La Grande épicerie

Text by Richard Price for Vingtmagazine

The man in the jaunty suede jacket and the casually woven scarf paused at the meat section of the grocery store and gazed down at the choices.  He clutched his throat whilst he gazed at the selections.  Without pause, he picked up a packet of Bellota Bellota ham from Spain – by far, the finest and most expensive ham in the world.   And just as swiftly, he put it back, extending his fingers and examining them, as if he had touched something horrid.

Thirty Euros?  For a few chunks of ham?  That seems a bit high.  The man in the jaunty suede jacket and the casually woven scarf stroked his chin and pondered the situation.  There are, after all, starving people in Africa.  How can one justify a 30-Euro bite of ham?  And without a flinch, the packet of 30-Euro ham went into the grocery cart, a la Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits of her 1970?s TV show.  A rolling of the eyes.  The onward movement of the shopping cart.

The man in the jaunty suede jacket and the casually woven scarf was me, and I had just arrived at La Grande Epicerie de Paris ? the gourmet food hall adjacent to the Bon Marché department store in the 7th, (metro Sevres-Babylone).

If you are a true food-lover, upon entering la Grande Epicerie de Paris, it feels as if your head might explode at any moment.  They have so much and it is all so good.  It really is the best food in the world and it?s right at your fingertips.  All the best meats and cheeses, of course.  This is France.  Of course, they have wonderful meat and cheese.  But their butter department is bigger than my first apartment in Paris.  In particular, they stock plenty of Bordier butter from Normandy, which is considered to be the finest butter in the world.  My fridge is always well-stocked with it.

I love tarama (a sort of creamy fish paste that is spread on bread or crackers), and at la Grand Epicerie, they must have at least two dozen varieties.  The foie gras ?island? is a highlight, and one can select a modest portion of terrine de foie gras or blow the twins? college fund on a huge lobe of entier de foie gras.  Likewise, the truffle department.  You don?t want to shop here when you?re hungry!  In the prepared foods department, they have everything from (very good) Chinese to Indian curries to bratwursts and anything else you can imagine.

In addition to the foie gras, fleur de sel, tarama, Camembert cheese, Bordier butter, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and the like, I bought three gorgeous lamb chops at the butcher department.  (The butcher deftly and swiftly removed the fat and hacked off the extra bone.)  And they cost less than 6 Euros (about $8).  Meat is a bargain in France.  Those lamb chops in the U.S. would have cost at least $15 in a grocery store and $35 at a decent restaurant.  Meat, cheese, wine and dog food are all bargains in France.  (They do love their dogs here.  Hence, the price of dog food is absurdly low compared to the U.S.)
I brought those lamb chops home and marinated them in mustard, olive oil and a pinch of ground herbs de Provence.  Then, I sautéed them in a hot skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil for about a minute and a half per side to render them medium rare.  Served with some gooey mashed potatoes the consistency of Elmer?s glue and a salad of mesclun, lardons (bacon ?matchsticks?), radishes & cherry tomatoes in a homemade vinaigrette, well, it was a splendid meal that cost a fraction of what I?d have spent in a restaurant.  Economizing in France can be fun and delicious.

La Grande Epicerie de Paris,38, rue de Sevres,75007 Paris, M°Sevres-Babylone

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