The 'Bonne Bouffe' To Go

photo: windowshoppers at fauchon

Food windowshoppers have a choice in the
Place de la Madeleine.

Paris' Three-Star Shopping Basket

Paris:- Thursday, 23. September 1999:- A chance remark last night has sent me to windowshop for the 'bonne bouffe' in the Place de la Madeleine today.

The 'remark' - about a sausage - came within a long conversation, which made me forget to check the TV-weather report. If I'd seen the prediction, I'm sure it would have been rotten. In fact, it may have been, because it is finer than I thought it might be.

Rumor is a better word for 'remark' because it concernsphoto: maison de truffe a 'Lyon-type' sausage supposedly better than the original; found by Fauchon and made by hand in Paris. This is the sort of thing success can ruin, and it is also particularly Parisian to keep it as much of a secret as possible.

Picture the scene: at a dinner party some sausage is offered as an appetizer or a starter. Some people turn up their noses at something as crude as 'sausage,' but there are enough around who have some fondness for 'quaintness' or 'the good old days.'

Not any old truffles, but supposedly Paris' best.

Let's say some of the diners know what follows the sausage will be 'light,' to satisfy all the ladies who are dieting which will mostly be all of them. So they take some of the sausage because it may be the only hearty item.

"Hmmm...?" One muses, "This tastes a bit like that Lyon sausage, what-its-name?"

Another says, "You are right, Jean-Yves, it is like what's-its-name, but much better! I'm having some more."

The third man turns to the host and asks, "What is its name and where did you get it? It's delicious."

They ladies listen to this with their noses in the air. If the sausage tasted like diamonds they might try it, because everybody knows diamonds are non-fattening. Otherwise, 'no thanks!' They listen to every word though.

The hostess says, "Oh, it's just one of those Lyon-type what's-its-name sausages that Fauchon does." Her husband, whose name is Yves-Fredéric, seethes inwardly but says nothing, hoping nobody is paying much attention.

But they are. Avidly. Ears are finely tuned to 'new finds.' All of the guests can get the what's-its-name sausage too and flaunt it at the dinner parties they will give.

Before you know it, Fauchon's secret sausage maker will be overwhelmed by success - or, more likely his fad-sausage will be replaced by the next one to come along and he will return to his habitual obscurity. But - aha! - what a success it was.

Personally, I would kill to try this sausage right now. I am drooling on the keyboard as I write this and think about it. You remember; my teeth chose Bastille Day to fall out, so I am hungry - especially for something good.

At the north end of the Place de la Madeleine, there are two delicatessens: Fauchon and Hédiard, face to face. Hédiard gets sun in the morning and Fauchon gets it in thephoto: hediard grocery store afternoon, and the church of Sainte-Marie Madeleine sits in the middle, getting sun all day if it's shining.

Fauchon has valet-parking and is colored mauve and dove-grey. Hédiard is gayer with its red stripes. Their customer's cars are probably in the same parking garage; are they segregated?

Hédiard looks more like a grocery store than Fauchon, but the wares are similiar.

Within the last few years Fauchon has expanded to the north side of the place, to the Rue de Sèze, where it has its annexes - but besides its location on the place, Hédiard has multiple other locations. On the place itself, both have staffs about the same size, and the same numbers of products - more than 4500 each.

They have not only what is good in France, but what is rare and exotic from the entire world. Ferdinand Hédiard sold the first fresh pineapple in France to Alexandre Dumas.

Fundamentally, they are both big delicatessens. A person in my situation should do no more than glance at the windows, from a distance.

From an historical view, these paradises of the 'bonne bouffe' are mere grocery stores, with Hédiard hardly mentioned as starting in the mid-1850's, and Auguste Fauchon cited as starting up in the place in 1886. A few steps from Hédiard is the Maison de la Truffe - the best in Paris! - but no history; not even a date.

In a food guide, shops like the above fall into the 'épicerie fine' category; they sell spices and they are grocery stores. But the German word 'delicatessen' serves them better; especially if I think of the KaDeWe department store's monster food floor in Berlin as an example.

Since Wednesday, 15. September, the left bankphoto: bon marche has gotten its own super-giant delicatessen featuring a demented variety of the 'bonne bouffe.' This is Bon Marché's modestly named 'La Grande Epicerie de Paris.' Back in the early '70's this was merely an épicerie department; now it is a whole ground floor.

