En route to Paris last week, I read an article in the Eurostar magazine written by Clotilde Dusoulier (of the wonderful blog Chocolate and Zucchini) who described a street with recently opened shops where unusual varieties of fish and vegetables could be bought, the sorts of foods one might have eaten in a Paris restaurant. As luck would have it, our apartment was situated a deux pas from this up and coming alley. So the morning after we ate at Frenchie Bar A Vins (5-6 rue de Nil), I returned to Rue de Nil to discover what lay behind the steel grills that line this tiny street.
Early in the day, this alley was a bustle of activity at the fishmonger, butcher, and a vegetable and fruit shop. All operating under the name Terroirs d’Avenir, these are tiny shops which sell both to restaurants and to the public. Chatting to the fishmonger I discovered that what sets these food businesses apart is that they buy their produce straight from the source. His fish were bought from the fishermen and had not been through the market as is the case with most produce available for sale to the public.
The vegetables looked like those one finds at organic markets, mud covered potatoes, tiny parsnips, huge turnips, a variety of potatoes, onions, mushrooms and herbs. It is the heritage credentials that raise these vegetables above the varieties available at every street market in the city. The cabbage did look like a fine fella.
Sadly there was no sign of the black garlic we had eaten at Frenchie but that may be just as well as in my kitchen it would not have magicked into the slick paste we had enjoyed. While the public may now be able to buy the mushrooms they ate the night before at the restaurant alongside, it is the chef’s alchemy that transforms simple ingredients into gold.
It was in the butchery, carcasses hanging like displays in their glass vitrines, that I witnessed a sight that could make even ardent carnivores question their meat eating credentials. In a stainless steel tray sat a pig’s head, its tongue lolling out slightly, looking very much alive except for the lack of an attached body.
On a nearby chopping board, a second pig’s head was sat. The butcher was poised above, a massive cleaver in his hand which he brought down heavily, several times, until the head split in two. Waiting patiently in his kitchen apron was one of the Frenchie chefs. He picked up the tray containing the split head, walked across the lane into the restaurant to start preparing dinner.
I knew exactly how delicious that pig’s head would be as we had eaten it the night before in its incarnation as tete de cochon, compote de pomme roti, choucroute maison.
I have no doubt that on my next visit to Rue de Nil, the whole street will be filled with similar tiny shops –already one is selling coffee. The symbiosis between the restaurant and these food businesses must be mutually advantageous and will hopefully spawn other bijou suppliers.
Nearby Rue Montorgeuil is filled with wonderful food shops, some of which have been serving the public for centuries. It seems that Rue de Nil is filling up with a much younger generation of foodies, terroir of the future indeed, which only leaves us happy customers spoilt for choice.