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An ethnic walking tour from Gare du Nord to Montmartre

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Dec 16th, 2007, 09:32 AM
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An ethnic walking tour from Gare du Nord to Montmartre

One or two people asked if I could give some information about my neighborhood in Paris, which is way off the traditional tourist track, so I walked around a little and took a few notes in order to be able to give some specific details of what is up here in the Paris “ethnic zone.”
My recommendation is for a walking tour with Gare du Nord as the starting point, and it can become the first section of a day that will take you to Montmartre. Good walking legs are highly recommended, but if you need to make some rest stops for refreshments, you will see that we are far from the land of the not-so-mythical $8 Coke.
Little India, Mini Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Mauritius, Peter Brook and the Hell’s Angels
While a major zone of Indian restaurants already starts several blocks south of Gare du Nord (notably the Passage Brady and rue Jarry area, not far from Gare de l’Est), the main South Asian zone of Paris starts just north of Gare du Nord along the Faubourg Saint Denis. The various cultures appear to live in complete harmony, which gives rise to a sort of gastronomic fusion, sometimes quite unexpected, like the Indo-Mexican Fast Food at 186 fbg. St. Denis.
While the aroma of curry and other spices hangs over the entire neighborhood, it is the other shops that will attract the most attention on the Faubourg. I have never seen a Western woman not start fantasizing about a costume party while looking at all of the mannequins in the Indian shop windows, and at 3 saris for 14€, such as the Januna Fashion shop at 189 fbg. St. Denis proposes. Okay, the fancy saris are sold for 25€ each, but no matter what price, the saleswomen are always there to show exactly how you ladies are supposed to drape the things on. Islamic fashions are sold as well, and in the very next shop you will see long Punjabi tunics with the accompanying pants on sale for 16€.
Culture is a very important element of the lifestyle of this community, and to say the least, it is very accessible. Have you always been fascinated by those Indian movies with all of the incredible singing and dancing? That will be 8 DVDs for 10€. At the M.G.S. shop at 195 fbg. St. Denis, there is an incredible selection, but you must also choose whether you prefer Hindi or Tamil versions. Don’t forget – these are DVDs, so you can often get them with English (and French) subtitle options.
For some one-stop shopping, you can try 199 fbg. St. Denis which boasts both the Asian Sari Centre and the Asian Music Centre ( + DVDs ).
But don’t forget the side streets branching off to the right. (There are no streets branching off to the left, due to the Gare du Nord train tracks.). Feeling hungry? At 15 rue Cail, the Chettinadu Mess is a very appealing establishment, clean and modern, offering vegetarian biryani for 5.50€ and non vegetarian for 6.00€. For those who don’t know what a biryani is, it is a massive rice dish with “ingredients” mixed in. It is an meal in itself. For the 100% vegetarian, Krishna Bhawa at 24 rue Cail looks pretty appetizing as well. But all through the neighborhood, you will find plenty of appeal options. At 54 rue Louis Blanc, there is the casual New Banana and right next to it, looking a little more elegant, same building and same address, is the Asoka which proposes both Indian and Srilankan specialities.
More discoveries as you continue to wander. While the Hell’s Angels in general are not known for their extreme tolerance of different cultures, it might be a different situation in Paris, because you will see the headquarters (and caf&eacute for Hell’s Angel’s Paris France right in the middle of the Indians at 62 rue Louis Blanc. It is also worth looking at the products displayed in the various shop windows, to discover what appears to be indispensable to people leaving their beloved Indian subcontinent for a bland and desolate city like Paris. Maybe some Parachute brand perfumed non sticky coconut hair oil (3.90&euro? Or for the taste of home cooking, a big bottle of Mustarda, a blend of rapeseed oil, mustard oil, beta carotene and food colouring. That will be 2.50€. Did you other people know that mustard oil existed? I certainly had never heard of it.
Looking for an upmarket clothing shop while you’re in the neighborhood? Try Chennai Silks at 57 rue Louis Blanc. (For those who missed this detail, ‘Chennai’ is the new name for ‘Madras’.) And of course do not forget the many jewelry shops spread all through the neighborhood. Indians have an immoderate love of gold jewelry, usually sold by weight on a scale, and this is the area to buy gold.
A short aside on the “why?” of this neighborhood. It must be noted that even though greater India was a massive British colony, France and Portugal possessed a few minor specks here and there. France was notably established at Pondicherry, Chandernagor, Kerikal, Yanoan and Mahé. This started in 1673, and the territories were not returned to India until…. 1956.
The main thing to know is that France offered citizenship to all of the inhabitants of its territories before the turnover, and the population at that time was 362,000. Quite understandably and commendably, the vast majority opted to become Indian. However, about 6000 families remained French. I needn’t inform you that India has a healthy birthrate, and that those 6000 have multiplied over they year. Pondicherry is reputedly one of the richest cities in India due simply to French government subsidies paid to French families there, even if they have never set foot in France.
The residents of this neighborhood in Paris at not all from southern India, however. Many are British (EU citizenship can be very useful to have.) and lots of others come from (French) Réunion Island and Mauritius, which is also mostly French speaking. In recent years, many thousand Srilankan refugees were accepted by France, and most of them are in Paris. Nevertheless (and this will interest tourists with deficient language skills), throughout this entire neighborhood, you will have no problem at all finding people who speak English better than they speak French, even if they are French citizens.
In any case, most of the residents of the area can be classified as hardworking poor, but little by little, you can see the progress of a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit. At 28 rue Philippe de Girard, you can see the grandly named Ganesha Plaza. The real thing is somewhat less grand, but it boasts a tea room and cool bar, wholesale and retail textiles, butcher shop, florist and phone cards. Speaking of phone cards, this is the area where you can buy cards for 10 hours of talk to North America for 7.50€ or less. Every single shops sells them.
Going north along the Faubourg Saint Denis, you will have almost arrived at the elevated metro line 2, where the nature of the neighborhood will begin to change. You might want to grab some Bengali pastries at Ganabady Snacks at 21 rue Perdonnet or perhaps just contemplate the Boucherie 3R at 34 Ph. De Girard, which currently combines in its shop window proclamations about the fact that it specializes in mutton, goat and cabri (kid), promises that it is all hallal<i/> (slaughtered in accordance with Islam), and has a big “Joyeux Noël” painted on the window along with Santa and a reindeer (probably on sale as well).
Just before passing under the metro, you can pop into Ghopal & Co. for giant sized bags of spices (strangely enough, most of the exotic spices are from Ducros, the big French spice company, but the boxes and cans of curry powder are straight from India. Directly across from Ghopal at Place de la Chapelle, you can also see the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (www.bouffesdunord.com) where Peter Brook has been established for more than 30 years. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but if you saw Jean-Jacques Beneix’s movie Diva, this is the theatre from the beginning of the movie where the opera singer was performing. It remains stripped bare, paintless and seatless (one sits on cushions, except in the balconies, where the old wooden seats have been retained), and presents some of the most spectacular plays that one can see in Paris. Fittingly enough, a number of the plays have been based on Peter Brook’s travels to India.
Next: North of metro line 2 (Nation-Dauphine)
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Dec 16th, 2007, 09:46 AM
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Sorry about the non separation of paragraphs, but everything I tried was refused for some reason -- perhaps because of pasting from Word?
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Dec 16th, 2007, 09:48 AM
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Who cares about paragraph separation?--this post was AWESOME. Bookmarking.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 09:50 AM
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Damn, my corrections were not taken into consideration either. I hope that it is still intelligible.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 09:52 AM
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Great stuff, thanks so much.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 10:01 AM
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Kerouac, absolutely brilliant post and by coincidence, perfect timing. We're leaving for Paris tomorrow (well, that's the plan, but we're getting a massive winter storm in eastern Canada), so I aim to walk some of this.

