Paris, Eat Like a Local

Most Parisians have either a light breakfast of a croissant or tartine with butter and jam along with coffee or no breakfast at all. In fact, omelets are ordered at lunchtime or even for a light dinner. In recent years, a spate of new cafés in Paris, where we live, have opened serving American-style breakfast and weekend brunch catering to Parisian hipsters and Millennials. Here are some of our top picks.

Breakfast in America: When American expat Craig Carlson moved to Paris, one of the things he missed most about the U.S. was his American breakfast. Not able to survive on just croissants first thing in the morning, he decided the only way to fill his hearty breakfast craving was to open his own American-style diner in 2003.

Fast forward to 2017: Breakfast in America is a runaway success with three locations — the Latin Quarter, the Marais and the Grand Boulevards area — with waits of up to 45 minutes on the weekend. Pancakes with toppings of bacon, blueberries, chocolate chips and bananas, French toast, breakfast burrito, cheese, western, mushroom and Swiss omelets and New York City bagel and lox are just some of the enticing dishes. Besides serving breakfast all day, Breakfast in America also offers a full hamburger menu, including chicken, veggie and fish burgers, along with Bacon Cheese, Chili con Carne and classic beef burgers.

The interiors of the restaurants have the feel of American diners with red vinyl booths and bar stools, toasters on the tables and plastic ketchup and mustard dispensers.

Craig Carlson wrote a bestselling book in 2016, “Pancakes in Paris,” about the trials and tribulations he went through to open his first Breakfast in America, which can be found at 17 rue des Ecoles, 75005. B.I.A. 2 is at 4 rue Mahler, 75004, and B.I.A. 3 at 41 rue des Jeuneurs, 75002.

Holybelly: Opened in 2013 in the trendy Canal Saint Martin area, Holybelly has become a neighborhood institution in a short period of time. The owners of Holybelly, expats Sarah Mouchot and Nico Alary, have a simple philosophy about their café, which has paid off handsomely, judging by the crowds: Good food, good coffee and good service in a consistent fashion.

Known for their all day breakfast menu, the menu changes monthly, supporting seasonal availability of ingredients. On a recent visit there, some of the specialties included black rice porridge, pancakes topped with eggs served with homemade butter and maple syrup, and artisanal bread from the renowned boulangerie, Du Pain et Des Idées. Eggs any style are served with house made home fries, baked beans or sausage.

A cup of java – always fresh – is supreme at Holybelly and serious coffee aficionados can sip classic drip, espresso, latte and other varieties. They work with an array of different roasters, so on any given day, patrons can talk to their barista to find out what’s brewing.

Menus are in English and the staff also speaks English, a plus for visitors who don’t speak French. Holybelly recently relocated a few doors down to 5 Rue Lucien Sampaix, 75010.

Ladurée offers a more formal setting for breakfast and weekend brunches in Paris.

Ladurée: A more formal setting for breakfast is Ladurée, the famed macaron house at 18 Rue Royale, 75008. The original Ladurée bakery was opened in 1862 by Louis Ernest Ladurée. His wife came up with the idea of a daytime salon for women to meet freely, since women were not allowed to go out in public unescorted during the early 1900s. The first tearoom of Paris was born in 1930 with Italian-style hand-painted ceiling frescoes, plush carpeting and velvet chairs. Ladurée’s grandson, Pierre Desfontaines, invented a new style macaron, by taking two macaron shells and putting a ganache filling inside, thus inventing the super popular modern day delicacy.

Today the elegant tearoom serves a full breakfast, including eggs with caviar and soft-boiled eggs with Scottish smoked salmon, avocado and toast. On the weekends, Laduree offers a brunch of a breadbasket with homemade butter and jams, French toast, granola and yogurt, fried eggs, a selection of cheeses and fruit salad with two macarons.

Afternoon High Tea 

Tea-loving Millennials who want to splurge a bit during an afternoon of shopping or sightseeing in Paris can drop by Le Meurice hotel between 3:30 and 6 p.m. That’s when high tea (50 euros or about $60 per person) is served at the hotel, which recently unveiled a redesign by Philippe Starck.

Alain Ducasse is the hotel’s current chef and his pastry chef Cédric Grolet has created an impressive array of pastry and savory bits at teatime. The menu reflects a traditional English high tea with scones, jam and clotted cream, small pastries and finger sandwiches (with fillings such as olives and artichokes, beets with goat cheese and beef gravlax). The presentation, however, is very French and the delicacies are served on an oblong cart with a chrome frame and black glass tiers. Besides traditional and exotic teas and coffee, hot chocolate from Ducasse’s bean to bar chocolate boutique is served.

Paris: Always in Fashion

One of the greatest couturiers and fashion designers of the 20th century, Christian Dior, is having a grand fete for the 70th anniversary of the eponymous fashion house. The massive show taking over the entire 30,000-square-foot exhibition space of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs is the first to show the entire 70-year history of the brand and all of the subsequent designers after Dior.

In 1947, Dior opened his own couture house in Paris and his first collection was coined “The New Look” by Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, which expressed a whole new feminine look like none before, with cinched waists, soft shoulders and accentuated bust line. Dior became the toast of the town and raised Paris back to center of the fashion world.

