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The Times Shopper

Elegant Parisian Flavor Out of a Grocery Bag

May 10, 1987|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York free-lance writer.

French cuisine, generally celebrated as the finest and most exquisite dining in the world, can be experienced in the hundreds of marvelous little bistros and elegant restaurants that give the City of Lights its unmistakable flavor and unquestionably good taste.

Parisian gourmet groceries offer a rich variety of French foods, with which tourists may continue their enjoyment of Parisian dining at home.

Many French specialties, including cassoulets, foie gras, truffles, mustards, oils, vinegars, teas, biscuits, and other delicacies, are not widely available at home. Even if you can find them, variety is usually quite limited and U.S. prices are frequently double the cost of the items in Paris.

Protective U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations allow most packaged foods, especially those in tins or jars, to pass through customs.

Other products, such as the vast selection of delicious salamis, cheeses, and exotic fresh produce, found in fine Parisian delicatessens, are not importable. But these may be bought and enjoyed as impromptu picnic lunches, along the Seine or in one of Paris' beautiful parks or gardens. Patronizing Paris' fine groceries for snacks-on-the-run really does allow you to experience Paris as a movable feast.

The Famous Fauchon

Paris' best gourmet groceries are located in the fashionable Eighth Arrondissement. Several outstanding shops ring the Place de la Madeleine, and its centerpiece, the magnificent Madeleine church.

Best of all is the famous Fauchon at 26 Place de la Madeleine. This extraordinary store, founded in 1886 by Auguste Felix Fauchon, has provisioned Parisians with the finest available comestibles for 100 years. The Fauchon family ran the store until they sold it to Joseph Pilosoff in 1967. Today, Fauchon is run by Pilosoff's granddaughter, Martine Premat.

From the beginning, Fauchon featured French products. As air travel allowed for rapid transit of foodstuffs, the store began to sell exotic fruits, fresh vegetables, and other quality foodstuffs from every corner of the globe.

The Fauchon catalogue includes foie gras, pates, caviar, smoked salmon, truffles, escargots, snail eggs, canned soups and cassoulets, exotic condiments, mustards, vinegars and cooking oils.

The 45 types of jams and preserves include chestnut cream, carrot, sweet potato, green and red tomato, jasmine petal, rose petal, melon, banana, apple, orange and strawberry (prices range from about $6 to $12 per jar). There are 78 teas, 95 spices and herbs.

Fauchon's caves stock fabulous wines, Champagnes, and unusual liqueurs. The confectionery, located in an adjacent shop, offers pastries, cakes, biscuits, candies, candied fruits, chocolate, and brews an exceptional cup of coffee.

Fresh foods at Fauchon are prepared by chef Serge Primaut. There are canapes, salads, snacks to be taken out, or Fauchon will deliver entire meals to your home or hotel (two-person minimum order, average cost is about $20 per person).

Fauchon has mouth-watering displays, including a fabulous picture window that causes pedestrian traffic jams as strollers stop to study the day's delectables. Four decorators change the window and other displays daily.

Fauchon also has a large range of packaged gift selections, including cookies in tins decorated with drawings of Place de la Madeleine (about $15), boxed assortments of miniature tea caddies and jams (four of each for about $15) or chocolates (from $8), and large wicker picnic hampers filled with containers of fois gras, pate, caviar, teas, jams, coffee, biscuits, Champagne, liquor and other goodies ($50 to $500). This grand emporium does a substantial mail-order business. Items in gift packs are guaranteed clearance by U.S. customs.

Fauchon also offers its own line of handsome tea caddies, platters, mugs, bar accessories, carryalls, scented candles, signature silk scarfs and ties (about $10 to $100 and up). The shop will ship items individually or by the case, or package things to be taken with you.

Across Rue Tronchet, at 21 Place de la Madeleine, is Hediard. This food emporium is competitive with Fauchon in both merchandise and price range. Although it is smaller than Fauchon, Hediard is older. It was founded in 1854 by Ferdinand Hediard, who was particularly passionate about unusual fruits, vegetables and exotic spices.

Hediard was the first to import a pineapple to Paris, and introduced to Parisian gourmands such fruits as mangoes, papayas, guavas and avocados. Hediard established a world-wide reputation for good taste and quality.

Vintage wines and vinegars, preserves (about $6), mustards with exotic flavors (about $8), spices and extracts for cooking, biscuits ($5 and up), sweets, caviar and secret recipe dishes in tins (about $4 and up) are among the items that may be brought home.

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