While there are a lot of food tours in Paris, most stick to touristy areas like the Latin Quarter. The Hip Eats & Backstreets tour with Eating Europe Paris isn’t one of them. Based in the working class 10th Arrondissement, this 4-hour Paris food tour takes you to where the locals eat and gives you an understanding of what it’s really like to live in Paris.
The tour begins in Jardin Villemin, a short walk from Gare de l’Est, one of Paris’s six main railway stations. Since I was worried about getting lost, I left myself plenty of time to find the park and was the first one to get there. Within minutes, I met Leo Goldstein, operations manager for Eating Europe Paris, and Dakota, who was training to conduct food tours.
10th Arrondissement Paris Food Tour
When all seven of us had arrived, Leo introduced us to the area, the 10th Arrondissement. Paris is divided into districts called arrondissements, he explained. Back when France still had a king, the rich moved to the west side of the city to live closer to Versailles.
The working class settled in the east, especially after the Industrial Revolution when soot blew east. As a result, the west tends to be more politically conservative while the east is more liberal.
Today, the 10th Arrondissement isn’t as working class as it once was. An influx of tech jobs has attracted “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians), giving it a hipster vibe. While you will see bobos with man buns and fancy coffees as you stroll along Canal Saint-Martin, you’re just as likely to see older Parisians mingling with immigrants. The 10th Arrondissement is a cultural melting pot.
Discovering Le Croque-Monsieur in Paris
Our first stop was Fric Frac, a tiny restaurant across the street from the canal. As Dakota went inside to get our croque-monsieur sandwiches, Leon told us the canal was built in 1825 to bring drinking water to Paris. You can take a boat tour on it now, bicycle alongside it, or picnic on the nearby benches, like we were.
“Does anyone know what a croque-monsieur is?” Leon asked as he and Dakota handed out quarters of the sandwich.
When someone in our group answered a grilled ham and cheese, Leon playfully exclaimed, “Mon Dieu!” The croque-monsieur is ham, cheese, and béchamel sauce, he clarified. It originated with a Paris bistro that ran out of baguettes and replaced it with a grilled sandwich made with sliced bread.
Fric Frac serves both traditional croque-monsieur sandwiches and variations reflecting the ethnic flavors of the neighborhood. It's a must, whether you're on a food tour or not.
Ham and Butter Sandwiches
After finishing the equivalent of half a sandwich, we crossed a bridge over the canal, pausing to discuss the architecture. Until the mid-1800s, according to Leon, Paris was essentially a medieval city with narrow streets and no real pattern. But, inspired by a visit to London in 1852, Napoleon III decided it needed to be modernized.
He hired Georges-Eugene Haussmann to renovate the city, and Haussmann got to work, demolishing old neighborhoods, widening streets, adding parks, and constructing new sewers. But, Haussmann is probably best known for the Haussmann-style buildings you’ll see everywhere once you know what they look like.
Our next stop on our food tour was TSF Epicure, a boutique selling wine and food items, like chocolate. Here, we nibbled on charcuterie and sipped a glass of red wine. Leon showed us how to make a ham and butter sandwich. These sandwiches are a staple in France, and the ham in them is actually an indicator of the economy, he said. When less ham is being sold, it indicates a weak economy.
Another Side of Paris
After our ham and butter sandwiches, we walked a block or so before Leon stopped us in front of a building. For a long time, he said, the French government never really acknowledged its role in sending its own Jewish citizens to concentration camps during World War II.
Recently, though, it has begun putting up plaques listing the names of neighborhood children who were sent to their deaths. Leon showed us one on the side of the building, emphasizing that these were just the children. Their parents and older family members would have been hauled out of the building, too. You can’t stand there and not be overcome by the magnitude of it.
We continued a little further down the street to the site of another massacre, La Ca Rillon. On November 13, 2015, terrorists drove past in a car, opening fire on the bistro. Other attacks followed in quick succession throughout the city, including one at a concert at Bataclan. In total, 130 people were killed and more than 300 injured.
The terrorists didn’t randomly choose this bistro, Leon told us. It was targeted because the neighborhood was a melting pot, a place where people of different cultures came together, including people from former French colonies who came to Paris after World War II to help the city rebuild.
Algerian Food, Cheese, and Pastries
We headed from there to an Algerian restaurant where we were served brick a l’oeuf, essentially a meat filling, topped with an egg, wrapped in a phyllo-like dough and fried. Paired with a simple salad and mint tea, it was a meal itself. Try one if you get the chance in Paris.
Paroles de Fromagers is a cheese shop doesn’t look like much from the street. A narrow staircase in the back leads into the store’s 17th-century cheese cellar. There, we tried several kinds of French cheese, including a brie from Paris, goat cheese from Normandy, and mountain cheese from Beaufort, while sipping white wine from Burgundy.
We wandered through the Place de la Republicque, a public square where Parisians come to celebrate and mourn. Roughly 1.5 million crowded in this square in solidarity after the 2015 terrorist attacks, and on any given day, you might see protestors marching near the square’s statue of Marianne, the female embodiment of French liberty.
More About Eating Europe
Our tour ended a few blocks away in Square du Temple, a garden in the 3rd Arrondissement. Sitting on benches, we enjoyed the pastries Dakota passed out—my favorite was the lemon tart—and chatted about our plans for the rest of the time in Paris. I envied those who took the tour early in their visit and could return to the 10th Arrondissement to explore on their own.
The Hip Eats and Backstreets food tour was the highlight of my stay in Paris. Seriously. I learned so much about Paris, and both Leon and Dakota, who now conducts tours on her own, were very knowledgeable and approachable. The group was small, and even though I was on my own, I felt included and a part of the group.
Eating Europe has similar tours throughout the continent, and I will definitely book one if I find myself in Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Prague, London, and Lisbon. Be sure to see more about our favorite places to wander in France.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided a complimentary tour for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.