In addition to visiting the many museums and sites of Paris, indulging in food and shopping is always at the top of our lists whenever we visit. We got to do plenty of both during our 3-month extended stay. While I’ve decided to write about shopping, you should know that I dislike shopping for anything but food. I can’t resist a grocery store. I love checking out the selection and the pricing in every country I visit. So, I’ll tell you about shopping for food first and a little about shopping for other stuff later.
Our Local Grocery Store
There are a number of supermarket chains with local stores, like Carrefour Express or Casino, but they tend to be quite small with limited selection. We were really lucky a mid-size Monoprix store was only a block away from our apartment. That meant that we could carry our groceries home, even if they were really heavy. The Monoprix was just outside one of the metro stops we usually used, so we shopped there quite often on our way home from school. In particular, I appreciated their deli counter, more on that later.
In addition to having a larger footprint and therefore more selection than the local bodegas, our Monoprix store also had a department store-like floor, with clothing and housewares. It reminded me of a small Target with a grocery section.
We were also fortunate to have the Rue de Grenelle farmers’ market twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday under the metro line, just across from the Monoprix. While the prices were often more than indoors, there was a great variety of produce, meat, cheese, prepared food, and bric-a-brac. It was fun to wander through from time to time. For example, Diana got some cool pillow covers for our condo in Mexico, and one day, a small marching band swung by, like Parisian mariachis.
Across town, we paid a visit to a standing flea market, Marche aux Puces. It was fun checking out all of the antiques and collectibles, many of which we wouldn’t see in the US. One unusual fixture was the Home of Tomorrow, which looked like a spaceship, but it was a fully fitted abode. A mid-century tiny home, of sorts.
Of Baguettes and Croissants
Although we enjoyed our croissant cooking class, it was better to leave the baking to the pros. Diana has, shall we say, a very discerning palette when comes to breads of the world. It wasn’t long before we decided our best option for baguettes and croissants was at a boulangerie (bakery) next to our usual metro stop. The quality was top-notch.
Like many residents, we would get a baguette or two every other day, often hot from the oven, on our way home. We got really spoiled. There is an annual competition for the best baguette in town and we tried some from winners in past years, but I felt our local spot was better. Lucky for us.
Too Good To Go
One cool service we could take advantage of was Too Good To Go, a smartphone application where you could reserve food from local hotels, restaurants, and bakeries near its expiration date. Usually, you get a good amount of food for about 1/3 of the normal price. There were a dozen or so food outlets and hotels participating nearby.
My favorite provider was a hotel around the corner where I could get a stash of buns and pastries left over from their morning buffet, all for under $3. The service is available in many places around the world but works best in dense cities. Check it out.
The Deli Counters
The variety of prepared foods and cheeses in France is awesome. I could dawdle at the deli counter all day, trying to determine what it was I was looking at and how it might taste. I tried many different types of cheeses. With over 400 varieties in France, there were so many to choose from. Fresh Chevre, a soft, sweet cheese made from goats milk, really won me over. For me, chevre on a baguette is one of the great joys in life.
I also tried some of the many different pates, terrines, and rillettes that were on offer. I had a rabbit terrine that was very good. Again, it’s hard to go wrong here.
Not In Kansas Anymore
Still, I was sometimes left wanting after a trip to my local Monoprix. Natural peanut butter is hard to find and often expensive. I couldn’t find a savory pickle, they were all packed with sugar. Ruffled potato chips were tiny, and Coke Light (Diet Coke) was often out of stock.
Foreign cheese was discouraged (why can’t I find pecorino romano? They make it in an adjacent country).
Riddle me this: Why is it you can buy a French press for your coffee but you can’t buy coffee in France ground to an appropriate size?
Shopping (Not For Fashion)
Spending most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I became accustomed to the American suburban shopping experience: Large destination shopping malls, strip malls, and occasional cute old town downtown streets. The large city shopping experience is different due to the lack of space. Typically there are a few large department stores and many smaller stores in older buildings. Our apartment was just off Rue du Commerce, so we expected to find a thriving neighborhood of shops. We weren’t disappointed, clothing, housewares, fashion, beauty you name it, a small shop nearby had something, though not necessarily what you were looking for.
Since parking is at a premium, most folks shop via public transit. As such, one can be limited to buying only what can be carried on the bus or metro. One benefit of the pandemic was the instigation of deliveries. Many stores offer free/cheap delivery in town directly to your home, even if you are doing the actual selection in-store. Now you can buy out the store and have it at your doorstep, like you’re at Downton Abbey. Progress.
Grande Dames of Paris Shopping
For me, Le Bon Marche is the most appealing department store in Paris. Of course, it has a wide range of products, but two things set it apart: the beautiful building and its gourmet food floors, La Grande Epicerie. A feast for the eyes, so I took my time perusing the amazing food selection. I felt like they created a Wonka Factory tour for foodie adults. I couldn’t sample all the products if I had all year. Just wonderful. Sigh.
Another famous one-off Paris department store is BHV, Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville. Located near City Hall (Hotel de Ville), it’s filled to the brim with clothing and home goods. Whenever we asked locals about a place to find such-and-such at a good price, BHV was often their first answer. One oddity I found at BHV is that the individual departments seem to operate stand-alone. That is, when I bought a toaster, it had to be rung up at a specific register, not just any open one. So, I did. In France, sometimes it is easier not to question.
The Galeries Lafayette flagship store is another Grande Dame, but we didn’t get there during our visit. We did wander in a couple of their smaller stores in town, but the pricing wasn’t enticing, so we usually chose to take our business elsewhere. If you are so inclined, Printemps is another department store worth visiting. Again, we were never really nearby and I did mention that I don’t like to shop for anything but food.
Are you more interested in shopping for groceries or shopping for fashion and housewares?