I know it might seem a bit crazy to dedicate an entire blog post to lunch, but when that lunch provides a window onto turn of the century Parisian society, I think it is acceptable. 😉
To provide a bit of context, since the end of February I have been taking a French class at UNESCO twice a week during lunch, and a few weeks ago we listened to a radio programme entitled “L’Histoire à la carte”. This episode delved into the history of bouillon, a type of restaurant which served affordable, high quality dishes to working-class Parisians starting in the late 1800s. The concept was developed by brothers Frédéric and Camille Chartier, who opened the first bouillon, Bouillon Chartier, in a former train station in 1896. As indicated by its name – bouillon means “broth” – the restaurant served hearty stews and meat dishes to a very loyal clientele, who were encouraged to keep their own set of clothes napkins in little drawers by the entrance. At the end of this highly engrossing programme (it was lunch time and I was hungry) I knew I had to check out Bouillon Chartier for myself, to see if it still retained this same egalitarian spirit today. If you want, you can listen to the programme (in French, of course!) here!
Luckily that day I was sharing an office with my friend Clémence (some pipes had burst on the 7th floor and the electricity was out in my corridor), and after telling her of the wonders of Bouillon Chartier in broken French, we resolved to visit ourselves! We later got our friend Mathilde in on the plan (every day after class I go to their shared office to proudly show off what I learned that day, so she of course was forced to hear about it too haha!) and on Saturday we made plans to have lunch there together!
The restaurant does not take reservations, and sometimes the line to be seated can stretch around the block, but we were lucky and only had to wait a few minutes to get inside.
Once inside it seemed like Bouillon Chartier had only grown more magical with age. Not only was the restaurant beautiful and buzzing with activity, but the prices were still very affordable. I could have gotten an entree for as little as one euro if I wanted! (Although I wasn’t really in the mood for grated carrots haha!) I settled on the escargot, which shockingly neither Clémence or Mathilde had tried before! And they call themselves “French” and “French-Canadian”! 😛
I honestly could not believe how fast and friendly the service was, and the food was absolutely delicious! After the escargot we all had grilled andouillette, which is a type of sausage made from pork, intestines and I think, in our case, cow stomach, served with a spicy mustard sauce and fries. I had never tried andouillette before, but I am a pretty big fan of unusual, cooked animal organs, and I thought it was very tasty. 🙂
As if the meal was not good enough already, for dessert I got the Chou glace vanille chocolat chaud – chou pastry stuffed with vanilla ice cream and topped with hot fudge sauce and almonds! The taste reminded me of one of my favorite desserts from when I was a kid – apple cider donuts with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge from Crane’s Pie Pantry in Fennville, Michigan – so I could not have been happier!
It was such a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon – eating good food with even better friends! 😀 I definitely plan on bringing all my future visitors here, to give them an authentic French culinary experience. Because although there were definitely tourists, Bouillon Chartier still seems to be popular with actual French people, which shows how great this place actually is. 🙂