Postcards from Abroad: Paris


By Pippa Friedman

I have a bread lady. She’s a little mean on Sundays when the crowds come rolling in, but she makes the best baguettes in the city, as far as I’m concerned. Soft and light as a cloud on the inside, and hearty on the outside, with a crust that crackles when you squeeze the loaf. Slap a little butter (okay, a lot) in there with some jam and it’s the perfect breakfast, lunch, or snack. Sometimes all three. It is Paris, after all, and there’s nothing quite like a fresh baguette in Paris.

Now you might be thinking that baguettes and butter are as good as it gets, but I’m telling you you’re wrong. I’ve also got a panini guy. Two blocks from the Pantheon is the best panini stand in the world. Picture bread, good French bread, grilled up with warm, melty goat cheese, tomatoes, and herbs. It’s the best place for a hot lunch between classes when Paris is cold and rainy, as Paris is wont to be.
But sometimes, you’re in the mood for something sweet. That’s where my crepe guy comes in. He might look young and hipster-y, but don’t be fooled – this guy makes crepes like he’s been doing it for decades. Paper thin, melt-in-your-mouth crepes with Nutella folded inside is the perfect late afternoon treat to take along for a walk by the Seine or to eat on the way to one of Hemingway’s Parisian haunts.

There’s a guy or a lady for everything here. I’ve got a vegetable lady, a tea guy, a coffee guy, a chocolate lady, a hot chocolate lady, and even a guy who does tea, coffee, and hot chocolate all at once. I have a quiche guy, a macaron lady, and a lady for fruit tarts. There’s a person for every food you can imagine in Paris. These people, this city, and its food are all this immense, tremendously specific entity, each defining the others. Food is what people talk about in Paris because food is everywhere in Paris, and everyone has a personal relationship with food here. When I go to get bread, I don’t just pop down to the supermarket. I have to go to my bread lady, and I have to hope that she’s in a good mood that day so she doesn’t scold me for taking too long to choose. I have to talk to my panini guy when I go for lunch every day between classes, and I have to wave at the guy who owns the café next to my apartment every day when I go home.

That’s what Paris is, I’ve found. The people here are every color and every religion, but they’re all united by food. It’s not just café culture, having to sit down for two hours at a restaurant and talk over a plate of warm goat cheese salad. It’s much more basic.
The people of Paris, of whom I have begun to consider myself one, may not make eye contact in the metro, but because of their love of good food, they are forced to interact. Bread ladies need fruit tarts, and fruit tart ladies need paninis, and panini guys need coffee, and coffee guys need bread. Everyone needs bread. When there’s no bread in Paris, peasants riot, society crumbles, and kings lose their heads. It was true during the revolution and it’s true now: Paris is built on bread.