On the slow boat to China: Our love for the Little Asia of Paris

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At the Chinese New Year parade

We rarely leave the Rive Gauche, being parents of a toddler, but it’s also because we love our quartier. It’s not too touristy, but has lots of flavor and liveliness. And yet at the same time where we live – a quick 30-second walk from Place d’Italie – is quiet.  The arrondissement has so much to offer that we’re discovering new treasures constantly.  For when we do venture into other areas, there’s access to metro lines 5, 6, and 7, complemented by loads of bus lines to connect us to the rest of Paris. But for the most part you’ll find us on any given day of the year somewhere in the 13ème.

 

How did we get here?

DSC02535 On a languid August afternoon in 2013, not 6 weeks after our son was born we moved into our apartment in the 13ème. Before that, we were a two-domicile couple, with me living in Clermont-Ferrand and Martin living in the 5ème. Once we learned we were expecting, and that we would move our domicile permanently to Paris, Martin submitted a request through his institute to Dossier Familial to let us know what might be available. While we waited to hear from them (we were provided with one apartment we ended up not getting), we targeted areas that would be easily accessible for Martin to get to work out in Saclay, searching the 11ème, 12 ème, 13ème, 14ème, and 15ème arrondissements. We did this in January of 2013, and looked at apartments within each of these neighborhoods, each time refining our application packet more and more until our dossier was accepted for our current place in April. So it’s fair to say we didn’t choose the 13ème, it chose us.

A brief geography and history of the 13ème
The 13ème, or quartier asiatique is huge, extending from the Seine to the Périphérique.  It is comprised of smaller neighborhoods, with us living in the one known as Croulebarbe. As a history enthusiast, I’m very proud of the rich history of our particular neighborhood, and while I could share so much about it, I’ll simply say Croulebarbe is taken after the founder of the mill of the same name on the Bièvre (once the second river running through Paris, which has a fascinating and wonderful history all its own, if you’re into such things). So while taking a slow boat into Chinatown would’ve have been impossible on this narrow branch of the Bièvre, the river was definitely a huge figure in the history of the 13ème .

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It’s hard to imagine a windmill once standing tall at the current western entrance of the Square René Le Gall where the above placard is located. It was removed, however as the Bièvre was culverted into an underground channel in 1912.  But that was the past, onto current times and how we enjoy the 13ème…

For the love of Food: where to eat in the 13ème
Eating out here is a wonderful experience, and I’ve found that all the restaurants we’ve been to have been accommodating and friendly whenever we’ve showed up with our little one.

(note: asterisk next to the restaurant name indicate high chairs available)

French food
Our favorite place to go, for coffee or meals is Il état un square*. It’s definitely a place where locals hang out, but you frequently also see out-of-towners enjoying the meals there as well.   It’s right next to Square René Le Gall (see below), so often in the summer we’d go to the park after the crèche, play until someone was exhausted, and then head over for a cool drink, and often dinner. We know the owners, Gérard and Nicolas, one of which has a daughter in Léon’s group at the crèche. They have high chairs for little ones and a piano for customers to play at, which Martin usually takes advantage of.

We also highly recommend L’avant Goût, which we go for lunch as the formule is far more reasonably priced than dinner. The food is excellent and beautifully presented, and we often tell our guest to check it out for a French food experience.

When I’m feeling nostalgic for the Auvergne, I take the family to La Halte des Taxis or La Butte Aveyronnaise

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mmm, Aligot!!!

For a cup of coffee we like Café Noisette, which has decent lunches as well. Another is La Manufacture, the place we also go to for le complet brunch on a Sunday. For tea and to show off to visitors, we like L’OisiveThé*. Fantastic tea collection, a wonderful brunch spread, has knitting meetings, and also a decadent chocolat gourmand. Another favorite is La Butte aux Piafs*,  an excellent place to enjoy a café gourmand and wonderful ambiance for lunch or dinner.

 

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Léon in the restaurant’s Tripp Trapp, inspecting the menu

…and because it’s the quartier asiatique: International fare
For Chinese restaurants, we enjoy Au Pays De Confucius* where the wait staff are so used to Chinese customers that French speakers are often misunderstood, as well as Ba Mien, and La Table du Ramen. If it’s Thai you’re craving we love Thai Papaya and Baan Issan.  Then there’s Comme au Vietnam* which is high on our list, not in the least because they have Tripp Trapp high chairs, but also because they serve a wonderful iced passion fruit tea and the owners are a lovely German and Vietnamese couple.

La Catrina Taqueria has my, being half-Mexican, approval for their tacos (but not their nachos, fake cheese, yuck!) and lovely freshly-pressed hibiscus juice. The fancier El Salvadorian restaurant called Ana M. is great for a lunch date. Café d’Italie* (formally Monte Cassino) rounds out our favorites as our preferred pizza for takeaway as the (mostly Italian) staff always give Léon a little treat as we wait.

Other places include Café Margeride*, Havane Café, and L’Aimant du Sud, solid backups for spontaneous outings, watching football, or for when we have guests visiting and have discovered one of our favorites is closed for an inexplicable reason.

What to do, what to do? I’ll tell you what to do…
When we’re feeling young and hip, we head over to Butte aux Cailles. It has a nice bohemian feel to it, with its many small bars and restaurants. There’s loads of street art along the quaint cobblestoned roads and in fact every year there is the Lesarts de la Bièvre  where over 40 artists around the 13ème open up their homes and/or galleries for the general public to stop in and admire. Sometimes accompanied by music or including a lecture, it’s a great opportunity to support local artists, and in fact one of Léon’s favorite books,”Compter aver un monster” was purchased during one of these “open doors” day. Other than that, Butte aux Cailles also has a piscine and fresh water artesian well where you can see locals filling up their water bottles liters at a time.

There are loads of parks for children, the closest one for us being Square René Le Gall. The biggest park by far, however, which we like to go to when we meet up with a big group, is Parc Kellerman.  Both are wonderfully shady and cool during the hot summer months and have all kinds of events for families to enjoy.  On Sundays, after shopping at Tang Frères for exotique fruit and cheap spices or the farmer’s market on Boulevard Blanqui we head over to the less crowded park (where we’ve been able to do Easter egg hunts without fuss) up the stairs from Corvisart called Jardin Brassaï.  We sometimes wander out to the Quai de la Gare, which has some excellent children’s events (Léon particularly enjoyed himself at a show on the Péniche la Baleine Blanche).

When the weather is cold we go to the Bibliothèque Italie, which has story time for children (0-3 years) eIMG_20160220_172220very 4th Saturday and for the 3+ crowd every 2nd Saturday.  Then there’s the wonderful Ilots des Bébés, an indoor play area for 0-3 or the Ludothèque Denise Garon, an indoor play area/boardgaming place that allows you to check out toys and boardgames as well as play on the spot. Another boardgame café is Oya, which we’ve visited once without Léon and were impressed. Cinemas include Les Fauvettes for classics, La Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé for silent films accompanied by live music, and for blockbusters UGC Gobelins.

There are so many other things to see and do, and perhaps you’ll be tempted to to check out the neighborhood on our recommendation alone, but mostly the 13ème is lovely because it’s where we’ve begun some of our first journeys as a young family.

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