Have you heard of Eataly? It’s a huge marketplace specializing in everything Italian food. The first thing you’ll notice, at least with the NYC location, are the tourists, but after you’ve maneuvered your way into its multiple corridors you’ll find it’s everything you want to eat all in one place. Too tired to cook? Grab a seat at the restaurant. Need focaccia? The bakery’s got them sweet or savory. You get the idea. It’s a gourmet grocery on steroids. With bakeries, food and beverage counters, and a retail store, why would you ever want to leave?
Because there’s a French version.
At Le Grande Épicerie de Paris, it’s everything I just described except French. But unlike Eataly, it sells a staggeringly diverse and exclusive collection of foreign gourmet items from Morocco, Lebanon, Greece, Italy, India, the UK, the US, Spain, and Asia. If you’re an American expat living in Paris, there’s a section devoted to indulging your Oreo, peanut butter, and brownies-from-a-box cravings. If you’re a bit of an Anglophile like me, you'll find comfort in Fortnum and Mason teas, a Victoria sponge, and Jaffa cakes. And if you’re a Francophile, well obviously you’ve just entered one of the best temples to French food there is.
High shelves stacked full of France’s most prestigious brands, as well as less-famous but home-grown products, are aligned into neat rows grouped by category. Ever dreamt of a chocolate aisle? There are at least five. Seeing the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo in person was inspiring, but these towering tributes to French gastronomy took my breath away. I’ve never actually managed to properly explore the entire emporium, bounded as I was to the mesmeric, and seemingly endless, aisles of chocolates, cookies, cakes, and other delicacies.
The kinds of gifts I like to bring home from my travels are almost always food. Not only is it one of the best ways to understand and experience a culture, and honestly, has anyone ever refused a food gift? Okay, picky eaters do exist, but even so, I’m sure Le Grande stocks a gourmet ketchup jar. And even if they don’t like it, if you get food that you yourself enjoy, more for you!
Here are my staples (my shopping cart is in no way limited to these, there’s always something new I like to get, but they are absolutely necessary):
La Dunkerquoise’s La Veritable Gaufre Caramel au Beurre Sale
I’d gotten used to the American habit of indulging with toppings, mix-ins, the oversized and the hybrids that this little cookie took me by surprise. How can something so simple and understated be so FREAKING GOOD? While it looks like a stroopwafel, La Dunkerquoise’s gaufre (French for waffle) distinguishes itself from its Belgian counterpart by its crispy bite and lack of filling. This brand’s flavors include chocolate and butter, but my favorite is the salted caramel. Initially drawn by its art nouveau packaging, I became obsessed from first bite (and so did everyone else). It’s so delicious, it’s almost impossible to do justice to its magnificence. What you have here is an elegant cookie able to hold its own against the world’s greatest macarons, croissants, and brioches.
In case I haven’t proved my point, here’s a story. My friend told me about her plans to go to Le Grand early in the morning. I’d encouraged her to try these cookies the day before and she loved them. Later when I’d gone for my own shopping, I peeked at the shelf holding the caramel gaufres to find it was practically cleared out. It looked as if someone held their arm out to slide 10 or so boxes into the shopping basket.
Bonne Maman Madeleines
My coworker was the first person to introduce me to this. And you’ll never guess where she got it… the airport! At the time, I’d never tasted anything French from France (as opposed to, you know, French from New York) that I totally ignored the fact that the madeline was individually wrapped in plastic and just ate it. Which is why it surprised me that it tasted so good. Am I a snob? Probably. But who knew you could package a madeleine like that and still have it taste so divine, so perfectly spongey, and so decadently buttery. I’ve brought this back for family and friends countless times and everyone struggles not to finish the whole bag in one sitting. As you may have deduced, these are available in most Parisian supermarkets (and yes you can get them at the airport) but Le Grande offers them in flavors you’d be hard pressed to find so well stocked anywhere else.
Bonne Maman Caramel Tartelettes
Twix is my favorite candy bar. This is layered in almost the exact same way as a Twix. It is better than the Twix.
Marriage Frères Milky Blue Tea and Earl Grey Provence
I used to work at Teavana, which was where I cultivated my passion for tea. Even though I’ve tasted my share of teas, nothing could shake my devotion to Earl Grey. That was until I tried Milky Blue. It’s a totally unique flavor, which I can only (inadequately) describe as tasting like a crème pâtissière, without the sweetness, while still tasting obviously like a tea.
But if your heart still belongs to Earl Grey, their Earl Grey Provence, blended with wild blue lavender buds, is the best I’ve ever had.
Aux Anysetiers du Roy chocolate fondue
Just one look at the packaging, with its handwritten-style font tainted in various hues, and you’ll be smitten. You’ll say, no you don’t need such luxuries. But upon discovering that the pot is ceramic and re-usable, you’ll talk yourself into it. These chocolate fondue pots come in your traditional flavors - white, milk, dark - but there’s also the milk chocolate with candied hazelnuts, or the dark chocolate with caramel, and… you get the picture. Tip: put these in your checked baggage!