Where to Find Peanut Butter and 14 Other American Condiments in Paris

After a difficult day, you need comfort. After a day where you’ve confused Rue Montmartre with Boulevard Montmartre, received the wrong order for lunch because of a mispronounced vowel, and had that typical grey af Parisian day, the only cure, I think, is like Dorothy once said, home. Home is true comfort.

I’ve written before that ‘Living Abroad’ and ‘Homesickness’ are topics I’d like to address sans alcohol, because ego aside, drinking isn’t the antidote to feeling down. Food, however, is another story.

In France, it’s crazy hard to find a lot of the essential products for American snacks. But with luck, it’s possible. My aim with this post is to help any American and really anyone who’s searching for an ingredient in Paris.

Ps. I’d like this to be an open list, so if you have things you’d like me to add, pls comment below!

The Essentials

Cream Cheese —> St. Moret

Supermarkets (Monop’, Franprix, Carrefour City)

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In New York, I had the weekend routine of eating an everything bagel with cream cheese, chili flakes, olive oil and a slice of tomato. Bagels aren’t exactly a French thing, but I thought Cream Cheese would still be great with a fresh, piping hot sesame baguette. France slapped me down, ‘stupid American.’ I couldn’t find cream cheese anywhere, so I thought I’d throw some chèvre on it.

Chèvre is unspreadable. It clumps together in globs of delicious cheese. Not ideal!

Months later, I was at a picnic and someone brought St. Moret and it was revelatory. Aka its France’s superior version of Philadelphia.

You can find it in most major stores in the cheese aisle.

Cheddar —> Mimolette

Supermarkets (Monop, Franprix, Carrefour City)

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This sneaky, sneaky cheese can be found dressed up with this fancy name in most major supermarkets. Mimolette is from the North of France, but tastes like it’s from Wisconsin.

Peanut Butter: Jif Style

Cometeshop or Citadium

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This is a purely American product, meaning there’s no chance you find it in French stores. That being said, if you’re craving some sugary ass PB for a decadent PBJ or waffles or banana pancakes, you’ll have to go to the specialty American dealers.

Peanut Butter: Trader Joe’s Style —Pureé de Cacahuètte

Naturalia

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For the most part, French people don’t like Peanut butter—but a flock of open-minded, granola mf’s have managed to push natural PB to stores like Naturalia and certain Bio sections.

Chilli Flakes — Flocons de Piment

Mark & Spencer

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Thank you, Mark and Spencer, the GB based supermarket for having an alternative selection of spices. Along with curry ingredients, naan, and crumpets, they have my favorite, and most OP spice—chili flakes.

This is the only surefire method, otherwise, select Italian trattoria’s carry them, and Chinese Markets carry whole dried pimentos.

On the Healthy Side

Kale

Biocoop, Bio C Bon (Rare)

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Known as Chou Vert Frisé, (Frizzy green cabbage) Kale is a tough find in Paris.  TJ’s had boatloads of Kale, but I guess they haven’t shipped to this side of the Atlantic.

I’ve found it at Bio C Bon, but only on rare occasion, and at Biocoop as well.

Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar –> Umberti

Bio C’ Bon

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Bio C’ Bon never fails, and although it costs LV prices, Apple Cider Vinegar is the truth.

Scallions

K-Mart or Traiteur Asiatique

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Normally you can find chives at the supermarket, but for stir-fries and omelets, there’s no replacing scallions. K-mart and other Asian markets are sure to have them.

Frozen Fruits for Smoothies

Picard

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Three words—Picard’s got em!

409 Spray—St. Marks

All Supermarkets

You’ve spilled coffee and need cleaning supplies.

Q: Which brand can you trust? 

A: St. Marks is that all-purpose cleaner with a hint of citrus that you’re looking for.

Deep Cuts

Bbq Sauce and Honey Mustard

MyLittleAmerican

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You’re only likely to find one of these bedrocks of American cuisine where you can find the other. My little American market and Cometeshop are your best bets.

Sriracha

Traiteur Asiatique

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Essential for my friends and I back home, but I understand, not everyone has warmed up to the Thai Chili sauce.  For this and the next one, search for Traiteur Asiatique or Traiteur Exotique and head to the nearest one.

