When we first move here, all we can find is unhappy noodles. And unhappy dumplings. We genuinely miss genuine Chinese food. Many of the "traiteurs" around Paris are, as far as I'm concerned traitors to the art of Chinese cuisine. The bulk of the Chinese places have trays of pre-prepared food in the windows. They're swimming in a pool of grease and sitting there for hours. Then (avert your eyes: true horror approaching), they are microwaved and served in plastic tubs.
Mostly these dishes are meant for take-out purchases and are sold by weight. This tiny snack below, which we do eat "in house" (and you can see the fabulous presentation) is 10€.
So imagine how happy we are to find Happy Nouilles (Noodles), a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in the 3rd arrondissement, near metro Arts & Metiers. We discover it when the girls are attracted to the guy hand-pulling noodles in the window. Though we have had only mediocre-at-best Chinese food in Paris up till that point and are pessimistic, we give it a try. The place is filled -- staff and diners -- with Mandarin Chinese speakers, and it surpasses all expectations. The dumplings even rival (Sacrilege Alert!) San Francisco's. The spicy soup is so spicy, it makes our eyes water and noses run.
You would think with the French history in Indochine that Vietnamese food would be better here. But usually you'll only find less-than-mediocre Chinese food. My family misses zingy, cheap, ethnic foods, and we've found that our best bet for cheap, ethnic eats in Paris is Middle Eastern falafel sandwiches, and specifically from the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais -- the only ethnic food we've found that's better here than in San Francisco.
THE CHEESE: Tomme de Brebis d’Estive
Tomme de Brebis d’Estive is a raw sheep's milk cheese that comes in enormous wheels of 5 or more kilograms (so, roughly 12+ lbs).
Estive is the period of the year when the snow melts, and the herds of sheep pass up into the mountains. This means the sheep eat the baby shoots of all the herbs and flowers, and the milk absorbs all those intense spring flavors. Estive ends in August, when the herds reach their highest altitudes.
Those flavors further intensify during the 4-6 month aging of the cheese. It's a hard cheese that manages to feel creamy as it melts in the mouth. Its rind is so thick and dry, even French cheese lovers generally choose not to eat it. You can definitely taste the complex herbal, floral, mountain flavors. Tomme de Brebis d'Estive (or sometimes, just Tomme d'Estive) is intense and full-bodied and stinky, but not overpowering like a Laguiole.
I bring you a sheep cheese in honor of today, Chinese New Year's, the start of year of the Horse. Sure it would make more sense next year, which is the year of the Sheep. But I couldn't find any cheeses made form the milk of horse. Or snake or dragon for that matter (the order of the Chinese zodiac, in case you care, is: Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake). Although I do think that I find a rat hair in my Chinese traiteur snack photographed at the top.
In any event, Happy Noodles, Happy Sheep-cheese Eating, and Happy Year of the Horse!