Not all Holidays are created equal. On February 2, France celebrates a Catholic holiday, la Chandeleur (Candlemas.) This is a favorite one. For most French people, here is an opportunity to sample savory or sweet versions of the famous crêpes, (a national treasure, hailing from the beautiful Brittany region, la Bretagne.) It is also time to indulge in fortune telling of sorts: In many families, whoever holds the crêpe pan will attempt flipping a crêpe in the air while holding a coin in their writing hand. If the crêpe successfully flips and makes it back into the pan – it can be harder to do than you think – then your family will enjoy a healthy, prosperous year.
Habitual visitors know the French enjoy crêpes year-round, thanks to ubiquitous crêpe street stands in most cities around the country, not to mention crêperies (crepe restaurants) for those who favor a sit-down meal. Contrary to popular belief, my countrymen are perfectly capable of eating on the go, and even enjoy the process. They call this manger sur le pouce (eating on the thumb.) The traditional jambon-beurre sandwich or a savory crêpe like la galette complète, (buckwheat crepe filled with ham, gruyère cheese, and an egg,) can be sampled quickly at a café terrace. Yet many busy citadins (city-dwellers) will choose to eat it sur le pouce at lunch time while indulging in a session of lèche-vitrine (window licking, i.e. window shopping.)
Crêpes are, in fact, French fast-food; and they are so much more appealing to me that the almighty am-ba-gas favored by my 8-year old nephew, and served in ubiquitous fast-food chains (They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) around Paris and the rest of the country. I was reminded of that fact during my recent visit to Paris during the Holidays. I stayed for a few days in a small hotel in the heart of le Marais, and was by myself one evening. I had to prepare for an early business meeting the following day. It was already getting late, and after a busy day exploring Paris, there was no time to go and enjoy a meal at a local restaurant (trying to rush a French waiter outside lunch/business hours is une bataille perdue d’avance, a losing battle.) Oui, sur le pouce was the way to go.
If you browse online travel platforms and look up “best crêperies in Paris,” chances are you will end up at the trendy (and packed) Breitz Café, where crêpes are good and big business, at Crêperie de Josselin, or at several other restaurants favored by Paris residents and visitors alike. When I lived in Paris, my friends and I would always head to the Montparnasse neighborhood for good crêpes, because everyone knew there was a large Breton colony there; and crêpes originated from Brittany after all! This was a long time ago. These days, one can find good crêpes all over Paris, and a few bad ones, too.
My hotel was located a few minutes away from the heart of the Jewish neighborhood and its lifeline, increasingly gentrified but always lively rue des Rosiers. L’As du Falafel was tempting, but lines can be brutal there because *everyone* comes in search of the best falafel in Paris.
I kept walking, the winter light dimming. Just as I was about to leave la rue des Rosiers, I spotted a pretty blue façade, and immediately smelled them. I thought: “Ah, Heaven: des crêpes bien sûr.” I had arrived.
There was a small line. This is Paris, after all, and just five weeks after the November terrorist attacks, the crowds were back in town. I took my place in line (twenty years in the US have done wonders for my queueing skills,) and people-watched as I waited. This was a decidedly international line, but there were a few French people too. I smiled listening to people’s excited chatter as they tried to make a selection. Ah, decisions!
When it was my turn, I opted for the crêpe version of the popular Reine pizza, un repas complet (a full meal,) including gruyère cheese, ham, mushroom and even some olives. It was delicious, with generous (almost too generous) fillings. I realized there were a few seats lined up in front of a small counter inside the tiny restaurant, and returned the following afternoon to warm up with a dessert crêpe and a small glass of piping hot mint tea.
I remembered the small restaurant from previous trips, but had forgotten about it. Some online research later revealed la Droguerie du Marais is a very popular crêpe street stand in Paris, deservedly so it would appear. The efficient and friendly crêpe makers (they rotate throughout the day,) work 10am-7pm daily. Are these the best crêpes in Paris? Probably not. Does it matter? Not a bit. This is the perfect address for busy visitors who want to do as Parisians do while visiting the French capital and the popular Marais neighborhood.
And now [insert drum roll] is a good time to introduce the brand-new French Girl In Seattle YouTube channel It is work in progress, but here is a sample of the short videos you can already find there. You can almost smell the crêpes cooking on the hot plates! Notice the crêpe maker only speaks French. I watched him correct (ever so gently) a visitor who had just ordered “un crêpe” instead of “une crêpe.” With prices ranging from 2 Euros (for the simple, but delicious crêpe au sucre,) to 5.50 Euros (for more sophisticated and filling options,) you can’t beat la Droguerie du Marais for good value: You can eat crêpes and brush up on your French speaking skills at the same time.
So whether you are going to celebrate la Chandeleur like the French this week; or if you visit Paris soon and are looking for a tasty and affordable, sur le pouce lunch option, remember les crêpes. You will not regret it.
Further reading to indulge your crêpe cravings:
Article by le Figaro Magazine: Best crêperies in Paris. Ici.
Article about la Chandeleur, a French business based in Seattle, and a crêpe recipe. Ici.
Crêpe recipe by Clotilde Dusoulier, of Chocolate and Zucchini fame. Ici.