Paris was looking stunning this week. Sparkling blue skies reflected in the gentle flow of the Seine, warm April sun freshened by a gentle breeze, the pale early leaf of the willow trees, the pink candles on the chestnuts just breaking into flower… A veritable feast for the eyes.
Not, however, a feast for the stomach, if you happen to be on any sort of freefrom diet. With a very few honourable exceptions, gluten-free, milk-free, nut-free are not concepts with which the average Parisian eatery has any truck – or in which, it would appear, it has any interest. ‘Non’ was the standard reply when asked if any of their dishes were gluten free or milk/dairy free, followed by a grudging offering of a salad.
‘Pah – the French are five years behind everyone else! Impossible!’ was the verdict of the only café that we found on the left bank which offered gluten-free bread and a largely freefrom menu.
This was Judy’s (Rue de Fleurus just behind the Jardin de Luxembourg) where we had a delicious breakfast of smoothies and gluten-free toast from Paris’ only dedicated gluten-free bakery, Chambellan. Had we stayed around long enough, could have had a yummy gluten-free focaccia sandwich and a choice of eight gluten, lactose and sugar free desserts!
It is not that you cannot eat freefrom. Many dishes on standard menus are naturally freefrom but they are very unlikely to have been prepared in a freefrom environment. Indeed, given that allergy awareness is a pretty foreign concept (no little notes at the bottom of menus to ‘please talk to our staff if you have allergies’ or hieroglyphics beside dishes suggesting that they are gf, df, veg, nut free – or free of anything at all!) you could reasonably assume that gluten or dairy contamination would be rife.
So for those on freefrom diets who wish to sample the delights of April in Paris, Air BnB is probably the answer – if, after the clamp down on ‘illegal’ lettings, you can find one. After some searching we did find some Genius bread on a top shelf in a Monoprix, plus some Kent & Fraser gf biscuits, a gf pasta and Sojade soya yogurts – and over in the Marais we found this delightful little shop, EatGlutenFree at 5 Rue Caron.
The only other success in freefrom eating terms was Laouz in the Rue St Honoré – a Moroccan patisserie with a good range of utterly delicious looking gluten and milk free sweeties….
Why was I in Paris? Well, thanks to the success of the new Freefrom Food Awards in Ireland and in Germany we are looking for possible partners for ventures elsewhere in Europe. Spain and Italy are both possibilities but my good friend the Iraqi artist, Khulood Da’mi had suggested a few days in Paris, so I thought I would start by checking out whether the tales of poor freefrom provision in France were really true. (And yes, it would appear that they are……)
So, while I dragged her around eateries and supermarkets, she trailed me around art galleries (I mean the small commercial ones, of which there are positively hundreds) shops – and on a visit to the Hammurabi stele in the Louvre.
If you have never heard of Hammurabi, nor had I, but he was a pretty impressive guy. He was King of Babylon around 1700 BC and here he is receiving the text of the laws (which are inscribed around the stele) from Shamash, the Sun God and god of justice. The back basalt stele is around 8 foot high and the tiny cuneiform inscriptions detail over 300, occasionally somewhat bizarre, but mainly very reasonable laws which governed the three classes of Babylonian society, property owners, freed men, and slaves:
#1: If a man accuses another man of murder but cannot bring any proof against him, the accuser shall be put to death.
#193: If an adopted child identifies its natural parents and rejects the parents who have brought it up in favour of its natural parents, it will lose an eye.
#196 & 200: If someone puts out the eye of a free man, he shall have his eye put out….. If someone breaks the tooth of a freeman he shall have his tooth broken.
Amongst many other bits of social organisation, the code details what a doctor should be paid for operating on a property owner, a freeman and a slave (10, 5 and 2 pieces of silver respectively), what wages should be paid to an ox driver or how to establish a builder’s liability if a house collapses. And this provision, whose number I do not know but did not want to leave out as it illustrates the basic fairness of the code :
# If any one owe a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fail, or the grain does not grow for lack of water; in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.
And, amazingly, given the size of the stele, there is still space for a prologue about the investiture of the king and a lyrical epilogue looking back on his work in establishing the code.
(If you want to know slightly more about Hammurabi or his laws try this article in Live Science.)
After many Louvre visits spent fighting my way through the crowds around the Mona Lisa, it was real pleasure to visit the King in his peaceful gallery.
As for shopping? Mainly we window shopped and when the displays are this appealing…..
…or this gloriously impractical……
…. or you find a plant market tucked just behind Notre Dame…..
….who would want to do anything else?