Oct 23, 2019

The Chinese are Back!: Mystère de Chèvre au Yuzu


If you only had a day in Paris, most likely you'd see the Eiffel Tower, pass by Notre Dame (the outside only, post-fire), and maybe try to squeeze in the Louvres, or the Musee d'Orsay. But there's an alternative: Your tour bus could visit the pharmacy at Place Monge so you could buy shampoo. That's what an awful lot of tour groups, especially Chinese and Korean, do on their one day in Paris, during a six-countries-in-one-week whirlwind European tour.

Among the most popular spots in the city for these Asian tour groups to come for a lotions-and-potions shopping spree, the pharmacy has cleverly had many of its product signs translated into Korean and Chinese. This strikes me as extremely shrewd marketing, and the pharmacy has put itself firmly on the tourist map. The hardware store across the street that sells duffel bags and cheap luggage, among things, benefits as well, getting enthusiastic overflow shoppers who need more bags in which to transport their gallons of shampoo, anti-aging creams, and cellulite-busters. A perfume store has also, cleverly, sprung up across the street from the pharmacy, next to the hardware store. It's an irresistible mecca for filling up a wealthy Korean vanity case. To be clear, I am not fond of making race-based generalizations, but the truth is that I have never seen any tour group other than Korean or Chinese.

One of the other big hot spots for Chinese and Korean tour groups is the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, in other words, the very fancy, expensive, massive department stores that carry high-end brand names. If you look carefully in the photo below, the two-story banner on the Printemps store in Paris shows an ad for Visa, with a picture of the Eiffel Tower and text in Chinese only.

In the Galeries Lafayette, the ultra-fancy Cafe Pouchkine looks like it could be anyplace in Shanghai or Seoul, including the clientele. The day I take this photograph -- and many other days -- not a single non-Asian person is there. And judging from the languages spoken, they are not, generally, French-of-Asian-descent; rather, they are visitors from Asia.

Tourists, laden with bags, wait outside for tour buses to take them by the Eiffel Tower and through the streets of Paris, to their next tourist destination -- often another shopping destination like the Champs Elysées, a famous street that now houses the flagship stores of lots of world-name brands and is therefore so utterly devoid of interest, I've never taken a single photo of it.

Neighboring windows take advantage of the tourists waiting for the bus outside of Printemps or Galeries Lafayette by promoting their own sale items. Signs are written in just two languages here: French and Chinese.

Chinese and Korean tourism is important for France. After the big terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015, the numbers dropped dramatically, with one measure showing a 21% decrease in the number of Asian visitors coming through the airports compared to the year before. A few years later, as visitors should have started to come back, the French capital was plagued with the Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) protests/riots and then the Notre Dame fire. It's a lot for the city's image to overcome.

So news reports that the "Chinese are Back!" is not a xenophobic complaint but rather an economically motivated cheer. More than 2.2 million Chinese came to France in 2018, and the number is now steadily climbing, with a possibility of over 5 million per year expected in the years to come. Chinese visitors are, for the moment, the third largest group to visit France, after the US and Britain, but expected to overtake the first place spot soon. On average, Chinese visitors spend the most, however, with an average of 1,647€ (as of 2017) or 1,818€ (as of 2018) per person per visit. Those 2.2 million visitors in 2018 spent over 4 billion euros combined. Considering they often come through Paris in just a day or two, that's an impressive shopping spree spend rate. In France, Paris is the most visited spot, with the Côte d'Azur coming in second, and next the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. The explanation for the number 2 and 3 spots is more practical than romantic: The groups often combine European highlights in one trip, so heading southeast, through the Cote d'Azur, they can hit Florence and northern Italy. Heading east from Paris through Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes takes them on the path to northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Munich in Germany.

For the Chinese, France is the 7th most visited destination, after Thailand, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong (interesting to me that this is recorded as a non-Chinese destination), South Korea, and the US, according to FranceTVinfo, and the top visited destination in Europe. This source confirms my impression that most Chinese travel in packs: About 60%-70% of Chinese tourists travel in tour groups, almost exclusively on buses. Obviously, the language barrier is difficult for Chinese visitors to Europe, which is why it's so helpful (and such good business) for a local 5th arrondissement pharmacy to have all its best products translated into Chinese -- and Korean -- on the shelves.

THE CHEESE: Mystère de Chèvre au Yuzu

Mystère de Chèvre au Yuzu is no so much an actual cheese as a cheese creation, by Laurent DuBois, one of France's most prominent and lauded cheese affineurs/agers. In this creation, a cylinder of fresh, tangy goat cheese is coated with thin candied slices of yuzu, a citrus fruit that hails from Japan, China, and Korea. The fruit itself is about the size of a tangerine with a flavor that's close to -- but not exactly -- a lemon.

The double tang of the lemony fruit on the lemony goat cheese is lovely, and not as overpowering or sour as you might expect. Rather, there's an almost marmalade-like sweetness from the fruit that compliments the cheese's goatiness perfectly.

It feels more like cheesecake and dessert than a savory food, which makes sense given that the cabinet where the cheese is sold in the Laurent DuBois store also contains Bleu de Montagne with streaks of pear gel, Roquefort with streaks of quince paste, and Camembert with an added layer of spiced apples (almost like apple pie filling).


The obvious connection is that this Mystère de Chèvre au Yuzu is coated with yuzu, a fruit that hails from China and Korea (and Japan), much like the tourists I talk about in this story. But given that it's difficult to transport in luggage halfway across the world, and given that Asian tourists are not always huge fans of stinky cheese since it's a food they haven't grow up with (and I acknowledge that it is -- despite my deep love for the stink -- an acquired taste), this is probably not going to be what many of those Chinese tourists spend their 1,800 on. 


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