As a public service, and without regard for my health, I take a tour of the new food palace. Coming out of the métro at Sèvres-Babylone I go in the first door I come to on the Rue de Sèvres and ask the watchman how to find it.

New on the left bank, the Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marché.

He says it is in the next building, across the Rue de Bac. I ask if it isn't faster to go out on the sidewalk, and he says go ahead and shortcut through the store - past the crocodile handbags and other luxo items. If I'd known, I'd have dressed for the occasion.

Crossing the Rue de Bac reminds me I just told a lost pedestrian to look for it in a totally wrong direction. I feel bad about this, as well as surprised to find the Rue de Bac here - but I think, how Parisian! I've sent the poor guy looking for the Rue du Cherche Midi by mistake. Parisians do this to each other all the time; trying to be helpful.

The marble starts right at the entry to 'La Grande Epicerie de Paris,' and at first it seems cold and austere, with lots of airy space.

Right away I sense that I'm not in my local 'Monoprix.' It has a maze of narrow aisles, with customers tripping over the supermarket's staff who are trying to keep the shelves stocked.

This is so harassing that half the price tickets are missing, justphoto: bon marche grand epicerie logo as only half the checkouts are manned - and dead slow as staff run all over the place trying to find out what the prices are, while the short lines at the checkouts get longer.

Not so at 'La Grande Epicerie de Paris.' Each specialty has its own island of plenty. The Italian cooked and ready-to-go island is half the size of my whole 'Monoprix' and doesn't even have any pizza.

You could put together an 18-course meal here and all you'd have to cook would be the pasta; you could have a dozen different ones of these. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit - you have to go over to the cheese 'island' too.

No, no, don't. The cheese 'island' is like a continent; you'll never get out of it. Without stopping, it takes me five minutes just to circle it. There is an illegal variety of cheese.

The fresh meat display is about what you'd see in a big butcher shop, but the sausage 'island' is like the cheese, but even bigger around. I almost crashed at the sausages. How I came away without cheese, I don't know.

Off in an alley, I saw a sign pointing around a blind corner to frozen food. Most food at 'La Grande Epicerie de Paris' is prepared, ready to take home, heat up and eat. Not unfreeze.

I lose count of the specialty 'islands.' I forget how different kinds of rice are sitting around loose in bags, waiting to be scooped up. Same thing for olive oil, coffee - even fruit juices!

A lady with a marble-polishing machine almost sweeps my feet out from under me. Where there are shelves with packaged goods, signs above them say 'Italy' or 'Spain' or 'Exotic.' Maple syrup is in 'exotic' along with popcorn. There's a whole shelf section just for the world's hot sauces.

Olive oil alone is worth a visit just to see the different containers producers have dreamed up. In all, there is very little of anything that is common to my local 'Monoprix' selection.

Although I come across 'fresh' walnuts and 'other' walnuts elsewhere, I find no other big nut section. I've seen greater varieties on street marchés - but aside from nuts, and maybe 99 kinds of mustard, nearly everything else uncommon is here someplace.

The space that seems to be available and the sometimes odd mixtures of goods leads me to think this is only 'La Grande Epicerie de Paris' as it is after 10-days' operation. There's room for more to come.

It reminds me a bit of simple Greek restaurants, wherephoto: epicerie window what's available is on view at the open kitchen near the front door. You look at what looks good, and that's what you order to be brought to your table - which you pick second.

Hédiard has fruit and veg displayed on the street; Fauchon has opulant windows and the Bon Marché's windows are bare.

'La Grande Epicerie de Paris' is about seeing the food, just about ready to eat, and a bewildering choice of it. If Paris is about its variety of restaurants, then the Bon Marché's new venture is about having it all in one place - ready to go.

Instead of thinking up some clever way to sum up Paris' 'bonne bouffe,' I am looking at the schedule my dentist has given me. She keeps changing it around, but it looks like it is the Monday following the next one. Or is it the Friday before?

If you are in 'La Grande Epicerie de Paris' then and you see a guy wandering around with pinwheel eyes and wearing a bib, please do not say 'hello.' I'll be on a serious mission.

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini