If you’re intending on spending an extended stretch in Paris, then any temporary Parisian worth their salt will have made it a point to get in bed (so to speak) with the local boulanger very early on. You’ve scouted your quartier, shovelled a few sub-standard bread sticks into your mouth in the name of research (that big wedge of cheese sure helped hide the disappointment), and settled on a lucky candidate who’s snaking queue out the door gets the prize of being graced every day with your lovely fesse.
Congratulations. You get to regularly experience one of Paris’ most underrated and simplest pleasures – the ritual of the daily baguette. Even if you’re in Paris for a couple of days, it should be right at the top of your list of essential experiences to search out in the city. Crikey, if you didn’t think the baguette was important enough, they started revolutions over the darn things. It’s right up there in things that make the French get up every morning. Run a ten second montage of Paris through your head. There’s a baguette in every shot right? As steadfastly present in the background as Wally of Where’s…? fame.
Your task is simple. Go the your local boulangerie. Select a baguette. The tradition is the most popular, but you can choose the classic baguette, or even a really skinny one called ficelle (meaning ‘string’) if you reached your daily croissant quota way too early. Exchange pleasantries with the baker, pay your euro (or thereabouts) and begin salivating when you are handed a still warm baguette.
Exit the boulangerie. Walk down the road ripping chunks off the baguette, stuffing them into your mouth. Stick it in your bike basket or skip down the road whilst replaying La Marseillaise in your head. However you choose to travel, I promise you will never feel more French than with a warm baguette in your arms. Or get more enjoyment out of anything so simple. Every time you do it. Whatever you do, just try and make sure there’s enough left for everyone else by the time you get home. Now that’s the real trick.
Ah, the humble baguette. So quintessentially French. And happily, so wonderfully inexpensive. Thankfully the price of a classic baguette is protected by the French administration too, so heureusement it will always stay a cheap treat. But what to do with one? I’ll let you in on a few of the best ways to make your baguette satisfaction explode off the charts.
#1 The Mothership
The classic image of Paris just wouldn’t be complete without a baguette. That lowly stick of bread, whether poking out of a stripy-jumpered bicycle rider’s basket, or nestled under the arm of a hungry body heading towards a steaming pot of stew, the baguette is as French as it comes. This being the case, you will have no trouble whatsoever getting your hands on one, even in the summer months when the locals drain out of the city to the south, where there is always a handful of noble bakers willing to remain to hold the fort.
But the procurement of your baguette should never be taken lightly – this is a very important undertaking (is there anywhere in the world where food is held with such reverence than in France?), and your pedlar of yeast products must be selected very carefully. There are boulangeries around every corner, and there is nothing quite so pleasurable as doing the rounds of them when you move into a new quartier, pitting their goods against each other.
When you find a good’un, stick with it. As much as the baguette is held in very high esteem in the city, it is easy to fall upon some bad examples, given that not all bakeries are skilled/bothered enough to make from scratch, instead buying them in frozen form and shoving them in the oven. Hmmm. And definitely avoid the ones sold in supermarkets (unless it’s an absolute last resort), which are hardly worth the price of the paper sleeve they’re sold in.
Visit your chosen baker as many times a week as your appetite demands, waiting patiently in the queue (always a very positive sign that the wares are of a high quality – Parisians are very picky), trying not to be seduced by all of the patisseries on offer at the same time. You’ll soon enjoy sharing pleasantries with the baker as they get to know your face, and you theirs – what a lovely way to work on your language skills! Even in a capital city like Paris, it’s amazing how this little ritual makes you feel part of the local community, almost as if you were living in a small French town, and not the country’s biggest city. Next time, how to handle your baguette like a true Parisian….