TRADITIONAL FOOD STORES
Although supermarkets and open air markets are the weekly or twice-weekly stop on any Parisian's errands, the neighborhood specialist around the corner is the heart of the food shopping experience. This is the butcher, the baker, and the - well many specialties that we wouldn't even think about! In the States, these specialists generally stand behind a cold counter at your supermarket and you may or may not know their names and the names of their wife and kids.
This is the iconic palace of bread and where we know we'll get the freshest bagette of the day. They sell more than bagettes though, as pain de compagne (country bread), and the morning croissant, and the after school pain au chocolat (croissant with chocolate inside) is also sold here.
I have been in many boulangeries in my days, but one there is one afternoon that sticks in my memory. I was really broke and my budget allowed only one bagette for the day's food. I stopped in about 2:30 pm and happened to get one right out of the oven. It literally melted in my mouth. Yes, I was hungry, but it was really the best bread I've ever tasted, even 25 years later!
The business is brisk during the breakfast and dinner hours. These are wonderful times to stop in and see the key to day-to-day living in France.
See Anthony Bourdain from the Travel Channel interview the baker at a Parisian boulangerie:
The butcher may not be an everyday errand, but it provides the freshest meat with the most personalized service. As with the open air markets, be prepared for whole animals, heads, etc. But you will also find precut meat and can ask - in French - for exactly what you want and advice on how to cook it.
This is my favorite. Sometimes it is combined with un boucherie. The specialty here is meat concoctions such as sausages - both fresh and dried - and pates, terrines, and other dried meats. I could live in one of these stores.
If you like seafood and fish, this is the place for you. With fresh fish from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, you are likely to see fish and sea food you have never seen before. If you're not sure what it is, ask. But be sure to have your dictionary on hand.
OK, so if I can't be found at the charcuterie, than I will definitely be here. This is, of course, the entirely overwhelming, awe-inspiring cheese store. According to Wikipedia, there are between 350-400 distinct types of cheese. There are at least 56 protected - en controle - cheeses. Click here for a great tutorial to French cheese. Then of course, you have the cheeses from other countries.
If you are unfamiliar with French cheese, you may find it odoriferous in the store. Don't be alarmed. Some of the stinkiest cheeses are the mildest.
Closely related, this is literally the dairy. These seem to be less ommon but you will find butter, yogurt, creme fraiche, fromage blanche, and a huge variety of other "dairy" related products including cheese and eggs. Mostly, people get these from the market or the supermarket these days. Again, be in for a surprise as you will not believe the number of ways the French use milk.
Often attached to a boulengerie, this is the place for your afternoon treat or dessert. You'll find jaw-dropping pastries of every sort here. Choose several, don't be shy. Remember, you are walking miles and miles!
Le Confiserie and Le Chocolatier
These are sometimes one in the same. Le confiserie is where you find delightfully wrapped bons-bons. And of course, le Chocolaterie is the
mind-boggling house of chololate. There is nothing quite like pointing to what you want and having a smiling expert place your choices into beautiful boxes or wonderfully wrapped packages. And if you make it out the door without ripping into them, you are doing better than I!
DON'T BE SHY
Sometimes these small specialty stores can seem intimidating. But don't worry. The shop keepers are very friendly and helpful - just stay away from their most busy times.
Be sure to master the following good edicate:
As you enter the store, make eye contact with the person behind the counter and always say,
Always use "s'il vous plait" and "merci."
And as you leave, say,
"Merci madam/monsieur. Au revoir!"
Once you master these habits, you will be welcomed into any establishment in Paris!