Thanks.

Anselm
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Dec 16th, 2007, 10:04 AM
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Excellent read, thanks and looking forward to mroe
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Dec 16th, 2007, 10:09 AM
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What a great area. Thanks for bringing it to our attention again.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 10:19 AM
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Thanks for the post, K.

I'm ading it to my list of what to do in Paris.

I think that if you save your Word doc as a Text File, it will keep the paragraphing.

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Dec 16th, 2007, 12:01 PM
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Continuing north from Place de la Chapelle


For anybody who is considering the concept of eliminating some of the walking, I should repeat immediately what is marked on all of Peter Brook’s theatrical documents, clearly from unfortunate experience : metro La Chapelle and NOT Porte de la Chapelle Please be aware that Place de la Chapelle is on line 2 of the metro and Porte de la Chapelle is on line 12.

Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis becomes rue Marx Dormoy as it crosses under the metro. Nevertheless, it is the same road, built by the Romans -- beginning in Rome and ending in Brussels, also called rue Saint Jacques, rue Saint Denis and rue de la Chapelle in various parts of Paris. I live on this street and feel a discernible historical bonus for doing so, even if my ugly building was built as some sort of customs or toll post around 1798. No elegant Haussmannian lines to my building, with everything crooked. And if you drop a ping pong ball in any room, I can tell you exactly to which corner it will roll.

