A Taste of Paris:
A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food
David Downie is no stranger for all Paris lovers. A Parisian resident for several decades, you may have bumped into him or visited the city with him, through the custom walking tours he leads. If not, you may have read another of his books. As I enjoyed very much Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light, I was thrilled to discover this one. Paris? Food? History? Could there be any better combo?
This book started as Downie’s personal treasure hunt, to try to explain where and how Paris came to be “the world’s capital of fine dining” (p.3)
The structure is very well done, with 3 levels:
The 10 parts follow the order of a meal, from Aperitif to Digestif.
We pass from one part to the next following the chronology in French history, from the foundation of Paris to today. So incidentally, this is also a nice way of reviewing your French history.
And finally, each period is associated with a neighborhood related to it. For instance, when we talk about Henri II and his wife Catherine de Médicis, we walk around le Jardin du Luxembourg, as the palace their was hers.
The result is a comprehensive and impressive food walking tour, with great historical explanations.
The culinary continuum reaches from the Celts and Romans to the contemporary practitioners of haute and molecular.
The author focuses on the evolution of food; of ways to prepare it, to serve it, and to eat it.
We learn about when this or that dish appeared, or for instance the use of potato for humans, and the famous baguette!
Believe it or not, houses in Paris with a dining room is something fairly recent. So where were people eating? Another fascinating aspect to discover.
And for centuries, the French were using their hands to eat. The fork is also a late arrival. Do you know who introduced it to Paris?
There are also great sections on the large variety of eating establishments, from inns, to restaurants, bistros, brasseries, etc. By the way, when and where was the first Parisian restaurant?
Behind all this evolution are remarkable chefs, and Downie of course describe them to us, for instance Taillevent, Brillat-Savarin, Escoffier, and many more.
All along, the authors shares details about places he has eaten, with his recommendations on where to find the best of many things, from choucroute to chocolate!
I have learned a lot through this book! Its style is at the same time quite witty, so it never reads like a boring encyclopedia. The only problem for me was reading those amazingly delicious old menus and recipes and refraining from going for a snack!! So this book should not be ingested on an empty stomach.
The book closes with a brief Paris chronology and a mini bio of key characters.
VERDICT: A gourmet walking tour of Paris for all gastronomy and history buffs. Irresistible.
Author: David Downie
by St. Martin’s Press/MacMillan
Nonfiction/Travel/Cultural/Food and drink