I’ll start by saying this: If there’s any food tour that you should take on an empty stomach, it’s this one. The “Hip Eats and Backstreets” tour of Paris from Eating Europe isn’t one that involves dainty tastings. Over the course of four hours, you’ll be regaled with the equivalent of something like two meals.
As you wind your way from the Canal St-Martin to the Marais, you’ll be offered generous portions of everything from sandwiches to charcuterie, mouthwatering pastries to creamy cheeses, wine and perfectly roasted coffee.
Yet this isn’t a tour that sells itself on quantity over quality. On the contrary, it’s a culinary exploration designed for travelers who want to experience a mixture of French traditions and foodie trends in the capital.
Leo Goldstein, the friendly guide and Eating Paris Operations Manager, explains that he designed this particular tour to give tourists an insider’s view of the Parisian food scene. He chose to focus on neighborhoods that are both vibrant and not always on visitors’ radar, pointedly veering away from places like the Latin Quarter.
The aim, he says, is to get off the beaten track and taste some delicious offerings from restaurateurs, patissiers and gourmet shop owners who manage to meld tradition with contemporary flair.
It all starts in the 10th arrondissement, a traditionally working-class area in Eastern Paris that was once a hotbed of factory labor, but has in recent years become increasingly gentrified.
Our group meets near the Gare de l’Est train station, where Leo gives us a lively account of the neighborhood’s history and its politically left-leaning roots. He’s a native to the area, and has been surprised to note how quickly it’s evolved into a place where gourmet trattorias, wine bars and high-end patisseries now sit beside decades-old bar–tabacs, dollar stores and casual kebab restaurants.
Leo is brimming with knowledge on cultural history, architecture, food and myriad other topics. Throughout the tour he peppers his discussion of our culinary discoveries with anecdotes on the city and its sometimes joyful, sometimes heartbreaking history. In other words, this ends up being more than a food tour– even though there’s plenty to eat.
Ambling along the Canal St-Martin, our first stop is at Fric-Frac, a casual eatery that’s quickly become coveted for its Croque-Monsieur sandwiches (traditional grilled cheese with ham and béchamel sauce on buttered bread).
For the vegetarians among us (there are several on the tour,) Leo kindly offers something different for us to taste: avocado, green peas pesto, tomatoes, pine nuts, onions, asparagus, basil and mint, sandwiched between freshly made multigrain bread.
It’s full of flavor, crunch and creaminess– absolutely delicious. And merely the beginning, since we still have three hours ahead of us.
Next Stops: A Gourmet Grocer & a Traditional Couscous Restaurant
I won’t give away all the stops on the tour, since this would take away from the element of surprise key to its full enjoyment. I’ll only say that stops two and three are equally exciting.
We’re first ushered to a new gourmet grocer on the other side of the canal, where traditional French products from around the country cheerfully line the shelves, and the owner serves up simple but delicious charcuterie plates, accompanied by a glass of red wine.
Read related: My Favorite Places for Street Food in Paris
Next, inching closer to the Hopital St Louis and the Goncourt metro station, we all duck into a couscous restaurant reputed as one of the best in Paris. Leo explains that couscous is one of the most-consumed dishes in France, and as such believes the North African specialty merits being included on any in-depth French culinary tour.
Some of us enjoy a small portion of couscous with vegetables and chicken; while the non meat-eaters feast on delicately spiced vegetables served over the traditional semolina grain. Leo describes how couscous can take hours to prepare: women traditionally “fluff” it between their hands after cooking it, allowing air to circulate and giving the grain a lighter texture.
Next Stop: Scrumptious Cheeses Paired With Wine
Since couscous tends to be surprisingly filling, we may have waddled slightly to our next stop: a cheese and wine tasting in vibrant, metropolitan Belleville.
At Paroles de Fromagers, an artisan cheese shop and maturing cellar, we’re greeted by the friendly co-founder Caroline de Seze, who introduces us to the concept in nearly perfect English. She opened the place just a few years ago with two colleagues and friends, and is clearly passionate about the some 150 cheeses that they hand-select and age onsite.
We head downstairs to the 17th-century cellar for a delicious, easygoing wine and cheese-tasting session. We sample five varieties: a delicate goat’s cheese, an intensely rich, triple-cream Brillat Savarin (clearly everyone’s favorite), Brie de Meaux (made close to Paris); a pressed cheese called Beaufort, and a Tomme de Savoie, native to the Alps.
These are paired with a glass of white and a glass of red, and Caroline gives us some pointers for enjoying the wine and cheese together.
Next Up: Gourmet Pastries
End Notes: Dessert and Coffee
We end the tour by (delicately?) gobbling down two pastries in a busy park square: an intensely citrus, not-too-cloying lemon tart and a “Caribbean eclair” melding chocolate with coconut. Both are delicious, but melting very quickly on this scorching afternoon.
For the last hurrah, Leo takes us to one of his favorite spots for strong, good coffee in the lower Marais district.
Once again, I won’t give away the location, but will say that the old-world counter proved an ideal place to perch following our gourmet afternoon. Here, the group chatted away like old friends, as we struggled to digest the delicious contents of the previous four hours.
My Bottom Line- and Another Participant’s Perspective
This is an in-depth, excellent tour that includes delicious tastings and knowledgeable commentary from a friendly, accessible guide. You don’t feel as if you’re skirting around the edges of things, nor rushing through any of the experiences– plenty of time is allotted to fully savor each stop and dish on the itinerary.
As one participant told me on the sidelines, she enjoyed this tour (and another she took with Eating Europe in Amsterdam) for the way it gives her a sense of local life and history as well as an opportunity to taste some excellent food. “It’s much less superficial, and much more generous, than a lot of tours I’ve been on”, she said.
I tend to agree.
The downsides of this tour? There’s really only a couple I can think of. Four hours may be hard to eke out if you only have a few days in Paris; you may opt for a shorter tour in that case.
I also felt that this tour may be less well suited to visitors looking for a more introductory culinary exploration of the city. The “hip eats and backstreets” concept may indeed appeal more to those who’ve visited in the past, or who simply are looking for something a bit less standard.
Still, there are enough “traditional” treats included in the tour to satisfy the desire to try some of the things you most associate with French cuisine: namely, cheese, pastries, wine and charcuterie.
Please also note that you’ll have to be comfortable walking for fairly long stretches on this tour. It’s a comfortable pace, but you’ll be on your feet for a considerable portion of the four hours.
Practical Info & Reserving a Tour:
Visit the Eating Europe site for more information on this tour, including availability and current prices per person. As this goes to press, the tour costs 95 Euros per adult. Please keep in mind that this may change at any time.
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, the writer of this article received a complimentary tour for review purposes. While it has not affected the contents of the review, at Paris Unlocked we believe in disclosing potential conflicts of interests.