Living in Brussels, one of the things I miss about Paris is the abundance of Asian shops and restaurants. From Vietnamese restaurants serving hot bowls of pho (Vietnamese beef noodles) or bo bun (vermicelli over raw veggies and topped with beef or pork, ground peanut and spring onion) to all-night Indian shops selling everything you might suddenly need in the middle of the night, to Chinese supermarkets where I can buy tofu for less than €2 (whereas in a magasin bio, organic shop, it would cost twice as much) and being able to chat with the owner of a shop in Mandarin.
Amongst the non-Europeans in Paris, aside from the Chinese, you will also see many people of African, Arab and Indian origins around Paris. For instance, if you were to take the metro to La Chapelle, it’ll seem like you’ve landed in the heart of a south Indian or Sri Lankan neighbourhood where most people around you are speaking Tamil instead of French. Here’s an interesting soundwalk of La Chapelle, recorded by Des Coulam, which captured the sounds of this lively area.
Also known as Little Sri Lanka and Little Jaffna – many people here are from Jaffna, the capital city in the northern province of Sri Lanka, La Chapelle is home to ethnic Tamils who fled Sri Lanka during the violent civil wars in the 1980s and sought asylum in France. Apparently there are between 50,000 to 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil living in France now, with most of them residing in Paris, especially in this area.Here, the grocery shops and supermarkets are stacked with strong-smelling spices and selling coconuts and ghee. Colourful saris are on display in the vitrine while the latest Bollywood soundtrack is playing aloud in one of the CD emporiums. Enter a restaurant and you’ll be immediately greeted by the smell of curry, butter and garlic! You can eat very well, not necessarily healthily, for very little at the restaurants in La Chapelle, most of which are vegetarian.
One of our favourite Indian restaurants in La Chapelle is Krishna Bhavan @ 24 rue Cail. The vegetarian set meals are a bargain when you compare with the typical restaurant prices in Paris.My first time eating such a large dosai!At the end of the meal, when you ask for the bill, it comes with a little tin bowl of colourful bits and pieces which AB explained to me is the Indian equivalent of the American after-dinner mint. Apparently eating a teaspoon of mukhwas after a meal is supposed to help with digestion – maybe it’s especially effective in breaking down ghee? Typically comprising of fennel seeds, anise seeds, sesame seeds and coconut, it also helps freshen the breath, which would be very helpful after eating curry.
Another restaurant that we like in La Chapelle is Muniyandi Vilas @ 207 rue du Faubourg St. Denis, which is just a few minutes from Krishna Bhavan. Here, you can order a parotta – in Singapore, we would call this roti prata – which is made by kneading flour and flipping the dough in the air several times times before cooking, with ghee of course, to create a flaky layered texture.Or you can try the Kothu Parotta, which is basically fried rice with chopped up bits of parotta! If you manage to finish this, you may need to eat two or three teaspoons of mukhwas to prevent indigestion.If you’re still hungry, you can also order some samosas to takeaway.Talking about all this food is making me hungry!