Are Chinese noodles the Next Big Thing in Paris? Until the last year or so the state of Chinese food in Paris was abysmal. There were one or two good places, and the rest were cheap, greasy, and bad. Fortunately for all of us food lovers who live here, Paris seems to be falling mein over bao for Chinese cuisine.
Paris by Mouth notes the Asian trend, citing a number of recent positive reviews for Asian restaurants in the City of Light. Many of them are located in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, on the traditionally Japanese (and now Korean) rue St. Anne. Other well-known centers of cuisine from the East are in the 13th arrondissement – often referred to as Paris’ Chinatown – and in the Belleville neighborhood, which straddles bits of the 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements. Rue de Joinville is rarely, if ever, cited among these.
Situated on the opposite side of the 19th from Belleville, rue de Joinville is tiny, running about two blocks from the Bassin de La Villette to the Avenue de Flandre. Small as it may be, it’s a beehive of Chinese culinary activity. There are no less than four Chinese grocers there, at least three have butchers, and two have fish tanks. Despite their size, they are amazingly well-stocked, and I can usually find any exotic Eastern ingredient I seek there.
So how is it that I know about this hidden gem? Well, I used to live only a couple of blocks away, back when I first moved to Paris in 2008 (has it been that long already?). Since the majority of the neighborhood butchers were either Arab or Muslim, that meant that the only pork available was at the Chinese butchers on rue de Joinville. It was also a lifesaver for a couple of new expats, who didn’t have to go too far to find peanut butter or chili peppers. I have also been working in the neighborhood for the last two and a half years.
Until recently, however, the only dining options were traiteurs of dubious quality. And I’m not just saying that – I’ve tried several. But on Thanksgiving day, when I was making a market run during my lunch break (and getting turkey necks and gizzards for my stock at one of the butchers) I saw this:
A brand-new noodle place! My stomach did a happy dance, and I not-so-secretly hoped that this place would be truly excellent, and that it would give me a reason to live through another grueling holiday season at work. So perhaps my expectations were a bit high. Sadly, when I got a chance to try it the next day, I was sorely disappointed. The noodles were good enough, texture-wise, but the broth in which they swam was completely flavorless. I had to dump inordinate amounts of soy sauce, black vinegar, and Sriracha into it in order to taste anything at all. Needless to say, I wasn’t in a hurry to return.
Yesterday, though, I was feeling optimistic, and hoped that maybe a couple of months had helped them iron out the kinks. I would give them another shot, and be sure to ask for a recommendation from the waitress this time. Who knows? Maybe I had just ordered the wrong thing. I had to make a quick run to the bank to get cash before lunch, and on my way I saw this:
A newer noodle place! This one even has a picture of a guy pulling noodles, so I abandoned my original plan and decided to try out the noodles at Palais de Wenzhou. I do not regret my decision.
I did ask the waitress for a recommendation, and she asked me if I wanted something spicy. “Oui,” was my enthusiastic reply. She suggested the beef noodles, which came out in a flavorful, mildly spicy broth. The noodles were pleasantly irregular, indicating that perhaps they were indeed hand-pulled. The chunks of beef were so tender, I could tell they had cooked for hours, but they still had plenty of rich beefy flavor.
Was it better than Les Pâtes Vivantes or Happy Nouilles? No. But for a 6-euro lunch next door to work, I’ll be more than happy to eat there regularly.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.