The Biggest Bargain In Paris?
More than 300 meals are served five days a week in the passageways of the ground floor of the Eglise Madeleine. This began before World War I during the reign of Napoleon III when the Empress Eugénie wanted to vanish poverty and inspired the haute couture shops in the Quartier Faubourg Saint Honoré which employed many young women seamstresses and shopgirls. In an action to assist the poor, meals were served to these working people of the neighborhood. By the end of the century, several other parishes took on the concept of “l’oeuvre du midi” to the point that it encouraged a surge of workers to come to the center of the city.
Years passed between the two wars, followed by a long period of reconstruction, but there was always some action of charity in the Foyer. During the events of 1968, it again became a place of comfort and the kitchens were opened once again in April of 1969 by the Priest of that time, using volunteers to serve the meals — today a total of eight personnel. A priest remains on duty each day to provide comfort to those in need.
I went there for the first time yesterday at the encouragement of Eva Lee, who’s following description is just a taste of what you’ll be getting in Eva’s column called “Crème de la Crème” coming soon to our new publication, “Paris Insider.”
The Biggest Bargain in Paris?
By Eva Lee
Go to Eglise Madeleine. Stand facing the church. Walk around to the right, to the side with the flower market and RATP tourist information office. Look for the small sign next to a small door — “Le Foyer de la Madeleine.” Enter into the Romanesque vaulted stone corridor. Get on the fast line to pay. Note the menu on the wall — 2 choices of “plats du jour.” Pay your 6.63 euros. You have bought yourself a 3 course lunch. A quarter liter bottle of table wine is an additional 76 cents, 1.20 euros if you prefer Bordeaux wine. Peruse the “entrées” (appetizers) in the cooled case on either side of the cashier. There are several entrées available. Choices include charcuterie (two slices of cold cuts and one-half of a cornichon on a plate) or a variety of crudités — there may be mushrooms in cream sauce with tomato wedges on the side, or lettuce with grated carrot, or hard boiled egg with tomato, or tomato with chunks of chorizo. Find an empty seat at a communal table for six, along the eastern wall, or at a 2-person table along the western wall. Observe what others are eating. There is a large basket of French bread on each table, one or two large glass pitchers of water, plus oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and water glasses stuffed with white paper napkins, for water or wine. A well dressed church-lady-volunteer will serve you. (There is no truth to the rumor they are defrocked nuns.)
At some point before, after or during consumption of your entrée, you will be asked for your plat/main dish order. There are usually two choices. There are usually two accompanying vegetables or side dishes. You can choose one vegetable or some of each. When youve finished your plat, your dessert order will be taken. There are several choices — a “dessert du jour,” served in an appropriate dish, a piece of fresh fruit, or a variety of plastic container yogurts and puddings.
If youd like coffee after dessert, go to the coffee bar half-way down the long stone chamber, pay 50 cents, get café, a pot of tea or an infusion. Carry it back to the end of the corridor and turn right into the coffee room — another stone vaulted, wide corridor filled with 1950s wicker two-seater sofas with well worn comfortable cushions, separated by coffee tables, and original artwork on the walls.
At Le Foyer de la Madeleine, people talk to each other. They are friendly. There are men in business suits, women in from shopping, workmen, office workers, retired workers, a few for whom this may be their only full meal of the day.
This is not “haute cuisine” but my turkey leg was plump, tender, plentiful, perfectly cooked and provided “au jus” perfect for sopping with the unlimited crusty fresh bread. The wine was palatable. The coffee was as good as any 3 euro cup at a café in the same very chic neighborhood. The bathrooms are clean. The conversation is free.
If there is a greater food bargain in Paris, PLEASE let me know.
Eva Lee for Parler Paris
A la prochaine…
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