Hoi Sin

Traiteur Asiatique

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This beautiful Vietnamese BBQ sauce can be found with the same method.

Rummo pasta

Monoprix

In terms of pasta, you can do plenty better in France, but if Rummo is your MO like me, Monoprix is the place. For some reason, Carrefour only carries Barilla.

With Love,

Alexander

The Blue Notes: Jacques Bonsergent

Scene.

Limpid water runs through, halving the quarter, with cafe’s, art galleries and bars on both banks. Bridges loop over Canal Saint Martin. Dangling limbs of deciduous trees and street art span down the length of the promenades. Narrow roads zigzag. Jagged corners cut from old stone buildings, and in between, long shadows, hidden passages that lead to dives, and small tables of Parisians with their feet out. 

This subway stop, named after an immortalized WW1 sergeant, leads to the best hood in Paris.

I live here, so, it’s 100% likely I’m biased.

Runners and Bicyclists cruise around the canal in the AM; hooded teenagers huddle and smoke weed at night. The area is serene, and well located with Gare De L’est to the north, Republique to the south and Belleville to the east.

Haunts.

A green swirled, pistachio and chocolate escargot is the notorious pastry from Du Pain et Des Idees. The Boulangerie is also notorious for its queues.

Liberté, a new school boulangerie has an all-white facade and interior embellished with ruby red framboise croissants. Not your thing? Try a Pasteis from DonAntonia, a sneaky Portuguese bakery just across the canal. Still not your thing, grab a vegan banana chocolate cookie from Ima.

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Surrounded by dangling plants, books and daylight, Radiodays, Ten Belles, and Caoa make a trifecta of cozy coffee shops to lounge, conduct meetings or to f*** up some baked goods.

At night, a myriad of restaurant lights could blind you of the modest frontage of one of the cities best cocktail dens, Gravity Bar. The iconic Chez Prune with it’s UNESCO level terrace is harder to miss.

Across the canal, tucked between two buildings is a pathway to Comptoir General, an African nightclub fixed with palm trees and frighteningly strong Ti-Punches. On a small street near the canal, Brigitte serves up great classic cocktails and ambiance. L’Apostrophe is a dim-lit dive with live Jazz every Saturday and cheap glasses of red. If you can wait until morning, Restaurant Nola has a boozy Jazz brunch and Jambalaya.

Rue des Viniagres, Rue Lancry, Rue Lucien Sampaix and the riverwalks create a web of nightlife and neighborhood gems. Next to the hospital, Rue Marie et Louise and Rue Bichat also hold some surprising gastronomic dives. It’s also the location of the painful, and terrible night of November 13th, 2015.

Several of the bars are still open, so you can grab a pint and feel the solidarity.

History.

The history of the canals is well-documented by persons far more qualified than me, so, I’ll keep my synopsis brief.

The canal’s creation dates back to Napoleonic times. The emperor hollowed the canals to give Paris access to fresh water from the River Ourc. They transformed into a pivotal shipment route for agriculture, as the surrounding area at that time were pastures of farmland. The city spread, and infrastructure plucked and replaced pastoral life. The canals lost relevance.

In the 60’s, the decaying waterways were to be paved over by cement. Luckily, in an act of philosophical foresight, France overturned, and the canals remained. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s gentrification occurred around the canals, as the area had low rent and was close in proximity to the centric hub, Place Republique. 

The 10th Arrondissement is too good. The two tastes of a Parisian and a New Yorker went on a Tinder date and had a baby.

Seriously, I’ve never felt at home in Paris, but here, within a month, I feel an urge to try and make it home again.

A neighborhood can be many things; Chelsea and Soho had expensive, shiny objects that were fun to look at, but ultimately hollow; Harlem and Saint Germain Des Pres have an amazing legacy, both vastly different in content and culture; but it’s rare and personal, I believe, for a neighborhood to hold that power, which makes you not want to be anywhere else.

 

With Love,

Alexander

@african.bowtie

The Blue Notes: Denfert Rochereau

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Lines seem to be a theme in Denfert Rochereau.

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You ascend the staircase, and just across the street is a line for the Catacombs. On the West side is a line for the ORLY Bus. To the Southwest, I’ve seen Cafe Oz have lines that intersect the line for the ORLY Bus. It’s almost a joke, except, I have a hunch that it literally is a joke. Look. There. A Parisienne sitting with a Spritz, watching you suffer. They’re laughing. They’re toasting to you.

