Ethnic Dining in Paris: A Treat for Both Palate and Wallet

July 9, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Posted in culinary/food & drink, Europe, France | 1 Comment
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by David Paul Appell

Owner Madame Vuoc Hong Mensoum in front of Le Sinago

Owner Madame Vuoc Hong Mensoum in front of Le Sinago

The many immigrants who’ve made Paris home over the years have left an exotic mark tasty enough to justify a visit by itself — especially if you’re curious about unusual cuisines that may be hard to find even in, say, New York, London, or Los Angeles. And oftentimes they’re some of the less pricey — even least pricey — dining options around. Here’s my top ten, discovered on my last visit:

Algeria: Le Taghit This romantic, candlelit spot in southern Paris run by Bashir and Malika Benamrane claims to be France’s only restaurant serving all three major types of semoules (couscous) — my favorite’s the snow-white Reg, with its delicate orange-blossom perfume, accompanied by the house tagine (chicken, lamb, merguez sausage, and mutton, with almonds and dried apricots). Order the pine-nut tea and fig liqueur, too. English-language menu, dinner only. 63 Rue de l’Ouest,14th arr.; Metro: Pernety;

Cambodia: Le Sinago At her wood-paneled, 10-table hole in the wall northeast of the Opéra, Madame Vuoc Hong Mensoum has been working delicate wonders for more than 30 years (one critic dubs it “Khmer cordon bleu”). My faves include her airy spring rolls; light-as-lace rice-and-wheat-flour crêpe stuffed with pork, bean sprouts, cucumbers, lettuce, and fresh mint leaves; and the lightly fried (yet not remotely greasy) patties of shrimp and pork, served with hoisin sauce. 17 Rue du Maubeuge, 9th arr.; Metro: Notre Dame de Lorette;

French Caribbean: La Créole At this plantation-style bit of Martinique, start with a punch of Martinique’s 50° Clément white rum with lime, passionfruit, pineapple, and more. A must-order is the ronde antillaise appetizers, with cod fritters, boudin (marinated blood sausage, admittedly not everybody’s cup of plasma), and a trio of minced-cod salads (my favorite’s the greenish, slightly piquant féroce, with avocado and manioc flour). Fish is big, but the chicken in lemon-herb broth and the pork medallions in curry sauce are also great. 122 Blvd. Montparnasse,14th arr.; Metro: Vavin;

À La Banane Ivoirienne's Kouassi N’Guessan

Ivory Coast: À La Banane Ivoirienne On a side street in the Bastille area, Kouassi N’Guessan runs a charming two-room eatery (I especially love the stone basement, with carved woodwork, colorful art/fabrics, and pics of his home village). Drinks are interesting, whether cocktails like “The Polygamist” and “The Detonator”; Mongozo banana beer (reminds me of a shandy); koutoukou, a hair-growing eau de vie distilled from palm; or fresh ginger juice (with a non-alcoholic kick of its own). Chicken, shrimp, and ilapia are menu staples; you’ll find them in peanut, tomato, and barley sauces. Dinner only. 10 Rue de la Forge Royale,11th arr.; Metro: Ledru-Rollin;

Laos: Lao Lane Xiang/Huong Lan In Paris’ Chinatown, these two dining rooms aren’t much to look at (white walls, bright lights, blond-wood shoji screens), but on weekend nights there’s a line out the door. Dishes favor coconut milk, red curry, and/or lemongrass; the pha khao huammit (mixed platter) is fascinating, with pork sausages in lemongrass sauce, marinated dried beef, lemon-cured ground beef with spices, a slightly peppery green-papaya salad, and chicken in coconut milk. Lacquered duck with red curry and basil is another specialty; desserts lean toward a raft of foods in coconut milk, from banana to tarot root. A slightly more upscale annex is across the street. No reservations. 105 Ave. d’Ivry, 13th arr.; Metro: Tolbiac;

Madagascar: Menabé-L’Île Rouge You might almost miss this hole in the wall.Very basic — a few travel and movie posters tacked up on beige walls, a handful of crafts displayed in a glass case — it makes for an exotic culinary trip to a crossroads of influences from black Africa, Arabian culture, and of course France. Bespectacled, mustachioed owner/chef/waiter Razafintsalama cooks up three daily-changing main dishes — I had a fine duck with onions and tomatoes in tamarind sauce, and the tsakitsaky plate was a treat, too, with its beef samosas, crab fritters, and steamed beef meatballs with scallions and flavorful spices. 33 Rue Damesme, 13th arr.; Metro: Tolbiac;

Seychelles: Au Coco de Mer A more upscale Indian-Ocean entry hailing from the 155-island archipelago not far from Madagascar, the Left Bank’s “Sea Coconut” (named after a tree that grows a nut that looks like a female booty) is a hop and a skip from both the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Panthéon. It’s a a low-key, very atmospheric spot with hanging palm fronds, modern art, a sand floor, and a menu of goodies like spicy red fish chowder, ginger tuna tartare, mango shrimp salad, swordfish, curried octopus, and fluffy mango mousse. 34 Blvd. Saint-Marcel, 5th arr.; Metro Saint-Marcel;

photos: David Paul Appell

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  1. I’ve been to most of these restaurants, and my fave by far is LE SINAGO, the Cambodian place. Yeah, it’s a little like Vietnamese, a little like Thai, a little like Chinese… but Cambodian cuisine is definitely its own thing and Mme. Vuoc does it spectacularly well!

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