FOOD AND DRINK
How to Eat Like a Parisian in Toronto
One Frenchwoman's take on where to find sweet and savoury treats that have the right je ne sais quoi
What food lover doesn’t look to Paris with pure envy? The “Parisian way” of eating, which encompasses daily wine, cheese and charcuterie (along with hefty helpings of bread and pastries) can seem like an ongoing indulgence that’s unfathomable to diet-conscious North Americans. Lucky for Toronto, its French-food scene has blossomed over the past couple of years, and eating like a true Parisian is completely within reach.
Enter Caroline Phely, who uprooted from Paris to Toronto in 2012 with her husband Mateo. They own Canon Blanc, a French clothing and accessories boutique, with locations at Queen Street West and Yonge and Eglinton. After spending the last four years trying to find her favourite French food in Toronto, Phely shares tips on buying classic French saucisson (or the closest thing to it), how to pick a good bottle of vin rouge, and the truth about how Parisians really eat.
“Parisians like sweet for breakfast, not savoury,” says Phely. “If you go to a bistro, a traditional French breakfast is two pieces of French bread, butter and jam.” The accompanying drink is coffee, of course, but nowadays it’s not brewed using a French press: “In the past few years, Nespresso has been everywhere; everyone owns at least one machine, sometimes two.” Toronto’s Nespresso boutique bar in Yorkville carries a number of Nespresso machines, which cost up to $1,000. There’s also range of Nespresso espresso capsules you can try, which vary in intensity, depending on your taste.
For French bread, Phely says ACE’s French baguette is the next best thing among local options. “They have really good organic honey, too.” Another must-have complement to a piece of crusty French bread is butter; it must be artisanal, or organic at the very least. “Non-organic butter doesn’t taste like anything,” Phely complains. Phely vouches for Société-Original beurre de culture from Quebec, which you can buy from Côte de Boeuf on Ossington.
Sandwich culture has flourished over the last 20 years in Paris, as packing lunch isn’t very common and two-hour-long lunch breaks are no longer the norm for busy office workers. The jambon-beurre and jambon-fromage sandwiches are Parisian standbys. The jambon-fromage – ham, emmental cheese, butter and baguette – remains Phely’s favourite.
Recreating the masterpiece is somewhat of a challenge in Toronto though. “French ham is close to black forest ham but not exactly like it,” Phely explains. “It’s a very pink ham, less cured than what you’ll find here, and I’ve only seen it at Cumbrae’s,” which has four locations around the city. Ask for the madrange, which is a delicate, well-marbled and meaty French ham. Phely also tries to snag a few other culinary delights from Cumbrae’s, like Brie with truffles and duck foie gras, whenever she has the chance.
“Before heading home for the day, Parisians will gather at a café with friends; we’ll grab a glass of wine, and a charcuterie and cheese platter, and nibble on it.” Phely and her husband have this aperitif on a nightly basis; cheese from the Junction Fromagerie, and charcuterie from Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Kensington Market.
“But the one thing that I really miss from France, is saucisson,” she admits. “I’ve tried hundreds of sausages that people have sworn was like saucisson, but it never is.” Phely is often trying some version of salami, but her taste buds are discerning: Saucisson has less fat, more meat content, and it isn’t spiced. Fortunately, Chabichou on Harbord St. carries French saucisson imported from Lyon.
“In the evening, we don’t eat too much carbs because we eat that in the morning and at lunch,” says Phely. For dinner, Parisians keep it light: a protein (either fish or meat) with vegetables and some grains.
If cooking up chicken with tarragon and leeks seems like too much of a hassle, dining out is your best bet. Auberge du Pommier is the only restaurant in Toronto that makes Phely and her husband feel like they’re back at home. “And Mateo keeps raving about Union on Ossington,” she adds. “It’s not defined as a French restaurant, but for us it’s very French-tasting.”
Dessert after dinner is another non-negotiable: “Supermarkets in France have aisles and aisles of good quality desserts,” explains Phely. “Most are variations of dairy products like chocolate mousse, or goat’s milk yogurt with chestnut at the bottom, and industrial versions of crème brulee or tiramisu, which are very popular. Those aisles simply don’t exist in Canadian supermarkets.”
So you’ll have to settle for the small French treats Toronto has perfected like macarons from Nadege and Butter Avenue, or éclairs from Nugateau, the city’s first, éclair-only patisserie. “It’s like a dream of an éclair; not too sweet, and the chocolate is almost bitter because the pastry chef uses single-origin chocolate,” says Phely, who deems Nugateau eclairs superior to those made in Paris. “It’s not what you’d get from a traditional French chocolate éclair, but I’m in love with them.”
Weekends, wine and whelk
Contrary to popular belief, Parisians don’t eat croissants every day. “On weekends or on Sundays, we get up early, go to the bakery and get fresh croissants and pastries,” Phely says. “You’d eat the croissants for breakfast and the pastries for dessert after lunch.” The Tempered Room’s patisserie in Parkdale houses everything from classic butter croissants and brioche, to flavoured mousses and pastries like castel au praliné.
Phely also has a few tips on how to pick a quality red wine from France. Head to the Vintages section of the LCBO and look for certain labels like “vignernons indépendents,” “mise en bouteille à la propriété,” or “argricuture-biologique,” which mean, “independent winemaker”, “bottled at the property” and “organic,” respectively. “Vignerons indépendents” and “mise en bouteille à la propriéte” labels ensure that the wine is handled by the same people from A to Z, while “agriculture-biologique” indicates that the winery abides by the strict standard of organic winemaking in France.
Finally, a Parisian delicacy not often heard of in North America is whelk (or bulot, in French). It’s a sea snail with a spiral-shaped shell, and an everyday find at any Parisian fish market. Restaurants in France often serve whelk fresh with a side of aioli or sautéed in garlic butter. Boralia restaurant, located on the Ossington strip, serves braised whelk in a kombu seaweed beurre blanc on a bed of burdock root and carrots.
This article was originally published April 12, 2016.