After Dior passed away in 1957, the house ushered in a series of six designers: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and today’s director, Maria Grazia Chiuri. The exhibition traces the evolution of the brand with each impending designer giving their own signature to the house while retaining its roots. The lines can be long, so advise clients to purchase tickets online or otherwise in advance.

National Museum of the History of Immigration

(Recently published in National Post)

After the terrorist attacks of November 2015, attendance dropped at most Paris museums. A fall in tourists, combined with locals’ avoidance of large and crowded spaces, reduced the number of visitors to the Louvre, the Chateau de Versailles and the Musee d’Orsay.

Not so, however, to the National Museum of the History of Immigration.

After the violence, perpetrated partly by descendants of North African immigrants to France and Belgium, visitors came to the museum to learn about the circumstances of immigration from North Africa, according to Benjamin Stora, the museum’s director and a leading historian who specializes in Algeria. “People came to see what had happened in this history,” he said. “What was this complicated history? So our visits didn’t fall.”

France has never thought of itself as a nation of immigrants. The French model has stressed the assimilation of new arrivals over American-style multiculturalism. The museum seeks to present a version of French history that highlights immigrants’ contributions to the country from the 19th century, when it received Germans, Italians and Belgians, to postwar migration from France’s former colonies.

The museum is organized thematically — with sections on immigration status and documents, stereotypes and immigrants in the French labor movement, to name a few — and displays historic photos and documents next to objects and contemporary works of art inspired by the same themes.

National Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris
Visitors survey one of the exhibits at Paris’s National Museum of the History of Immigration, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Jean-Jacques Castaing / Palais de la Porte Doree

One display highlights the 500,000 people who flooded across the border from Spain in the weeks after Gen. Francisco Franco’s rise to power. It juxtaposes exiles’ photos with identity documents and pages of a graphic novel on life near the border in the detention camps that were created to house them.

A contemporary sculpture by itinerant Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo, “Residence Permit,” includes four giant, wooden stamps in roughly the shape of African drums. Another, called “Dream Machine,” is by artist Kader Attia. Attia grew up, like many children of immigrants in France, in large social housing projects in the suburbs — the banlieues — of French cities. In his piece, a vending machine sells items representing the tension for second-generation immigrants between the desires to integrate into French consumer culture and to retain cultural identity. On offer: halal Botox and condoms, and a self-help book on how to lose your banlieue accent.

This year marks the museum’s 10th anniversary. It opened to relatively little fanfare, without the usual presidential ribbon-cutting. The new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was focused on pushing through campaign promises to limit immigration.

Its home, the Palais de la Porte Doree, was built at the eastern edge of the city for the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition. Originally intended as a permanent museum to the French colonies, it still houses a tropical aquarium in the basement.

The art deco building’s most striking feature is the “stone tapestry” covering the exterior. The enormous frieze depicting the contributions of the French colonies to France took two years to create. Inside, elaborate murals in the main room on the ground floor depict France’s contributions to its colonies. Much of this iconography, particularly inside, has become profoundly dated, a relatively unmediated window into the thinking around racial hierarchies at the time of construction. For those reasons, this central hall was closed to the public for many years.

“Making it visible to people, one hopes, provokes a certain discussion,” observed University of Sydney historian Robert Aldrich, who has written a book about monuments to colonialism throughout France. “In a way,” he mused during a visit to the building, “closing it off is hiding the past.”

Apart from the main exhibition, the museum also hosts temporary exhibits and special events. (A recent one focused on the current refugee crisis.) It also welcomes between 30,000 and 40,000 students a year. Stora considers them an important part of the audience.

He tries to feature popular themes in each special exhibition to get more visitors in the doors. Last year, the “Fashion Mix” show highlighted immigrants who made it in French couture, including Elsa Schiaparelli and Karl Lagerfeld. An exhibition on Italian immigration from 1850 to 1960 runs through September.

While the museum acknowledges famous immigrants to France, its collections focus more on less prominent arrivals. This is most striking in the donation gallery, which curates items given to the museum by immigrants and their descendants. These include treasured mementos brought from home and artifacts of life in France — such as an Algerian tea pot passed from mother to daughter and boots worn by an Italian immigrant during his French military service during the First World War.

Helene Orain, director of the Palais de la Porte Doree, is particularly fond of this part of the museum.

“The object has a story but it’s also the story of the person,” she explained. “Behind the objects, the dates, the events, there are people who are flesh and blood. They had hopes. They sometimes had huge obstacles.”

Another area devoted to the history of the building also displays items — a plastic water jug, a prayer rug — left behind by undocumented workers who occupied the museum in 2010 to protest immigration policies.

While open only a decade, Stora said, the museum has seen a momentous shift in attitudes about immigration. When planning was underway, “people were still saying in certain circles that immigration was an opportunity for France,” in both economic and cultural terms. The political debate was about whom to admit to further those goals — limiting family reunification in favour of skilled immigration, for example.

In this moment, he said, his museum has an important educational role to play: “To prepare the generations to come,” he said, “to explain where we come from, the origins of the nation.”

IF YOU GO

– The art deco palace houses the National Museum of Immigration and the Tropical Aquarium in the basement. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Ticket sales end at 4:45 p.m. on weekdays and 6:15 p.m. on the weekends. Regular admission costs about US$5 and about US$7 during temporary exhibitions.