I love heading to the 2nd Arrondissement in Paris when I’m feeling like I’ve lost my compass, and maybe even forgotten why I fell in love with this city. Less gentrified than many of the central Paris neighborhoods, this area is full of banks and businesses, where Parisians live their daily lives somewhat oblivious to tripism and travelers. Which means the international chains have not yet moved in and much of the commerce is locally owned and operated, even if the owner is Japanese or Breton.
Part of what locals refer to as the “Japanese Ghetto,” this is the place to go for fantastic noodles, like the udon at Kunitoraya, and for Asian groceries. While in the neighborhood, make a point of stopping by three-star chef Olivier Roellinger’s spice shop, l’Entrepôt de Paris, for some culinary inspiration and a whiff of the exotic. Parisians will drive three hours just to dine at his table in Cancale, so it is a thrill to have his knowledge in town. There are also a fair number of art galleries where you’re likely to uncover a sketch by a well-known 19th-century artist, or a large painting coming from the school of another period. I found some fantastic vases from the Bon Marché, circa 1920, at Galerie Elseneur.
Les passages are covered streets that were built in the 1800s so that society women could stroll in public without having to worry about the rain, essentially creating the world’s first shopping malls. There were once 150 passages in Paris, but only 25 remain open to the public, with 12 of them in the 2nd Arrondissement. As I walk down the glass-roofed passages today, peeking into vintage boutiques and high-end shops, the filtered light seems to stop time, and I can imagine myself in a gown that gently sweeps across the mosaic tile floors.
From the passages des Panoramas (with its stamp collector shops, vintage-postcard stores and shops such as Tombées du Camion*, which translates as “fallen from a truck” and sells discarded bits and bobs) to the très chic Galerie Vivienne (with Jean Paul Gaultier’s signature shop and Odette et Zoe, a shop where Parisiennes go for affordable, personalized handbags), exploring the historic passages is a great rainy-day activity even today. Along with the eclectic shopping, there are some extraordinary restaurants, like Passage 53, Racines and A Priori Thé.
When I am in the mood to bake, I head out to stock up at G. Detou, a dry-goods store for professional pastry chefs that is open to the public. My teens like to accompany me on these outings to explore the übercool, affordable clothing shops in the area. Places like WESC and Kiliwatch. From there we continue shopping up the pedestrian, Carrara-marble paved rue Montorgueil. This commercial street is where the folks in the neighborhood come to fill their cupboards, with butchers, fruit stands and cheesemongers vying for sidewalk space. There is an old-fashioned hardware store where I can pick up traditional French basics, like an Opinel knife or a shopping cart, and the oldest pâtisserie in Paris, Stohrer, which has been tempting Parisians with sugar-spun treats since 1730. I have a hard time resisting the house specialty, a baba au rhum with fresh fruit.
If it’s reasonably late enough, I like to continue all the way up to the rue du Nil, where I can continue shopping like a professional chef at Terroirs d’Avenir, which supplies some of the hottest restaurants in Paris and has recently opened a butcher shop, fishmonger and produce stand to serve the public. I can get heirloom vegetables, learn the name of the steer that is now my steak and find out which fisherman caught my sea bass. After all this cooking prep, I am ready for a drink, which is perfect, as the bustling and very popular wine bar Frenchie is just one door down. And if I’m lucky, they’ll have a table free, so I don’t have to cook at all!
L’Entrepôt de Paris
Tombées du Camion
44–47, passage des Panoramas, in the 2nd Arrondissement. 01 42 33 22 19.
Jean Paul Gaultier
Odette et Zoe
8, passage des Panoramas, in the 2nd Arrondissement. 01 40 13 06 41.
A Priori Thé
7, rue de Nil, in the 2nd Arrondissement. 01 45 08 48 80.
Editor’s note: After triping the 2nd Arrondissement, download all our right bank trips. When you buy all eight, you’ll receive a significant discount!