By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
Recent events in the Maghreb may have cut your trip to Egypt or Tunisia short, but fret not. Here in Paris a flourishing North African population shares its culture in plenty of delicious and delightful ways.
North African nations of the once-mighty French empire, including present-day Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, still maintain important links with France, especially concerning immigration and cultural exchange. Today these communities are an integral part of the Parisian scene. Unfortunately, however, it’s cultural tensions with these groups that receive most of the media attention.
Food for thought
For better or worse, cultures often become defined by their food, and the Maghreb countries are no exception. While there could be a magic carpet hidden amongst the fabric stores of the Barbès neighborhood, let’s focus on the couscous, mint tea, and orange blossom pastries that await Paris-bound travelers.
Here’s my Cheapo-friendly tour of where to experience the tastes of North Africa in Paris:
Mosquée de Paris
2 bis, Place du Puits de l’Ermite, 75005
For the best mint tea in Paris, head to the Mosquée de Paris in the Latin Quarter. The building was inaugurated in 1926 and is the third-largest mosque in Europe. While most non-Muslims cannot enter the building freely, the café connected to the religious monument offers a taste of the Maghreb.
Mint tea (€2) flows plentifully while an assortment of North African pastries awaits you. Sitting in the blue-and-white tiled courtyard, watching the sparrows flit among the foliage, you forget that you’re in the heart of Paris, or even in Europe for that matter.
Art and cultural exhibits
Institut du Monde Arabe
1, rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard 75005
To experience some more culture, head to the Institut du Monde Arabe, which since 1987 has been hosting art, photography and cultural exhibits stemming from Arab nations. For just €6 (€4, reduced), the exhibits are yours to roam. If money is an issue, the rooftop terrace and café offers sublime views of the city and the Seine–and access via the elevator is absolutely free.
Les 4 Frères
7, Boulevard de la Villette 75010
When hunger hits, a steaming plate of fluffy couscous and stewed vegetables is a sure-fire cure. Restaurants all over the city propose the North African specialty. My favorite is Les 4 Frères, located just up the street from the Belleville Metro station. The restaurant offers some of the cheapest and tastiest traditional Algerian fare in the city. A plate of couscous with either chicken, beef, or lamb is only €7.20–a small price to pay for a veritable feast. Don’t hesitate to try a pastry or two – they’ll bring the platter to the table and let you decide.
North African pastries
Bague de Kenza
If we’re going to talk pastries, there is definitely a one-stop must-see for any serious sweet tooth. The Bague de Kenza chain offers some of the best Algerian pastries in the city. Feast on flaky pastries rife with almonds, orange blossom, honey and pistachio. There are six locations in Paris, so there’s no reason to miss out on one of their fig-glazed or honey-enrobed delights.
Boulevard de la Chapelle
Open: Wednesday and Saturday
Since picnic season is upon us, a trip to an outdoor market is always helpful when shopping for affordable fruits and veggies. One of the most exotic (and least expensive) is the Barbès market situated just south of the Montmartre district and open every Wednesday and Saturday. As with most Parisian markets, after noon the vendors start unloading their goods at much lower prices, often selling baskets of produce for just a euro or two.
The crushing crowds along the Boulevard de la Chapelle will transport you out of Paris and into a Moroccon souq, with shouting vendors hawking their produce to a diverse crowd of North African Parisians. Be warned, it’s not for the agoraphobic.
Even if you’re still planning that North African adventure, let us know where in Paris you find your inspiration. Where is the best place to find tastes from across the Mediterranean? Share your advice in the comments section.