Is there a better Parisian experience than walking into a neighborhood bakery, the air so full of sweet, yeasty promise that you salivate in anticipation? Perhaps the scent is bested only by the first bite into a buttery croissant, the crispy outer layer crackling into shards as you sink your teeth into the soft, pliable middle. However, there is a more important question for travelers whose top Paris experiences are tied to dining: how to keep feasting even after the cabin door closes on the flight home.
I know your struggle — it’s mine too. There’s not enough time to savor all the crusty breads, rich pâtés, gooey cheeses and decadent desserts before your holiday time runs out and the office cubicle is once again your steady lunch spot. The solution is a bag full of tasty treats. There are plenty of French food souvenirs that are easy to transport and have a shelf life sufficient to withstand the journey home. That is as long as you don’t devour them all at 40,000 feet.
Have a hankering for those hearty crepes, filled with egg, meats, and vegetables you grabbed from a food stand in Paris? Take home the secret ingredient — buckwheat flour. This whole grain, nutty flour is nothing like wheat (white or whole wheat). Its intense, slightly bitter flavor holds up to the pairings in savory crepes, and the grain’s consistency makes for a sturdier crepe, nothing like those limp and eggy (yet rich and addictive) crepes slathered in Nutella.
There are too many outstanding chocolatiers in Paris to parse out individually, but the best tip I ever received from a food guide was to seek out the freshest chocolates. How? Stay away from prepackaged boxes, whether in high-end shops or at the airport. Instead seek out a location where the turnover is high, ensuring the freshest chocolates. For flavors, be sure to try the pralines, nut-based butters, exotic spice varieties, and don’t forget the silky sea salt caramels, too.
Have you ever really tasted a macaron? Not the grocery store variety, but those of master pastry chefs whose confections burst with more flavor than seemingly possible from the bite size portion. The truly good ones worth hunting out in Paris are like little treasures. The almond flour, meringue style cookie should consist of a thin crisp layer, giving way to a soft and chewy bite and the filling should be a smooth delivery vehicle for the intense taste without being overly sweet. Have the bakery pack them in sturdy boxes to protect the fragile cookies in transit. They will last 2-3 days if refrigerated, but I always devour mine within the first 24 hours.
Perhaps you discovered the tea room of the Grande Mosquée de Paris and want to recreate the dining experience at home, pairings pastries and the candy-sweet, yet bold Moroccan mint tea. You’re in luck. Given that Morocco and Algeria were former French colonies, there are plenty of North African import shops where you can find the hearty brew. If your time in the City of Lights is limited and your stay is more centralized, you can also find the tea at the massive food halls, including La Grande Épicerie and Lafayette Gourmet.
Go beyond the yellow squeeze bottle and taste a wide range of France’s favorite condiment. Browse long aisles in supermarkets and food halls to find sweet, brown, grainy, Dijon or extra spicy (the nose clearing variety) types mustard. Once home, transform each meal with a little French flair by slathering on cured meats, cheeses or grilled chicken, or use as the base in what will become your new favorite vinaigrette recipe.
The fresh selections of pâtes and rillettes from small charcuteries are not to be missed. Smear the finely ground meat, mixed with fat and spice, onto slices of a fresh baguette and you’ve got an easy picnic lunch to savor on the banks of the Seine. Take home a few pre-packaged varieties (wild game or pork if you want to be traditional) from the grocery store to get you through those post-Paris blues. Opt for cans over glass bottles for peace of mind when packing the delicacies into checked luggage.
The French alone are not responsible for elevating salt from a common mineral to a highly sought after flavor enhancer, but today there’s no disputing that the west coast of France holds one of the reigning positions in sea salt royalty. What once was a necessary staple for preservation is now celebrated as the final touch on culinary masterpieces. From the delicate fleur de sel crystals to the more course and moist gray salt, take a moment to peruse gourmet shops and ask for a taste. Small jars, or better yet bags, make great gifts and are easy to carry.
Kristin Amico is a Boston-based writer specializing in food, travel and culture.