Rue Marx Dormoy is a mishmash of cultures. Some people will find it interesting and others boring. There are Turkish/Greek sandwich places, Egyptian groceries, Pakistani bazaars, Moroccan couscous restaurants (less than 10&euro, Chinese delis, French cafés, African hair salons, and plenty of things that I can’t even remember. Oh, and Monoprix, of course. After all, this is Paris.

It is a confused area, as evidenced by the new fast food joint at 68 rue Marx Dormoy. It used to be a Greek sandwich place, before being closed and remodeled as Chez Ganesha. But this place didn’t last long, as what was displayed in the front window did not look appealing. I’m sure the food was fine, but the owners just didn’t understand anything about presentation. Amateurs! Now it has reopened with the weird name Pizza Hot Bull and says that it sells pizza, chicken tikka, Greek sandwiches, all guaranteed hallal. This does not mean that they don’t sell beer to wash it down, of course.

The traffic signal at Place Paul Eluard (called by everyone ‘Place Marx Dormoy’ because that’s the location of the Marx Dormoy metro station) is a good place to turn right on rue Riquet.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 12:11 PM
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Kerouac, this was wonderful info for you to post, even though my next trip in May still will not take me that far afield from St.Germain, Notre Dame, etc, area.

Hopefully, if I someday get ANOTHER trip to Paris, I can still locate the post. I always appreciate your commentary on Fodors.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 12:30 PM
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Next: (maybe tomorrow) street market, another Chinatown and cheap hotels
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Dec 16th, 2007, 12:31 PM
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Definitely bookmarking for my trip to Paris next year. Very useful as we will be coming in and out of Gare du Nord.

Thanks.
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Dec 16th, 2007, 08:15 PM
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Many thanks for the interesting and informative posting, I walked some parts of it last month, but didn't notice so much details, one more thing to do next time.
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Dec 17th, 2007, 12:38 AM
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I should have mentioned that even the Monoprix on rue Marx Dormoy has a little exotic extra -- most of the cashiers are of Indian origin, and a number of them are more comfortable speaking English than French.
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Dec 17th, 2007, 12:52 AM
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Thanks for all that detail, kerouac - I'm looking forward to the next installment!

In your 'cheap hotels' recommendation, can you please include any you know of that have a kitchen or microwave included? Or any apartments that are a reasonable price?

We plan to be in Paris in Spring 2008, so are beginning to look for some accommodation.

Happy travels, Di
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Dec 17th, 2007, 03:30 AM
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I have been hoping for some time that you would do something like this. Information that you find in no guide books. I have passed through this area a couple of times in taxis on the way to the airport, and been intrigued by all the Indian shops. Thanks so much for the explanation.
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Dec 17th, 2007, 04:17 AM
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Another little Chinatown, bottom end hotels, temples & the birth of a new boboland


Just at the exit of metro Marx Dormoy is the recently renovated and newly chic Au Roi du Café at 2 rue de la Chapelle. Dark walls, sophisticated lighting, bookshelves, two big plants framing the entrance – currently olive trees as winter arrives, but they were palm trees during the summer and autumn. Prices are noticeably higher than the other places in the neighbourhood, but there is still a meal offering for less than 10€ -- the assiette complète de charcuterie (“big plate of cold cuts”) for 9.90€. And then there is always happy hour from 17:30 to 20:00 with pints of beer or various cocktails priced at 5€.


But if you have come this far north, you have not done so to get the same experience as in Saint Germain des Prés, so it’s best to move along. If it’s pastry time, the two best options are both nearby – the Boulangerie de Mogador at 10 rue de la Chapelle or La Huche Normande at 81 rue Riquet. The cream puffs and St. Honoré are as French as ever, but evidence of a change in the ownership is visible when you see the little collection box for the Palestinian children’s fund next to the cash register. That’s if you can see it through the Christmas decorations, Santas, sparkling garlands, etc.


Although there is really not much to see, you may wish to check out the two Hindu temples a few steps away. The more important of the two is the Sri Manika Vinayakar Alayam temple (www.templeganesh.fr) at 72bis rue Ph. ee Girard. This is where the famous Ganesha procession starts and finishes on the first Sunday of September. At 26 rue du Département is the Muthumariamman Temple. Both of the temples have been set up in old warehouses that you would never notice casually.


I promised to mention a few hotels in the area, so here they are. The Hotel Bellevue at 67 rue Ph. de Girard is an ugly building on an ugly street, but it might be very nice inside, at least compared to the other hotels, because its rates are considerably higher: 1p. 60€, 2p. 70€, 3p. 105€, 4p. 130€. All of the rooms are fully equipped with bathrooms and televisions.