Play it cool.

Once I saw a guy ask acceuil (information), ‘where’s the bus driver?’ and put his face towards the sky in agony when the answer was ‘he’s taking a coffee.’

Again, play. it. cool.

Denfert, once you step out of the line, is a fantastic little place. It’s great for a day or a night. It’s great for meeting friends, walking around, exploration and drinks.

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Rue Daguerre, just a block away, is a major walking street in Denfert Rochereau that is home to bars, cafés, and eateries. There are also boutiques, a fish market, a good bowl of pho and a wonderful stall for farm-to-table produce.

I’ll write another article on it, but I recommend walking through and seeing what attracts you. (Coming soon)

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A sprawling playground for adults called Les Grands Voisins is down Avenue Denfert Rochereau. It’s a massive beer garden with live music, pop-up shops and a few food vendors inside an abandoned hospital.

At night, big band jazz jams for an exuberant crowd of at least 100 people. During the day board-game developers give tutorials for their newest releases. Since moving from Brooklyn, this is one of the few places that have impressed me with its uniqueness and creativity.

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The history of the neighborhood is well documented and even referenced in Les Miserables, unique periods of style marks the architecture.

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There’s also a hodgepodge of cool street art. While not enough to stop and admire, it puts a nice accent on the neighborhood.

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Denfert Rochereau is my favorite hub in South Paris, because of its variety of bars, restaurants, and shops. It is well worth a visit, for reasons other than standing in line.

With Love,

Alex

Read Also:

The Weekend Guide to Bruges: The Do’s & Don’ts in a Tourist Town

In Brugge we trust.

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Some days you feel down, and you don’t know why. On other days, you know the exact causes.

I’ve been rejected from French courses for no apparent reason, ghosted on apartment tours, and my book is now out of my hands, so, to escape this pestilential air, I decide to hit the road with a backpack and an old mate.

We rent a car for the 3.5-hour shuttle north on Highway 1 and watch white clouds disperse over the rolling, gold countryside of France. To Bruges!

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Brugge: Of course, I’d heard of it from the Colin Farell film. I know that they specialize in beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries (a fu**in phenomenal combo) and that the town has the sleepy, enchanted atmosphere of a fairytale village.

fullsizeoutput_ca4In reality, Brugge is calm. It has a walkable, medieval city center, with a sprawling suburb just across each of its 21 bridges. Cobblestone roads wind through every sector of the city, and they become lamplit after twilight. Lush parks, waterways, and overhanging greenery dots every vista. Bike lanes are well marked, and the frontage of brick apartments look like a freshly swept staircase. The air is pure, and the tourists run wild!

Don’t #1: Continually reference the film ‘In Bruges’

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Source: IMDB

It’s a great film. It really is. But there comes a point in a person’s first few hours actually in Bruges, where you realize that everyone and their cousin is also referencing the movie. ‘In Bruges’ isn’t as ‘indie’ or rare as you thought, and it turns out that between that film and the unfortunate nickname ‘Venice of the North,’ poor Bruggians have a lot to live up to.

Do #1: Book a hotel over Airbnb or Hostel

At 8pm, we check into Monsieur Maurice after a short walk from a parking lot (Bevrijdingslaan), gratis, a brilliant recommendation from our hotel.

A quaint entryway with black marble and violet tones leads us to the concierge. She hands us a key and a map. My friend and I split a small, yet immaculate room with a private bathroom–45€ a night. Breakfast and Wifi are included.

My friend wrote this of his hostel ‘it felt like a majority of the people partying (at the hostel), worked there as well. So, they were those wannabe bohemians who think it’s dope that they’re living in Brugge for 2 months and bartending at a hostel.’ 

Spot on.

Inexpensive, boutique hotels are the name of the game in Brugge making it a perfect place for a cozy, stressfree stay.

Don’t #2: Fall for tourist traps

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The concierge hands me a list of recommendations and explains in French. I’m not French, however, I’m proud that I know enough to fake it. After double checking on TripAdvisor, we try one. It’s a traditionally Flemish restaurant called, the Flemish pot, or De Vlaamsche Pot.

