Friday, April 25, 2014

Chipotle and other comfort foods in Paris

Some months ago, I discovered that the American fast-food chain Chipotle has three restaurants in Paris, and yesterday I tried one, near the Opera. I got a “Barbacoa” burrito, which turned out to be huge and quite expensive (€9.30, which works out to $12.80). It was very tasty, though—and very filling, so much so that I had trouble finishing it. I had a meal voucher that covered all but 80¢ of the price, so it worked out. It’s a bit of a hike from where I live, but there’s a bus line that runs practically door to door from the restaurant to my house, so I might go there again.

Chipotle, boulevard Montmartre
As a general rule, decent Tex-Mex food is almost impossible to find in Paris, which is not particularly surprising. Unfortunately, I rather like Tex-Mex food, so not having access to it is a trifle disappointing. The menu at Chipotle is limited, but at least it tastes fairly real.

My dream is to find a place that sells tamales, but I’m not holding my breath. I did find them just once, at the Marché Saint Germain of all places, but they weren’t as large or tasty as those I remember from the U.S., and they were expensive, of course.

Two other items on my list are cannoli and anise-flavored Sicilian cookies, which my great-grandmother used to make. There must be some store in Paris that makes and sells them, given that we are so close to Italy, but I’m not sure where. There’s a restaurant at the Carrousel du Louvre that sells cannoli (of all places—but it’s part of an Italian roadside diner chain), but here again, they don’t taste quite the way I remember them. I haven’t found the cookies anywhere.

This is not to say that choice is lacking for food in Paris. In addition to the huge variety of French foods that are obviously available, you can find all sorts of more exotic stuff quite easily. Ordinary supermarkets often carry buffalo-milk mozzarella, for example, imported directly from Italy. And there’s a whole street of Indian markets near the Gare du Nord where you can get almost anything you want from that country. Variety is not lacking in Paris … if you can afford it (which I unfortunately cannot).

American comfort foods are not hard to find if you know where to look, but they are extremely expensive. I’ve occasionally bought Pop-Tarts, Kraft Mac & Cheese, tortilla chips, peanut-butter M&Ms, chili con carne, Welch’s grape soda (now sadly impossible to find), and so on, but not often, because I just don’t have the budget, and I’m not really a foodie, anyway.

These days I subsist mainly on little pancakes with syrup. They only cost €1.61 ($2.16) for a pack of six, so I can buy lots and survive on them for several days using only two meal vouchers. They are good, but eating them day in and day out does get old. They aren’t nutritionally balanced, either, but when you are poor you can’t afford nutritional balance. Sometimes I get bagel sandwiches, as there is one brand that makes excellent ones, but they cost around €3.79 ($5.10) each, and I sacrifice several meals if I buy them.

So why don’t I buy healthy food at open food markets in Paris? Well, it costs a fortune, for one thing. And the markets are only open when I’m working, as a general rule. And the food requires extensive preparation, which consumes time that I don’t have. Open food markets are a luxury for the rich. They are pleasant to look at but impractical to patronize, except for people wealthy enough not to have to work, and well-to-do retirees. A box of cookies is cheap, requires no preparation, and can be had at any supermarket, even outside banking hours.

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