Community hub: La Boulangerie

French breadDespite coming from the UK, an island of toast-lovers, bread was never my thing. It just doesn’t taste of anything – or so I thought.

Moving to Paris has been a bread revelation!

When I first arrived, I loved eating a baguette and thought every bakery in the city had their ovens blessed by the Gods. 18 months later, I’ve gone from never caring if I ate bread again to a French bread lover and now, to a complete boulangerie snob! I will happily make a detour on my way home to go to my favourite boulangerie.

I remember being at a dinner party a short while after I arrived here, and one of the French hosts commented on the bread, and a heated debate on which of the 3 local boulangeries were the best concluded the evening. They started to debate that one couldn’t make bread properly because they were “not really French”. That’s one side of France that requires a whole book, so let’s stay focused on bread.

French bread: at the heart of the community

French breadWe’re very lucky because we have a wonderful family-run boulangerie on the corner of our street. It’s not unusual to see people there who’ve clearly just woken up, buying their bread for their tartine; parents with babies and toddlers still in their pyjamas with faces pressed against the glass, desperately negotiating with mum and dad for an extra croissant; Monsieur office-bound, stopping to grab a pain-au-raisin before he heads to the metro and the school children queuing up with their nanny and grandparents to buy something for their post-school goûter’.

Jill CraigOne of the biggest adjustments for me has been the shops being closed on Sunday. In my previous life, Saturday was for relaxing and Sunday was the day to go shopping. With the exception of cultural activities and markets, all of the shops in France are closed on Sunday. Yet the hub of the community, la boulangerie is open all day long!

Feeling like a local at the local boulangerie

My favourite type of bread is ‘La baguette tradition which is tastier, heartier and far superior version of the famous baguette. It has a slight more crunchy exterior and ranger from 1.05€ to 1.20€ depending on where you go. It’s gotten to the point that whenever I go into my local boulangerie, the owner says hello and “That will be 1.15€” without even asking me what I want! Initially, I was embarrassed by this but you know, it makes me feel like this is ‘my boulangerie – I actually fit in here, which is a rare feeling in Paris. That said, I rather like to confuse her on the weekends when I pop in to get my husband his pain-au-chocolat aux amandes.

French bread

These days I’m trying to cut down on gluten so during those weak moments, I actually have to plan my route very careful and avoid my favourite boulangerie like the plague. Sad but so true. I am powerless against the lingering smell of fresh bread baking in the oven.

That’s a major part of the attraction, isn’t it? This is not some factory-made, chemically-enhanced product we worry about giving our babies, these people are hard at work making bread as I type. We put our trust in them, in their hygiene, in their know-how, and as we get to know them, our sense of community grows. It doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy, poor, young, old, French or even a Londoner, the boulangerie is the place we visit most.

What is the best type of French bread? Join the debate in the comments below!

Image credits
1. Boulangerie Florence Finkelsztajn by Diligent via Wikipedia
2. Pain de Campagne by Magnus Manske via Wikipedia
3. Pastoral baguettes by Kurman Communications via Flickr

About the Contributor

Milla Msa

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  1. Sue Williams Apr 6, 2011 at 1:30 PM - Reply

    Hi Milla
    What an excellent article – you’ve made my stomach rumble! Like you, my favourite bread is La baguette tradition.

    There’s a small problem for me with French bread though – whenever I enter a boulangerie-patisserie to buy a baguette, I invariably end up with beaucoup de tartes as well… so much for choosing the healthier baguette!

    Your local, family-run boulangerie sounds superb.

  2. Jennifer Geraghty Apr 8, 2011 at 2:27 AM - Reply

    My bread experience nearly mirrors yours. Back home, I rarely ate it – it wasn’t worth the calories. Here, I could live off it. Delicious!

    It’s amazing how often I find my conversations turning to the topic of breads and boulangeries. Since I’ve just moved, I’m thrilled to be able to explore a whole new neighborhood of breads. I’ve already got a frontrunner 🙂

  3. Judy MacMahon Apr 8, 2011 at 10:22 PM - Reply

    Oh, how I love the aroma of fresh bread! I agree with you absolutely Milla and everyone seems to have their favourite local boulangerie. thanks. Judy

  4. Milla Msa Apr 25, 2011 at 5:51 AM - Reply

    Thank you! I never realised something as basic as bread could taste so delicious! I’m eager to try some of the other varieties, but am so attached to my usual “tradition”!

  5. Julie Gourichon Aug 22, 2011 at 9:40 PM - Reply

    The bread is really really really important in France. A meal without bread? IMPOSSIBLE!!

    What about my favourite bread? I’m french and personnaly, my favourite one is a germanic (Alsace/Germany/Austria/Switzerland) bread: bretzel!! Awesome 😛

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