Our dish, their traditional stew, is a beef brisket that I imagine had been tumbling in a hotpot of bbq-ketchupy sauce for a day and a half…served over frites. It’s goopy, heavy, and far too sweet.

Brugge, living up to it’s ‘Venice of the North’ label, grants you the experience of an antique store, where you’re perpetually sorting through what is genuine and what is kitsch.

A few signs of Tourist Traps:

-Free Wifi Sticker

-English Menus

-‘Traditional’ Beer Samplers

Do #2: Wake up early (745am-815am)

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Breakfast at our hotel opens at 8am. We’re sure to be there not 5 minutes later.

An early start follows the locals’ schedule. You can feel the warmth of bakeries and local businesses as you beat out the hellish lines that form a few hours later. We arrive at the Belfry with only a handful of people in front of us, which, wins us the day.

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Upon exiting the belfry, we dart past the droves to the boat tour and then see Michelangelo’s Madonna. Having accomplished those three in-town musts, we decide to rent bikes and cross the bridge.

Do #3: Rent bikes

A simple tip; Brugge has well-marked bike lanes and bikes open your horizon.

Don’t #3: Ride in the middle of the road

Motor Bikes thunder past in these bike lanes, so please, be safe.

Do #4: Eat at a Modern Brugge Bistro

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Two Words: Tête Pressée. In a neighborhood far, far away from the tourist center lies this lunch-only, peach of a bistro.

For an entree we ordered the house special, a crispy tartine covered in clumps of foie gras, topped with pickled radish shavings;  filets of skate coated in parsley and a citric oil. For our main course, we were served a Belgian risotto, that surprisingly resembled the flavor profiles of Gumbo, tossed with sausage, shrimp and clams.

Don’t #4:  Think that you need to eat Frites more than once

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Source: NYTimes

I word it this way because you’re old enough to make your own decisions. Just warning you, it’s not any different the second time around.

We went to Chez Vincent, a fast-food joint written up in the NYTimes for their superior frites, and I was heavily disappointed. Unsalted and needs sauce!

Do #5: Have one or two beers and then taste everyone else’s

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Pubs in Brugge look like a distant relative of British or Irish bars with swinging logos of the preferred beverage out front, and a wooden interior with stools, small tables, and dim lit backrooms. Along with the ridiculous amount of Belgian beers, each has a distinct tulip, flute, or mug, to enhance the aeration.

I assumed the pubs would be touristy. But I assumed wrong. They had an organic mix of locals sprinkled with a few Anglosaxons. The three I tried were:

t’ Bruges Beer

A lively, old-fashioned pub with locals and tourists alike. Deep beer list and a cheap 50cl.

t’ Poatersgat

Divey as Brugge gets, an underground cellar with a rowdy ambiance. Best with a large group of chums.

Cafe Rose Red

Quiet, kitschy festoons of roses, for couples who care for great beer at a premium price.

Don’t #5: Have 5 or 6 beers yourself without assessing first

There are limits to trying things out. Remember, Belgian beers are around 8%-11% Abv, so be prudent when drinking. My friends and I went a little overboard, and the legendary Trappist ales gave me a legendary Trappist hangover.


Hope you enjoyed this guide, I’ll leave some extra links for you at the bottom.

A serene town like Bruges cures the big city woes.

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With Love,

Alexander

ig: @african.bowtie

 

Restaurants:

Tête Pressée

#LocalFare #Bistro #OneOfAKind

Blackbird

#Brunch #VegetarianOptions

Lieven

#Bistro #LocalFare #FreshIngredients

Amuní

#Pizza #SlowFood

Hotels:

Monsieur Ernest

Monsieur Maurice

The Weekend Guide to Palermo: Where to Wander, Drink, and Dine

This is a tale of two cities, one in the light and one at dark. The Capital of Sicily strikes as a larger, more complex metropolis than what it embodies, an ancient city that has seen the perils and progress of society.

Graffiti plastered over walls like propaganda. Twisting, trash-filled backstreets that open onto crowded piazzas. Colorful markets with buzzing flies and the aroma of fried Arancini and thick cuts of Pizza. Palermo is a riot. Palermo is a clash, one side spilling onto the other. A mix between Rome, Los Angeles, and Casablanca, the city is even more. Palermo is a furious medley of class, culture, food and aesthetic.

