MY crêpe man

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

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.

Image source