A Guide To Holding A Baguette While You Walk Around Paris

I’m just going to deal in absolutes here: if you live in Paris, you’re going to walk down the street with a baguette tucked under your arm or into your bag. You are. It sounds idealic or like a French stereotype, but it’s just a fact of nature. The earth is round, gravity is a thing, and in Paris everyone is constantly eating, on their way to eat, carrying, or buying bread.

There are boulangeries or boulangerie/patisserie combo packs on every corner, every block, of Paris, rarely more than 20 yards apart. They all look very much the same: they rarely have unique names, and their signs always simply say “boulangerie.” They boast a glass case with some sweets and croissant,s a back wall with assorted tasty breads, and a cash register. Some spots are also cafes and there will be an old local having an espresso in the corner.

This particular baguette had some seeds and such on it. I’m not sure how I happened to order this one since my French is bad/nonexistent, but it was delicious anyway.

At first, as an American, it’s a little intimidating to get in there and obtain that grain. You assume there’s some kind of code or process that you don’t know about because we don’t have little walk-in bakeries on every corner back at home. What are the rules? What do you order? How do you pay? Does the person at the register hate me? All good questions.

Here’s what I know so far: Always begin by saying hello, aka “bonjour.” If you didn’t say bonjour, then yes, the shop keeper does hate you. Always order the baguette traditionelle/tradition (I’ll explain this later). It’s going to cost 1 euro, maybe 1,20, so put your coins down in the little tray. Some boulangeries have a litte coin machine you put your money into and correct change pops out, it’s cool. Say thank you. Walk away and enjoy a few bites before you get home, that’s allowed. Repeat every 1.5 days until you die.

Nex question: which boulangerie do you even go to? How do you know if one is good? Because of the sheer volume of boulangeries and lack of any differentiating qualities, I was immediately overwhelmed by my options. I needed to know as soon as possible which was the best and why–tough to figure out when there are so many of them everywhere you go and they all charge about the same price. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of baguettes we’ve been eating, there has been plenty of opportunity to try as many spots as possible. I’d like to be able to report that there’s a huge range of flavor, texture, value across the different locations, but there isn’t. It’s convenient to teach yourself to like the bread from whatever boulangerie is nearest your apartment.

The most important thing to know is the bit about ordering a baguette “traditionelle” or “tradition.” This is because (*sToRyTiMe*), back in 1993, the PRIME MINISTER created this special bread category to protect bakers from the bread industrial complex. The decree stated for bread to be lawfully “traditionelle,” it has to have never been frozen, be baked on the premises, can’t contain ascorbic acid or additives (duh), and must pretty much just be salt, flour, and water. The result is a crackly exterior that is firm but not hard, a spongey, soft interior unlike the airy and uninspiring inards of the cheaper baguette ordinaire.

The crispy exterior of the baguette tradition.

One thing you’ll quickly realize about bread is that you’re always running out of bread. Because of the no additives thing, it only lasts about a day, which is about as long as it takes for two people to eat it. For this reason, you pretty much need to grab another round every time you are on your way home. If you don’t, you’ll end up without bread at 7pm when the boulangerie is sold out of traditionelle and you’ll have to end up gnawing on a baguette ordinaire. Do this a few times, and you learn to take the extra thirty seconds to buy a damn baguette on the way home.

The boulangeries don’t just bake in the morning either, they fire up some fresh ones all day long, so if you don’t make it in time for the morning batch, don’t worry. We’ve begun to notice that they bake a fresh batch in the evening so that they have plenty of stock for folks buying them on their walk home.

As promised, I’m more about feels than facts, so if you want some much more helpful bread literature, I found this article on Frenchly super helpful: A Guide To French Bakeries.

French Grocery Musings: Boxed Sandwiches

Back in the day, I used to write very elaborate reviews of the absolute worst frozen food I could find at the Albertsons on Hilhurst in Los Feliz. I was bored, I wanted the diversion and attention on Tumblr. I also made them a little allegorical and hid messages to my enemies in them. Again, bored.

The minute I walked into a French grocery store, I knew I was going to be resurrecting this weird hobby. Except not about frozen food necessarily, but about food we don’t have in the US, food that I probably woudn’t buy in seriousnes and in health for my husband and I, but that I wanted to try for the heck of it. Maybe I’ll review restaurants as well, but honestly, there’s enough food snobs out there, never enough food slobs.

So with that context in mind so that you don’t think I’m totally insane, here’s my very serious review of a boxed sandwich.

You can tell from his paintings and writing that William Blake was no slave to OCD. He could rhyme “eye” with “symmetry” and then walk away and not lose sleep over it. Even though the previous couplet rhymes PERFECTLY, he was okay to just let that one dangle like that. I haven’t forgiven him.

What first gave away his anti-OCD for me was that he described the Tyger (henceforth referred to as “tiger” because it’s 2019) as having “fearful symmetry.” As in:

What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Great line, still fucking love that line because of English major stuff. OoooOO who would dare to gaze upon or depict the terrifying symmetry of a tiger–oh wait, I know, William Blake would because he just did. Then he did it again when he painted the tiger. But, I contest that there is nothing fearful about symmetry. Symmetry is order, and order relaxes me because I am the control freak that William Blake apparently is not.

It’s this (not fearful) symmetry that has always drawn me to perfect little pre-made, boxed sandwiches. A rectangle is cut with machine precision into two identical triangles, then put side by side into a triangular box, the exact same shape but a tiny bit bigger, then sealed. I’ll tell you who else dared to frame up some symmetry, Monoprix did when they boxed up a ham and emmental sandwich, so calm down William Blake. Framed, glorious symmetry.

Not so fearful symmetry.

I know what you’re thinking, they sell boxed sandwiches in the US at 7-11 and various shady vending machines. But those aren’t the same. Those sandwiches may in fact be fearful, quite possibly also inedible. But the ones sold here at that heaven of heavens that is Monoprix are actually good. The bread (wheat mind you!) was soft and fresh, without that post-refrigerator crispiness we all hate. The ham was ham, and ham in France is by default better than ham in the US, don’t even start with me, it’s true. Plus, it was made with a slice of emmental, not questionable American cheddar. It had a little mayo on there too to add some saltiness, but not enough to remind you that you’re eating mayo. It kind of tasted exactly like if I had made the sandwich myself, but I didn’t have to dirty a knife or create crumbs, which also suits my dislike of disorder.

Maybe it’s the Monoprix setting or the slightly nicer packaging, but I also didn’t feel like a drug dealer eating this sandwich, and I kind of always thought I’d feel like a drug dealer if I ate a boxed sandwich from 7-11 in the US. I don’t know how to put that in terms of flavor, but it’s helpful information to know if you’re considering taking the boxed sandwich ride for yourself.

What I enjoyed most about it, because I am not William Blake, was the chance to get to eat two identical, neatly arranged triangles, framed in another triangle, what order, what art.