakfast.
Au Pain de Saint-Gilles
1 bis, rue Saint-Gilles
When the quality of the baguettes of my local boulanger, Au Levain du Marais, slid downhill after their month-long summer vacation a few years ago, I agonized over the loss for weeks and weeks. I was torn. In France, your live your life according to your local bakery. You know when the loaves go in and come out of the oven, when the baker is off, and how to get the baguette cooked just the way you like it (bien cuite, svp!) You adjust your life, since most bakeries are closed two days of the week, so you need to plan your schedule and meals around those two days.
My supreme disappointment lasted for months until I discovered this grainy Tradigrains loaf at Au Pain de Saint-Gilles in the Marais, just a few blocks from chez David. Now this is proudly my baguette of choice. Do you see why?
Millet, poppy seeds and flax seeds ripple through the interior of each loaf. I can barely get out the door of the bakery without ripping off the end, called le quignon, and devouring it (a French tradition, after any baguette purchase…I think of it as an immediate quality-control check.)
[The loaf pictured at the top is from the 134RDT at 134, rue de Turenne.]
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