Our plan was simple enough. We arrived back in Paris early New Year’s Eve and would return home, nap and then shop for food to get us through the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as holiday hours, but as we walked from the metro I noticed several food stores were opened, including my regular boulangerie. A sign advertised their holiday opening hours which included Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
I took a 3-hour nap secure that I could gather a sandwich or quiche, if nothing else, for our dinner. And should I find the ingredients for something more complicated, I’d be able to buy a baguette. For breakfast, a croissant or pain au chocolat would more than suffice
With that knowledge, I slept peacefully.
But in France, there is no rest for the baker.
For over 200 years, a French law has regulated the bread business, dictating everything from the ingredients of the basic baguette (flour, yeast, salt, water) to the rules around closing (until 2015, the sacrosanct French vacation was only permitted once the baker submitted a vacation request to the government that included a back-up bread plan for his customers). Bread is by law predictable, affordable, and reliable.
Every day, fresh bread can be found somewhere on my street between the 4 boulangeries (a designation which requires that the bread is baked on premises). My choice is the baguette tradition, which costs one euro 20 at Maison Landemaine on Rue Oberkampf. The four-ingredient, regulated baguette is 75 cents, but I encourage you to splurge. With no preservatives, and a freshly baked supply replenished throughout the day, I also encourage you to purchase it as close to consumption as possible.
Join the queue. It’s worth it.
That leftover lunch baguette will not suffice as a dinner accompaniment save, per chance, as croutons for a salad. Besides, the server will happily slice a baguette in half and sell it for exactly half the cost. There’s no reason to eat hours-old baguette when a minutes-old supply awaits.
And there’s also no excuse to schlep across town to the latest la-di-da award-winning bread king. The best baguette is the warm and soft one that delights you.
Let’s be clear on this.
Think of your baker as your spouse (or anyone else you wouldn’t cheat on). The baker makes a personal sacrifice so that you can have daily bread. All you need to do is show up. Faithfully.
Commit to this.
Besides, there are other reasons not to stray. First, it’s nice to know the server and to exchange a few pleasantries while you place your order. Second, if you arrive without exact change, there’s the slightest chance they will break that 20 euro note without an eye-roll (if they break it for you at all).
And third. . . For the third let me submit this story:
One Sunday morning, I stopped for a croissant after my walk, and although it was well past the scheduled opening, the awning was still down and the boulangerie was dark. As I wondered what was wrong, a woman came up and told me the scheduled baker was ill. A backup baker was finishing up, and they would open shortly.
Soon, a couple queued behind me, and I relayed the news. We waited together chatting about their holiday. They were from Australia and had stayed in the 11th, which is an increasing popular choice, but still an uncommon one. They commented on the wide range of delicious boulangeries nearby.
Shortly, the lights came on and the door opened. A frazzled server greeted me, took my order, and without flinching dashed off to make my espresso, grabbing a croissant on her way as I took my seat. This dashing about is normal in the morning, so I didn’t think it odd until the Australian couple sat down and looked over at me.
“How did you get coffee?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. You didn’t realize they made coffee here?”
“We did. But they told us they couldn’t today because of the queue.”
Oh precious baker, I’m yours.
Categories: Life in Paris