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A cheap flight from Paris, my girlfriend and I arrive after two hours of smooth travel over an azure Mediterranean.  The Airport, small and clean, is located about 45 minutes from the city center of Palermo and gives you three options on how to get there:

  1. Rent a car
  2. Take a Bus (Prestia e Comande)
  3. Share a Taxi

The air is thick, yet arid. After a moment of confusion, we stumble onto the shared taxi line where a man is yelling at the taxi driver to let him board an already full van.  The driver departs without him. He yells something and slaps the trunk in frustration.

Here we have a big city Sicilian. A severe red tan and curly black hair, this portly man anxiously watches incoming traffic.

The next taxi arrives 10 minutes later. The man motions to the driver that my gf and I are with him in a friendly and ‘Tutto benne’ manner. We nod our appreciation and hop on board. The three of us are in the back and two others plop into the van. He yells over them to tell the driver to go. He’s not pushy or angry but welcoming. In fact, he has a huge smile and is almost joking as he directs the driver to get on the highway.

He works in Paris, but his French is questionable at best, and he speaks zero English.

The green, palm-tree covered countryside sweeps passed us, he points at a few landmarks and vigourously yells when something is lost in translation. Mafia! Mountain! Motorcycles! Through the windows, we watch, as the van is engulfed by urban life. Apartment buildings stretch down boulevards like sunny CA, white fountains, and two large Teatros.  The man tells us of a bar called Champagneria and bids us a farewell and safe journey.

The First Night: Bisso Bistrot & Bonter

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That evening, after a small introduction, our host directs us to Bisso Bistrot, a jazzy, contemporary take on Sicilian food.

Sicily is famous for its street food, which while tasty, is a reduction of its complexity. The cuisine departs from traditional Italian food in several ways: its Arab influence (Eggplant, Saffron, Mint, Rice, Apricots, etc.), and the bounty of Seafood (Cuttlefish, Tuna, Mussels, Squid, even Sea Snails). I once saw Cous Cous with Fish!

Bisso Bistrot is packed, full of Palermo Street Style (something I will talk about later). We take a glass of wine and drink outside.

Let go of the plane flight, I think. I take another glass of wine–it’s only 2 Euros. 

We set it off by ordering two starters, and a main dish. A Calamari Milanese dressed in parsley, capers, and caciocavallo; Roasted Octopus Salad with greens tossed in oil,  and lemon; and a Pici (Pasta) with Mint, Aubergine, Tuna, and Saffron. It was world class. It was 7 Euros. I am in f***in heaven.

Elegant but stripped down, the industrial walls, and minimal furniture filled with well-dressed urbanites yammering about philosophy over wine, and I enjoyed every second.

Bonter

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For some reason, I’d forgotten the Italians do cocktails so well. To me, the Negroni is arguably the greatest drink of all time.

Bonter Bar, however, showed me a thing or two about a good G&T.  If you know me, you know my thoughts on the Gin-Tonic; it’s a basic-ass drink somehow elevated to a cult-like Martini status.

The bartender prefaced this Gin-Tonic with an introduction to their ‘special’ tonic water…oooooohh. Then, he brought over two dark, mysterious bottles, the Gin de Professor-Madame et Monsieur (Italian Gin!!!!). He asked, ‘do you prefer a subtle gin or an aromatic gin?’ Pause. OK, at this point, I’m starting to buy the hype. Unpause. Then, the guy was like, ‘ here’s this custom made platter thingy that’s only for this drink. Oh yeah, and don’t forget a slice of cucumber and juniper berries. JUNIPER BERRIES?!?

The nerve!! I was rattled by this titan of a drink that rested on the pine before me. I sniffed it like I worked for Le Guide Michelin. I paused. And finally, I took a sip.

Yeah, it exceptional, smoky, yet refreshing. I recommend the bar, however, for the ambiance. No one needs all of those dramatics! In the background, they had a folk band playing with a great harmonica soloist.  The crowd was lit. The bartender seemed offended when I asked if any of the owners had been to East Nashville. Right, people don’t like Americans because of him.

