Friday, October 10, 2008


It's still a bit surprising to me that being surrounded by Asians in Paris feels so much less foreign to me than being in Paris at large.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

My mission today was to visit the larger of the two "Chinatowns" in Paris and scout it out. Along the way I hoped to stop by an Office Dépot and one of Paris' game stores, l'Oeuf Cube (Roughly, "The Cubic Egg"). Chinatown was supposed to be located near Place d'Italie in the 13eme Arrondissement -- on the same side of the city as us, but all the way across the river. My intention was to walk there and back, although I had reserve funds in case I decided to take the metro for the return.

It was indeed a long walk, but as always, the interest of the scenery made the walk a pleasant one. One rue in particular seemed to be occupied entirely by the same clothing shop, operated by the same Chinese man, offering the same black clothing, cloned for several blocks. I felt as if I was walking on some sort of treadmill, as every shop I looked in, the same fellow seemed to be staring back.

Office Dépot was of course only a fraction the size of one of its American brothers, and unfortunately didn't have the colored note cards that I wanted... quel dépot, feh. L'Oeuf Cube was a small shop located near a university campus that was packed with games, so packed indeed that I felt sheepish trying to pry any off the shelves in order to take a better look at them.

Eventually I arrived at Place d'Italie (without getting lost at all, despite a longer trip than yesterday -- perhaps drawing out a little map helped), and was... unimpressed. The place was one of the larger ones, but nothing seemed to indicate that this was Chinatown -- the same cafe and brasserie as anywhere else occupied all the choice corners. I did have an address for what was supposedly a well regarded Chinese supermarket, however, and set out to walk the next block or two to find it.

I was seeing perhaps a few more Asian restaurants than elsewhere, but the storefronts were mostly the same old .... I did however run into Tang Frères though -- turns out the brothers who opened the market I was planning on visiting had been very successful indeed and had opened an auxiliary location.

Even though outside I had seen nothing to indicate I was in Chinatown, when I stepped into the market I felt transported. Suddenly I was no longer in a foreign land... I was in Chinatown. Instead of being surrounded by strange French folks, I was surrounded by people who -- as long as they only spoke putonghua -- could easily have been people I rode the EL with in Chicago. Something about seeing so much Chinese script was comforting as well; that plus the fact that a great deal of packaging also had English descriptions -- indeed my beloved Sriracha hot sauce had been imported from the USA! Plus, the prices were much better than even the hypermarché for the sorts of ingredients I like to use: 1 kg beansprouts, 59 centimes; 1 package soba noodles, 59 centimes (found at Woodman's in the US for 1.59!); ramen for 30 centimes a package instead of 70+ at the hypermarché, coconut milk for 69 centimes instead of a euro sixty nine. It was wonderfully comforting to be among so many familiar products once again, and a sight less stressful than the typical French grocery experience. Had I not been limited by what I could carry home on my back, I might have bought much more, but as it was, I purchased a goodly amount for only fourteen euros.

Of course, even with only a fourteen euro load, I was loathe to walk the whole way home so I hopped on the Metro, and after a transfer ridden ride, I was home.

This evening I made a fried rice using leftover rice and courgette from yesterday, and some of the new ingredients I brought home today. It was DELICIOUS. Michelle agreed.

Not only that, but it left me feeling more satisfied than some of the more local fare. Interesting that the most filling meals I've eaten here have been recipes from
foreign lands.

Afterwards, it being a Friday night, we went out for a digestif. We went to Café Martin, a medium sized joint several blocks away on the main boulevard. It was quite pleasant, and fairly French.

As I write this, I can hear a crowd of (presumably drunken) French wandering down the street doing their hearty best to maul a rendition of "Happy Birthday".

And good night to you too!