Wanderlust: Hip new Paris hoods

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My Francophile grandmother specifically forbade the 13-year-old me from exploring Paris anywhere near Porte Saint-Denis, an arch in the French capital’s 10th arrondisement built in 1672 in honour of King Louis XIV. Le shopping around the newly opened Centre Pompidou took up all my time and pocket money that summer. I could see the carved stone structure in the distance, but was of the understanding that it was a ‘no-fly’ zone frequented by illegal immigrants, drug dealers and prostitutes.

Fast-forward 20 years, a nanosecond in Paris’ long, rich history, and no serious foodie would come to Paris without crossing under that arch to explore the mélange of ethnic and gourmet edibles along the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, as I recently did with a resident expert. Portuguese transplant Christophe de Oliveira and I met online, drawn together by a shared love of… Paris real estate. DIY renovations to his apartment in this neighbourhood several years ago unleashed a passion for restoration. So we meet up on the edge of the 10th at La Maisonette (pictured above), a hidden house built in 1789 with Spanish tiles and Arne Jacobsen chairs that’s the latest of his holiday rental apartments around Paris, the others all renovated from industrial spaces like his first, the raw yet refined Boulangerie Room (boulangerieroom.com), the converted 19th-century bakery that originally led me to him. 

Together we forge deeper into the 10th along Rue de Paradis (‘a real paradise’, he says) as we wander past a fresh crop of promising art galleries – until stopping at Bio c’Bon (bio-c-bon.eu), a French take on Whole Foods unlike any I’ve seen in Paris’ more established neighbourhoods like the chic 7th. We nip into Nanashi at #31 (nanashi.fr), where I eye the green tea cheesecake and just barely control myself from eating dessert first. 

Next we turn right onto Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, the very street leading directly to that once forbidden monument. Oliveira puts a refreshing spin on my grandmother’s perception. “We have 63 different nationalities living together in this area. Even French people are clamouring to move back in.” We walk past a fruit-filled Punjabi grocery, then turn onto the cobblestones of Cour des Petites-Écuries, where Napoleon once kept his horses. Back on the boulevard, Oliveira points out four new bars, each one uniquely appealing. But my appetite hones in on poulet fermier rôti scribbled on the chalkboard outside Le Napoleon at #73, served in thyme juice with mashed potatoes. Further on, I gawk at six types of baguettes in the window at Julhès, one of the multiple storefronts of this gourmand Mecca between #54-60 founded by a traiteur from Auvergne, boasting desirable items like freshly squeezed juices, an array of marinated mushrooms, olives and artichokes, and a seemingly endless cheese counter. 

Somehow Oliveira manoeuvres me back onto the avenue, past Café Lanni, an artisanal coffee roaster, an African spice emporium and a Syrian coffee shop, to our final stop, a sliver of a Kurdish kebab house called Urfa Dürüm (#58). True to his word, Oliveira hands me ‘the best chicken sandwich in France’. I bite into the hot, chewy flatbread wrapped around succulent spiced chicken and look up at the landmark arch directly in front of us. My grandmother’s words come back to me, just as my new friend says: “Mon coeur, c’est ici.” (“My heart is here.”) And with that, we head out for more of the grown-up-me’s new favourite Paris neighbourhood.

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