Visual Interlude

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The Second Night – 30 Mazzini Taverna & Frida

After sightseeing, we return to our flat. I read online about this place that serves really, really good pizza. That sounds like something I’m interested in, I thought. I ask my girlfriend and we agree, it’s something that we’re really, really interested in. As we leave the Airbnb, I see my host, and we start talking. I ask her about Champagneria, as I’d heard it was good from this cool ass guy in our shared taxi.

She says, ‘no, if you want a really good cocktail, you must go here–30 Mazzini.’ No need for arguing, so I say ‘Tutto Benne.’ She insists on making reservations for us, and she adds that she’s friends with the owner.

So, we head out. Down the boulevard, we pass the two Teatros and enter a…posh neighborhood.

30 Mazzini Taverna

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The bar is elegant and has that style composed mostly of dark tones, except for ridiculous neon lights behind the bar. We see the hostess and she directs us to a table out front.

Sitting outside feels bizarre. It is a world apart in only a few avenues of difference. The grit and raw beauty that up to this point had defined my time in Palermo have been manipulated into something resembling a ‘Europe proper.’

It’s not a bad thing. There is still beauty, but it is of a different, manicured kind.

I enjoy a Gin Fizz (pictured) and later, I take a Negroni.

Out of a car pops two men holding glow in the dark trinkets. They have dark, brown skin, and look as if they come from a foreign land. They pass and plead that we purchase the trinkets. I don’t carry cash, so I apologize and we let them on their way.

At a table next to us, a man has purchased one for his baby, who is there in the stroller at the moment. We gaze over. The man turns, makes eye contact with my girlfriend, and stands. He is a rather dapper middle-aged man, he paces over to our table and introduces himself in a broken language. I am the owner of this bar, he manages to say. A warmth flows from his smile as we tell him who our host is, and once again, we are back in Sicily.

Frida

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After our drinks, we are hungry, so we decide to try for Frida, even though it is past 10pm. No matter for Italy. When we arrive, there’s a 20-minute wait. The place is full and we stand about, waiting for our table.

The street style in Palermo is distinct, and Frida (named after Frida Kahlo) is a place for the stylish. Striped slacks with tucked, over-sized dress shirts, suspenders pulled up, and earrings curve through like moons. Tans, breezy cloth and oversized skirts, high heels and jewelry, it’s a cross between luxury and vintage, between beach and city.

When we’re seated, I order the spectacle above. A four cheese pizza with soppressata and mozzarella tucked into the crust. It’s the original stuffed crust. And it might be bold to say, but this pizza rivals the best in New York.


The Short List

  1. Bisso Bistrot – Via Maqueda, 172a, 90133 Palermo
  2. Bonter – Via Orologio, 43, 90133 Palermo
  3. Mazzini 30 –  Via Mazzini 30, 90139 Palermo
  4. Frida Pizzeria – Piazza Sant’Onofrio, 37/38, 90134 Palermo

Bise,

Alexander

 

I hope that you enjoyed my post, if so, please give me a follow on:

IG: @african.bowtie

Mapstr: @african.bowtie

 

 

The Blue Notes: Alésia

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Alésia–a Metro stop with a name like a fairytale or a Disney movie, and while that comparison may hype it up WAY too much, it is a cute pocket with enchanting backstreets and a surprising amount of life during the day and nighttime. There are brasseries to brunch, eat oysters, and smoke–all the essentials of quotidian Parisienne lifestyle.

The mini-streets and mysterious doors of Alesia.

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Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montrouge, like so many other Catholic churches in Paris, rises out of the middle with authority, and an eerily inescapable shadow. This means: Jesus is watching you. Jesus sees you entering that KFC over there.

Just because you went to the gym, does not mean that you deserve to eat a crispy chicken sandwich! – Judgemental French Jesus

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Alesia may not be on the mustache-trimmer of cool, but it is a nice hub that, if you are spending a summer or a semester in Paris, you should visit at least once. Pourquoi pas?

It’s perfect for a weekday drink, in a typically Parisienne, uncrowded, untouristy hub.  As you walk North, retailers pop up–Zara, Muji, Lush–and this saves a trek across the city.

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While the vibe may not be snoot-level 100 like the 15th or 16th arr., it is an uncompromising mix of casual and typical Paris.

Below, I’ll attach some bars if you’re feeling up for a normal night, accentuated by a drink in the sun.

 

Bise,

Alexander

 

Follow me:

Insta: @african.bowtie