Paris’ Oldest House in the Fourth Chinatown

Soupe Pho at 9, rue Volta, Paris’ “Fourth” Chinatown

Paris’ Oldest House in the Fourth Chinatown

Parler Paris…
Your taste of life in Paris and France
Monday, December 8, 2008
Paris, France

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Dear Parler Paris Reader,

Not many people know about the “fourth” Chinatown in Paris, even most Parisians. In fact, I’d venture to say most don’t even know there’s more than the “one” Chinatown in Paris — the one most well known and largest in the 13th arrondissement centered around Place d’Italie. While the first Chinese immigrants came to France as migrant workers during World War I, the 13th district became home to the Chinese, Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Chinatown “two” is in Belleville, where rue de Belleville and boulevard de Belleville meet and where the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements converge. This is where Edith Piaf was born and where many Armenian, Greek and Jewish immigrants settled in the first half of the 20th-century. North African Jews settled there in the second half of the century, but in more recent years, the Chinese established themselves there creating an interesting mix of cultures.

Chinatown “three” is even lesser-known. Situated between boulevard de la Chapelle and boulevard Ney at the junction of rues Ordener, La Chapelle, Marx-Dormoy and Riquet in the 18th arrondissem

ent, it’s a compact little “quartier” with activities around the covered market at rue de Torcy.

The “fourth” Chinatown is the one that sees my visits most often. It’s the oldest and the least visible situated primarily along rues Au Maire and Volta in the 3rd arrondissement. It’s hidden between the larger “rues” of Beaubourg and Réaumur with not much sign of it until you turn down the ancient, seemingly untouched cobblestoned streets. The Chinese population in the 3rd is one of, if not the largest ethnic groups in the district and support many of the wholesale businesses along Le Marais’ narrow streets.

At number 3 rue Volta is Paris’ oldest house. It dates back to 1240 and has been lived in since then. Three other houses in Paris rival it — one found on rue Montmorency which dates back to 1407 and two side-by-side at the corner of rue François Miron and rue Cloche Percé which date back to the 14th-century…but these are young by comparison!

Often on the way home from Saturday’s Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group near The Centre Georges Pompidou, I stop for lunch at one of my two favorite restaurants and then make a stop at a Chinese market for unusual goodies.

Currently 3 rue Volta is home to a Vietnamese Pho Soup restaurant for which there is an incessant queue to get a table within it’s ancient walls. It’s not my favorite restaurant along those two streets — I prefer Chez Shen at 39, rue au Maire and Chez Xu at 9, rue Volta, for authentic Chinese food…the kind you aren’t sure what you’re eating, but it doesn’t matter, it tastes so good. Chez Xu is the more authentic of the two — there are virtually no Anglos at the tables to speak of, and as in all of them in every Chinatown in Paris, the young women waitresses are yelling loudly at one another creating a vibrational din. (This is both annoying and mesmerizing.) In all cases, however, you’ll have a hard time spending more than 15€ no matter how much your order.

There are many markets along these two streets, open hours in excess of the normal French markets, and selling groceries you may not recognize unless you’re very familiar with Chinese culture. The packaged nuts are a big bargain — a kilo of roasted peanuts is about 2€ and I hate to admit how I’ve become addicted to them.

The district is not exclusive, however, to the Chinese. In fact, these streets (in my prediction) are the ‘hippest’ and most up-and-coming property values in the 3rd. A sign of it’s blossoming popularity can be seen in one of the newest restaurants to make a mark there — an American restaurant specializing in bagels with a grocery of American products — Bagel Tom at number 12, rue Volta!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds (in stripey form)
Editor, Parler Paris



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P.S. Thanks to James Navé for an inspiring workshop Saturday afternoon, “Writing from the Imaginative Storm.” Visit /frenchproperty/conference/ for more of Jim’s events this coming week.

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P.P.P.S. Don’t forget to join us tomorrow afternoon from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at our monthly Parler Paris Après Midi gathering, when we get a chance to meet each other and exchange ideas. Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more information.

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An Update on Le Palace des Voges
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