Back on rue Riquet, at #94bis, we have the Hotel de la Poste with rooms at 22€ for 1 person, 27€ for 2. Toilet down the hall and showers for 3€. Or you can spring for a deluxe room with everything for 40€. At #92 is the Hotel Riquet – 25€ for 1 person or 30€ for 2. Double room with bathroom and TV for 40€. On the ground floor is the Merhan Indian restaurant with set meals from 7.50€ to 18€. Meanwhile, at 58 rue de Torcy, is The Torcy’s Hotel (this sophisticated anglicized name is clearly meant to attract you irresistibly). Single for 30€ or double for 35€ with WC down the hall. Single for 40€ or double for 45€ with WC. For 47€ or 52€ you can upgrade to the deluxe rooms.


Okay, I know that none of you will ever stay in such hotels, but don’t forget that they exist. There are always people looking for the cheapest possible hotels, and believe me, I see tourists, including Americans, going in and out of these hotels all the time. If anybody wants to know if they can find a room in Paris for less than $50, you can tell them that it is possible. And don’t forget to use the photo function on www.pagesjaunes.fr to check out what the buildings look like.


The market street, rue l’Olive, is the next place to check out. It’s not a very big market street as such things go, but it is a pleasant and recently repaved pedestrian zone. There is a covered market (official Baltard construction) that has seen better days on one side of the street, but it will be closing soon for a 2-year renovation. (The vendors will be housed in a temporary building on Place de Torcy.) All of the butchers are hallal in rue l’Olive (inside the market building, they are not), the fruit and vegetable vendors boast about the quality of their products like on the streets of Algiers and do not hesitate to do impromptu blue light specials -- if nobody is paying attention to them chanting “2 cucumbers for 1€,” they may suddenly begin chanting “3 cucumbers for 1€.”


You may note around the covered market that someone thought to pay homage to French America when naming the streets, because you will find rue du Canada, rue de la Louisiane, rue de la Guadeloupe and rue de la Martinique.


Rue de Torcy is the main restaurant street of the local Chinatown. My personal favorite is La Locomotive at #25. It is extremely basic and crowded, but the food is not only out of this world, it is also very cheap. Local workers and resident Asians usually order the rice plates for lunch – a big mound of steamed rice with various ingredients heaped on top. They look to me like they could feed a family of four, but they only cost about 8€. Just across the street are New Thai San at #44, another popular canteen style place but with more pages to the menu and prices just a tad higher, and then there is Hanouman at #36, a big modern luxurious restaurant often used for Chinese weddings, equipped for karaoke and which also has dim sum carts circulating between the tables on weekends. Nevertheless, it also has basic set menus for 10€, 12€, 13€ and also one that was priced at 310€, but it wasn’t indicated how many people it fed.


Tin Tin on the corner of rue de Torcy and place de Torcy was recently renovated and looks quite sophisticated with high tech design, but it has basic meals for 8.90€ and 11.80€. The best thing about this place is that it is only Chinese restaurant in the area that puts tables outside on the square during the warm months. At 35 rue de Torcy is the Japanese restaurant Shin Juku, operated by Chinese, of course. Its meals start at 9€.


If any of you find this a little pricey, may I suggest La Maison Thai at 2 rue de l’Evangile, a restaurant (but mostly take-away) with 2 tables? You can eat well for 5€.

Just a little farther, there is the big Chinese supermarket Paris Store at 6 rue de l’Evangile. In association with the G20 supermarket chain, it operates simultaneously as a French supermarket, so you can see 2 parallel universes jostling in the aisles, oblivious to each other, plus a third group choosing products from both domains. There are several other Chinese supermarkets in the neighbourhood, and none of them seems to risk going out of business.

At the Square de la Madone just beyond Paris Store, you might see people filling plastic bottles and jerricans at the large fountain there. It is one of several spring sources in Paris and is jealously protected in case of national emergency.


One last thing to see before moving onto Africa – the two churches. At 16 rue de la Chapelle is Saint Denys de la Chapelle and at 18 rue de la Chapelle is the Basilique Sainte Jeanne d’Arc. The two churches connect with each other, and to my knowledge it might be the only case in Paris of 2 churches built side by side. You will be walking in the footprints of Joan of Arc here, because this is where she prayed in 1429 before entering the city of Paris. (The village of La Chapelle was annexed by the city in 1860.) There is a statue, of course.


Next: Where do those African statues really come from?






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Dec 17th, 2007, 04:23 AM
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Kerouac - At last! What I have been wishing you would do for us has at last happened - a little guided stroll in Paris streets from a genuine Parisian!!!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

You can be sure we will definitely be doing this route when we are there in May. (And I will report back)
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Dec 17th, 2007, 04:26 AM
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The edit function absolutely refused to let me stop the italics on the last section -- after trying ten times, I gave up on it!
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