Sunday, August 9, 2015

Exploring Local Markets (Part 2: Paris and Milan)

(Continued from the previous post)

Shopping in Paris. Okay, I know what you are thinking. Yes we did spent some quality time at Galleries Lafayette and Printemps, fighting shoulder to shoulder with fellow Asian shoppers parading through the department stores with their bags and luggage during the sale season, but what I wanted to say was another kind of shopping - buying cookware and food.

3. Cheese Shopping in Paris

We were on a mission to fetch some cheeses home from Paris, so we went to check out a couple fromagerie and did some tasting. Our first stop was not exactly a cheese specialist, but a fine food store called Julhes, just a few blocks away from where we stayed on the street of rue Faubourg Saint-Denis.

Rue Faubourg Saint-Denis at 10th arrondissement turned out to be an accidental but pleasant find in our trip as the street was lined with interesting food shops and ethnic stores etc and full of characters. Okay, a bit off the beaten path and probably not the safest neighborhood, but it was all fine during the day when we walked along the street back and forth a few times. Julhes Paris took up a few stores along the mid-section of the street, number 54 a boulangerie and patisserie selling all the freshly-baked goodies starting in early morning, number 59 and 60 selling cooked foods to go, including sandwiches, soup and salad for those looking for a quick meal, but shop number 56 was the one we spent the most time in.

What drew us in to the store at first was the large refrigerated unit with dozens of cheeses stored inside. So we all went crazy and started sampling and picking the cheeses we wanted to bring home - among them our favorite was the 36-months Comte but we also bought a number of others. And while my wife was shopping for cheese - that's her department in our household - my mind was fixated at the Spirits section at the back of the shop. What amazed me was they have a wide selection of spirits from around the world - okay, the Cognacs and Armagnacs are the usual suspect and they got some as early as 1940s displayed on the shelf, then the middle section was all the whisky from the single malt from Scotland to a few bourbons from the States and then a large selection of Japanese whisky, some even hard to find bottles in our part of the world. Then the rest was vodkas, gins, rums, tequilas and so on.

But the most interesting was the few bottles displayed in the middle, small bottles of spirits from Distillerie de Paris, a micro distillery founded by the Julhes brothers who also own the stores. They only released their first batch of spirits this year and in very limited quantity. I was able to have a sip in some of their stuff and I have to say, they blew me away, especially the gin which exploded with pleasant floral aroma and went down smoothly with that distinctive fresh juniper and citrus flavors. "Wow, that's what a proper gin should taste like" was my first reaction. I picked up their last bottle of Gin which was marked "Batch #1" and then a Vodka marked "India" made in the style of Gin, but I wish we could get more. That won't last long at our place, I am afraid, and the problem is, once we crossed the line to the world of artisan spirits, how are we supposed to go back to the mainstream commercial ones?


A few websites recommended Fromagerie Laurent Dubois as one of the best in town, and we went to check it out. They have altogether 3 shops around town, 2 of them quite close to where we stayed, but we decided to go to the third one on the other side of town in the 15th arrondissement so we could use that as an excuse to walk by Eiffel Tower to snap a picture of the landmark after lunch at L'Ami Jean nearby.

The shop was small but filled with this amazing smell of cheeses. Decor was bright and on the shelves were over 50 different variety of cheeses and the staff was on hand to help you with any question you might have. We already have a good kilo or two cheeses bought at Julhes but we still couldn't help but pack a few more types home.


4. Cookware Shops in Les Halles

The Les Halles neighborhood is a must-stop for anyone who loves to spend time in the kitchen, with numerous cookware and kitchen supply stores lined on the streets within a few blocks amongst trendy bistros and designer boutiques right in the middle of Paris. Once upon a time, this area was the site of the largest covered food market in Paris before it was dismantled and converted into an underground shopping mall, which explained why quite a number of kitchen supply stores remained in the surrounding neighborhood.

Here you can find anything from copper cookware to specialty equipment to baking supplies or all kinds of ingredients. Most of those shops were catered to people in the trade with items sold in bulk quantity, but they welcomed customers and tourists who were looking for smaller items. Of course among those stores the most famous one is E. Dehillerin at the street corner of rue Coquilliere with the labyrinth-like basement with great collection of copperware and cast iron kitchenware. I also liked La Bovida down the street - while it may not be as well-stocked as E. Dehillerin, it's easier to browse around. If you are into baking, Deco'Relief and MORA also had a great selection of pastry supplies and ingredients.

You may be surprised to know prices were not particularly cheap, especially if you didn't buy enough to qualify for VAT refund, but it's still great spending hours looking through the aisles with all these gorgeous kitchen gadgets, wishing you could bring them all home, and if you are looking for anything specific, most likely you will find it here.

E. Dehillerin:
La Bovida:

5. Eataly in Milan

We ran out of time to shop at Eataly in Milan last year when we were in town - though we did have a great time at their flagship store in Turin later on - but I wanted to make up for the miss by dropping by on the last evening before going back home.

As a grocery store, the building itself looks stunning - with all 3 levels of floor space dedicated to food and opens every day til midnight. When I walked in on that Sunday evening, they even had a band playing - sometimes you wonder if that's a club or a supermarket. 

See the middle area? That's all the fresh produce they got for the entire store.
All these sound promising but I couldn't help but felt let down as I wandered around rolling my shopping cart, checking out the place. Beyond the impressive layout, there really isn't much to see or buy. The fresh produce section was pathetically small - even the one in my neighborhood supermarket has more stuff. Same with almost every other department - I had a specific shopping list with a few items I NEED but I came up empty-handed, except for a bottle of olive oil. Even that I felt there were not enough choices.

Well, if you happened to be in the hood, I suppose it's still worth dropping by for a quick bite or something; otherwise I felt it's a waste of time. If you want to explore the finer food scene in Milan, try Peck. At least they got a wider variety of stuff and more convenient. Or just go to a real market - there are plenty of those around town - go on the web and check on their opening schedule. As for Eataly, I would rather take a drive to Turin for their even bigger flagship store there.


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