Pop culture has always been preoccupied with Paris. But ask a traveller with an appetite, and they’d point to the lure of fresh fruit and meat markets, to scented patisseries and kitchenware shoppes glinting with carbon steel knives, and perhaps the promise of a boeuf bourguignon—à la Julia Child. For many, there is no Paris without the American chef, author and television personality, who believed in a surplus of butter and laughter. Tracing her steps recants the great adventure with French food which hatched Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-authored with friends Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.
Really, the address is 81 rue de l’Universite, and it houses what Julia once described as “a classic Parisian building” with a “grey cement facade, a grand front door”—this post-World War II home with husband Paul Child summed up as “a bit weird” in inimitable JC style. She nicknamed it “Roo de Loo,” something one can imagine her saying out loud in the sparkling sing-song voice that delighted viewers on PBS. A stroll around the Left Bank neighbourhood will charm your inner flâneur.
About a 15-minute walk from Roo De Loo is the Rue Cler Market, its popping bazaar-colours sprinkled across the city’s seventh arrondissement. Speciality shops hemmed by glass windows, cobblestone alley and French produce in bursts of red, green or yellow—Rue Cler looks the part of Julia’s trusted stock-up haunt. Playing Alice might lead you to a wonderland of Brie, Brillat-Savarin and Camembert cheeses at La Fromagerie, to delicatessens heaving with cold meat, breads and (more) cheese, or to sherbets and caramel butter ice creams at Martine Lambert.
Since 1820, E. Dehillerin has been the holy grail for those who take their meat saws and mandolines seriously, its wizened aisles combed daily by connoisseurs of pestles and paella pans. It is here, at 18 et 20 rue Coquillière, that Julia came to arm her kitchen as she polished her culinary skills at Le Cordon Bleu.
Blow on a pitcher of blazing chocolat chaude as you laze at Les Deux Magots café, which overlooks the stately Saint-Germain-des-Prés church. You’d be tasting as much the milk-and-chocolate speciality as sheer Parisian nostalgia, for Julia and Paul’s frequent coffee-and-croissant halt was also the stomping ground of intellectual elites such as Ernest Hemmingway, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Shakespeare and Company is an ode to antiquity itself—the sort of place where you are likely to pick your purchase, chance upon a first edition of The Little Prince or The Velveteen Rabbit on your way to the counter, and head home with treasures you didn’t think to look for. It doesn’t hurt that the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce once hung out at the institution. For Julia, however, scouring its shelves only reiterated the want for a comprehensive French cookbook in English, something she went on to amend.
Paris’s premium fresh food market Le Halles could be likened to its belly—central to the city and rumbling with shoppers scouring wholesale essentials packed cheek by jowl. This was before its demolition in 1971. Apparently partial to her round-the-corner rescue of Rue Cler, Julia would have still spent ample time walking Le Halles for pig trotters or pearl onions. Brace yourself, if you were to stand here now you’d be looking at Forum des Halles, a modern shopping mall. However, this leg of Paris’s food map is still worth a dekko for those who prefer their history and their onion soup hot—there are enough authentic eateries to go around and it is only a short walk away from the cobblestone street market of Rue Montorgueil.
Sohini Das Gupta travels with her headphones plugged-in and eyes open. While this doesn't stall the many accidents that tend to punctuate her journeys, it adds some meme-worthy comic relief. She is former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.