Paris is a wonderful city, and one that I am lucky enough to call my home. But even with my (almost) fluency in French, I can appreciate how hard it can be to completely immerse yourself and connect with local Parisians. Fortunately for me, I got the opportunity to dine with two different local Parisian families! La vie est belle!
The German philosopher Friedrich Engels once quipped that “if there were no Frenchwomen, life wouldn’t be worth living” and that is especially true of two Frenchwomen in particular: my hosts Catherine and Florence. I was lucky enough to spend two fabulous evenings with these locals, who have opened up their homes in Paris to travelers and tourists alike who want to try the crème de la crème of French cuisine.
I was invited to Catherine’s abode in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, home to one of Europe’s largest China towns. I was accompanied by two lovely American ladies, Debbie, who was a journalist, and her sister. Upon arrival we were warmly welcomed by the hostess of the evening, Catherine and her husband Olivier- even their son Arthur made an appearance during the evening. It was wonderful to have an insight into French domestic life and to witness a family meal in action.
Along with the rich red wine, our conversation flowed freely. We spoke about France, the French culture and even the secret to making quince jelly, but we also shared stories about ourselves. Our conversation was meaningful and inspiring. We heard about local life in Singapore, what it means to be British and also listened in fascination to Debbie’s story about her mother, who emigrated from Poland to America in search of a better life. To match the quality conversation was the superior food that was professionally put together by Catherine. I do not hyperbolise when I write about Catherine’s professionalism, she trained for 5 years to become a chef, and it showed through in every course we tucked into.
I had a truly amusing evening, with the food being on par, or perhaps even better, than many French restaurants in Paris. If you’re looking for a home-from-home experience with authentic French fare then Catherine is the way to go.
Another quintessentially Parisian experience that I got to try was an evening in Florence’s 19th Century apartment, just a turning off the famous Champs Elysees. Far from a traditional, everyday French experience, this dining event has more than a touch of luxury. I was invited along to a soiree where locals and expats mingled against an opulent baroque backdrop. The evening had a theme: “The 18th century Parisian salon”.
Amongst us were actors and musicians in full Marie-Antoinette-style garb. The setting and fascinating lectures about important 18th Century Frenchwomen inspired intellectual talk from the guests as we sat on tables of 5-7. Florence’s food was a delight, my personal favourite being the chestnut soup…Or perhaps the little dessert bites (including my beloved panna cotta).
My luxury salon experience not only showed me just how chic Paris can be, but also taught me a lot about French history, philosophy and art. It’s such a great way to get the chance to peek behind the sumptuous facade of apartments that line the great boulevards of Paris, that as a tourist one often admires but can only imagine what is inside. When dining with Florence you can wait for such an event, or you can simply dine with your friends and feel transported back in time in Florence’s apartment as she puts on a delicious Parisian spread.
I am very grateful to the hosts that invite me into their homes and make me feel a part of a big French family. Which of these two experiences do you want to try when you are next in Paris? Let us know in the comments below!