Standout Antidote to Holiday Excesses
During the Christmas and New Year holidays, the French traditionally live on a life-threatening diet of oysters, foie gras and smoked salmon, washed down with plentiful quantities of champagne and topped off with chocolates. During the season, the street markets are piled high with goodies. After gorging ourselves, we hunker down and wait for the five-week bout of winter sales and the visit of the tax man in early February (unless, like me, tax is paid monthly), with only the thrill of breaking a leg or worse on the ski slopes to look forward to.
After such Christmassy excesses, the body craves more simple fare. If I knew how, I’d be making chicken soup to stave off the ravages of the winter sneezles that seem to be affecting everyone around me right now. Failing chicken soup, some good Chinese nourishment is the order of the day, and I was recently introduced to Délices Shandong, which hits all the right buttons.
I’ve often beefed about the short shrift that world cuisines get in France, but to my admittedly unpracticed eye and palate, Delices does a good take on authenticity, serving up “peasanty” (I quote the owner) dishes from Shandong province, one of the eight prized Chinese regional cuisines, and the place where the renowned TsingTao beer is brewed.
Don’t expect refinement: this is hearty, rustic fare that lands on your table with a resounding ring of truth. Don’t expect refinement in your surroundings either. The place, I am reliably told by several sources, has had a makeover in the past six months and is now red-painted, clean and bright, with green seating, but it retains its busy, down-to-earth canteen-style atmosphere.
What you do get is lip-smacking flavor, from the garlicky salads of preserved jellyfish and cucumber or lotus root, to an astonishingly good dish of creamy, spicy eggplant. There is also good selection of homemade dumplings: light, one-bite mouthfuls of airy texture and assertive flavors. If you order in advance, the cooks will make up large batches of them for you to take home (they freeze well).
On my first visit, we went with a Mandarin-speaking acquaintance of the owner, a former dissident who did time in China’s jails before landing in France. We let him decide what we ate, which meant a long succession of plates arriving on the table – crunchy fried-chicken bits in a meaty sauce, a heap of sautéed vegetables, a plateful of deep-fried tofu squares (only the second time in my existence that I have found tofu interesting), a large steamed fish, a massive bowl of noodle soup. Deeply satisfying stuff.
On my second visit, I was with some Australian visitors. That’s when we tried out the aforementioned jellyfish and lotus root “starters,” another large bowl of soup, that astonishing eggplant dish, rice and a couple of dozen dumplings. Throw in half a bottle of very drinkable Brouilly and a brace of soft drinks, and the tab came to only €53 euros, a price tag as deeply satisfying as the food for such a copious, enjoyable meal.
Chinese takeaways are ubiquitous in Paris (I pass at least four in the 5-minute walk from my apartment to my office, for example), and wherever you go they serve the same group of dishes and dumplings, most of which apparently come frozen from one mega-store and are popped into microwaves before serving. They fill a need when you’re desperate for sustenance, but Délices Shandong is in another league altogether, with its freshly made dishes cooked on the spot.
But it’s way out in the sticks, I hear many of you Right Bank Parisians say. True, but it’s definitely worth the trek if you get a sudden craving for a Chinese meal. To sweeten the pill, take Line 5 on the Métro, which offers astonishing views up and down river as it rumbles across the Seine and takes you past the lovely neoclassical facade of the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital and its domed chapel just before your stop at Saint Marcel.
Délices Shandong: 88, boulevard de l’Hôpital, 75013 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 87 23 37. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Wednesday. Métro: Saint Marcel. Nearest Vélib stations: 112 bd de l’Hôpital; 89 bd de l’Hôpital. A la carte: around €20*. www.deliceshandong.com
* three courses, not including wine
© 2009 Paris Update
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