MY crêpe man

In Paris, The Art of Travel Fall 2014, Comforts by Jack Hall2 Comments

Paris is the home of gluten.  People asked me constantly when I told them that I was moving to Paris for a year, “wait…I’m sorry, aren’t you allergic to gluten? Why would you go to Paris? Don’t they only eat bread…and crepes?” I constantly have to ask obviously obnoxious questions to wait staff at restaurants and cafés, requesting them to hold the croutons, replace the side bread with potatoes, or a salad, or…just hold it altogether. The French—as a country of foodies—have unbelievable pride in their creations. They create their food, which should be eaten exactly as they desire it to be. This is not a city or a culture where you can really ask for the dressing on the side or for them to hold the croutons without the genuine worry that they will spit in your food.

Regardless of how much covert French spit I have ingested, I’ve gotten very comfortable dealing with my annoying little allergy since I’ve arrived here. Macarons are completely gluten free (made from almond meal), and there are a few cute little boulangeries that offer one or two gluten-free menu items. There are two (TWO WHOLE) shops in Paris which are completely gluten-free where you can buy baguettes, croissants, and other pastries. They’re heavenly and sporting a price-tag fit for the Gods.

The only thing that I had been really really salty over during my first few months in Paris was the lack of any gluten-free crêpes. Honestly, what is Paris without crêpes? Pretty much nothing but a pretty city with a cool A-shaped monument.

Ironically, I had been thinking of just that one day when, walking home from the NYU Paris campus, I saw something out of the corner of my eye which I was sure was a mirage, like seeing a fake lake, an oasis, when you’re driving through the center of Arizona and it’s 130 degrees. “BUCKWHEAT CRÊPES.” No. No, it can’t be. … What??

I veritably ran across Boulevard Saint-Germain and it was true. There, on the sign, was a list of buckwheat (and consequently gluten-free) crêpes just ready to be devoured. I ordered one and bit back tears as I swallowed the most delicious nutella crêpe which had ever been created on God’s green earth.

It might be a bad sign that now I am very close friends with the crêpe man at the buckwheat stand at Odéon, Paris. He and I chit-chat about the weather, about my studies, about his family, about my future. I know about his children, but I don’t know if he is actually French. He knows about my major, but he doesn’t know that I’m from California—I am just Mademoiselle Psychology. We do not know each others’ names, but I really have grown to care about him.  I have tried almost all varieties of crêpe that he has to offer, butter and sugar, sugar and lemon, nutella, all of them. He has, I would argue, the best crepes in Paris. Having never tried another, I can’t say that with any sort of vehemence, but I just have a feeling.

Just the other day, I was standing at his crêpe stand, two men were working there that day. His coworker, also a very nice man, offered me a taste of a peanut-butter type substance called “speculoos.” I gladly accepted, and was just about to put it in my mouth, when my friend almost shouted “NO!” I stopped, alarmed. “Aren’t you allergic to gluten? You always order buckwheat! There’s gluten in that!” His friend apologized vehemently but I told him it was no big deal, no harm done.

My friendly crêpe man and I know nothing about each other, but he saved me from a terrible stomach ache, and greets me with a smile every time I see him. There’s an unbelievable comfort in finding a stranger who is slightly less strange than the rest of them.

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Comments

  1. Hi Jack! I wish I had a crepe man in D.C.! It sounds like you’ve found a true comfort while in Paris. I am glad that you stumbled across the buckwheat crepes and got to try a Nutella crepe. They are honestly one of my favorite foods in the world. It’s great to read about you have developed a relationship with the crepe man and you have him watching out for you, even though you don’t know each others names. Having someone you can just talk to about your day and random snippets in your life seems like a nice thing to have while you are studying away from most of your friends and family. I hope that you enjoy many more crepes, please have one for me! I look forward to reading more about your time in Paris.

  2. Hi Jack!

    I loved your post – what a wonderful (and mouth-watering) description of your crepe-search and subsequent lovely relationship! It’s so wonderful when you can form a connection with a native; some part of you becomes less foreign and more rooted in Paris. The relationship you’ve developed is also something you get to bring home as a beautiful memory, a timeless reminder of your time abroad. Thanks again for your post and I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Paris! I visited at the beginning of the semester, and truly fell in love!

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