By Ankita Kulkarni in Reviews
Updated 11:34 IST Jul 07, 2017

Views » 906 | 4 min read

Standing in the busy streets of Paris, I heard a woman besides me exclaim in French, “C’est tellement magnifique!”  standing at the entrance of the famous French café,” Café Gourmand”. And I agreed with her looking at the intricately carved doorway of the café, its windows glittering with bright yellow lights. In between the windows, you could see lush green ivy climbing the walls. Above the windows, the words “Café Gourmand Since 1887” were put up in bold letters with small lights twinkling on them. Café Gourmand was considered to be one of the oldest cafes in Paris. Besides the board, you could see the French flag fluttering in the winds with pride.  There were small round tables situated inside as well as outside of the café. You could see people sitting outside smoking a pipe with a large cup of coffee or a glass of beer in their hands. It is the Parisian tradition to just sit back, relax and sip coffee as you idly watch the world go by. In the olden days, cafes were considered as the gathering place for intellectuals to meet and debate philosophical and political issues.

Café Gourmand had an antique architecture but still had a modern look about it. As I entered the café, I could hear soft, calm music playing inside. The music combined with shiny yellow lights created a captivating scenario. As compared to our Indian cafes, French cafes were reasonably quiet. There was no chaos. There was just a slight buzz coming from the people sitting in the café. As I sat at a table, I could see a counter to my left where there were shelves filled with colorful pastries, croissants and so many different types of French breads. The smell inside the café was heavenly. It mainly smelled of strong coffee and freshly baked bread.

In the café you could see waiters, known as “Garcons” in French, walking around in a royal manner with large silver trays in their hands. They were dressed in a crisp white shirt and black pants with a black apron attached to their front. There was something very formal and aloof about their manner. You would never see a French waiter groveling at their customer’s feet for extra tips. Their position as a waiter held a high level of respect and dignity. One of the most important rules in a French café is that you should never call a waiter as “garcon” it is considered to be disrespectful. You should always address them as “Monsieur” respectfully.

So I called one of the waiters to place my order. I asked him in English about the types of coffees they served. He explained to me in a thick French accented English that they served “grande crème”  which was a large cup of white coffee, “espresso which was a strong shot of black coffee served in small cups and “Americano espresso” which was American coffee. He told me they also served a variety of sandwiches, pastries, baguettes, tartines and croissants.  So, I decided to order the grande crème and a chocolate croissant. This was a popular breakfast choice in France. But most Frenchmen prefer the espresso over the grande crème. The waiter nodded his head, said, ”Merci mademoiselle” and left. I sat back relaxed on my chair and observed my surroundings. The café had a high roof with beautiful glass lamps hanging from its ceiling. The walls were covered in paintings and photos of the famous celebrities who had visited the café. At the tables around me I could see quite book readers, sipping a large cup of coffee engrossed in their books. In front of me I could see two men in dark suits typing away at their laptops rapidly. They seemed to be discussing the terms of an important contract. To my right I could see a group of teenagers enjoying a glass of beer and talking animatedly with each other. They were the ones creating the most dins in the café. They were having the “who can drink beer the fastest” competition.  It was astounding to see the different reasons for which people visited the café.

The waiter returned with my order. The fresh, hot croissant paired with the large cup of cream coffee was delicious. The French were exceptional bakers. These cafes are the centre of social and culinary life in Paris. Not just for food but they are also an important part of French tradition. It is equivalent to visiting one of the monuments in France as these cafes hold the vibrant French culture in them.  I finished up my breakfast and placed the money on the table. As I walked out of the café, I relished my experience of having had breakfast at a traditional French café which had decade’s worth of history. It had been a wonderful experience.

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