Amid the pressures of rapidly encroaching gentrification, fat, sugar and hot dough unite people for breakfast in this diverse and bustling neighborhood
In the vibrant quarter of Belleville
On our last trip to Paris, we booked a lovely one-bedroom flat at the very edge of Belleville. The quarter is currently home to a very vibrant and multicultural neighbourhood in the east of Paris. Around the Metro station Belleville, you will find Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, and Cambodian shops and restaurants nestled among West African and Maghrebin shops and bars frequented by Paris’ youth.
At the same time, Belleville, just like Montmartre, has a long standing reputation for being one of Paris’s more adventurous neighborhoods. Edith Piaf famously crooned at the cabaret ‘Aux Folies’, now a much frequented bar. Django Reinhardt titled one of his famous medleys after the neighborhood .
Yet, these days, Belleville, like many of the most vibrant areas in Europe’s capitals, also seems to be caught in a rapidly advancing wave of gentrification. Already, the restaurants close to the Canal de St. Martin are cooking to the taste buds of the bourgeois youth of Paris and not for the community in Belleville.
Hunting for breakfast
One morning in Paris, we were hunting for breakfast around the Rue de Belleville, when we saw a busy line of people entering and exiting from a nondescript looking bakery entrance. The people walking out had smiles on their faces and hubcap sized wheels of dough in their hands.
They were eating beignets – not the small fist sized version but the ones you may find in Algeria or Tunisia, so called Sfenj. With empty stomachs and a thirst for coffee, we joined the queue inside.
Freshly fried beignets, hot to the touch
Freshly fried in the back of the bakery, the beignets come plain or drizzled with honey or topped with a egg. We ordered a plain one and two coffees, black and heavily condensed. The shop owner soon brought us our order, which was too hot to touch, yet hard to resist in its greasy goodness.
Having ordered the plain version, I grabbed something that looked like a sugar dispenser and poured some over only to discover that it was salt – oh well.
Plain, with honey or an egg
The plain beignet was okay. It is fried dough. Hot and comforting. But at the same time it was greasy and since it was the plain version of the beignet, there was nothing to overcome the taste of hot fat.
In hindsight, we would probably have done well to order the one with honey or the one with egg, which would have complemented the fried dough well.
Strong and black, the coffee was quite the energizer for the morning. It became palatable once mixed with a cube of sugar. One cup was definitely enough to carry us throughout the morning and well into the afternoon.
Plenty of other pastries, cakes, and sweets are also on offer. Unfortunately we did not try them, but they all looked delicious. There were pastries dipped in honey, with poppyseed filling, pistachios, and sesame seeds sprinkled over them. Take your pick from the display window.
What we loved most about the bakery was that it seemingly brought Belleville together. There were people from the synagogue, an elderly French pair, and in general people from all communities in the neighborhood. All these confluences came happily together to enjoy pieces of fried dough and coffee.
About the bakery
Just walk in and order your preferred version of beignet with coffee.