The other day, I met my husband for lunch at a delightful little place called Chez Papa. At the heart of this quaint little restaurant, hopping and buzzing with excitement and festivity, is the savory, robust, delicious Basque cuisine.
Basque, for those of you who might not know, is a region of south western France between the Atlantic coast to the west, the French department of Landes (the ancient province of Gascony) to the north and the tradition province of Béarn (Bayonne and Biarritz) to the east. Basque country, as it usually referred, is unique to France as they boast more than their own local identity, as you will find in so many parts of France. In fact, the Basque region, which spreads largely into Spain as well, can be compared to Quebec in Canada in that there has always been a strong move toward separation. Like Corsica, the French island in the Mediterranean, the Basque people feel that their culture and history is unique to that of France as a whole, hence the urges to seek independence. They have their own flag and their own language, which to me looks more like Greek than French or Spanish. When you drive through the area, you’ll notice signs in letters you can’t quite recognize – that’s one way you know you’ve arrived in Basque country.
Over the last century, a number of rebellions or rebellious activities have created an aura around Basque country, and some French people consider the area a breeding ground for home-grown terrorism. I think this might be over stating the point, although certain events since my arrival in France do point to rebellion and violent acts in the name of independence. Again, much like Quebec in the 1960s with the FLQ. Much of this seems to have cooled in recent years.
All that aside, the excellent part of Basque country, besides its marvelous landscapes and rich history, is its cuisine.
And Chez Papa is a perfect example of the best a Basque kitchen has to offer.
Given that my husband works near Madeleine in the 8ème, we sat down in the small restaurant with a twirling stair case and large batches of red chilies hanging from the ceiling. Open in 2001, this branch of the now extensive Chez Papa’s family of restaurants, is quite “local Parisian”. You are much more likely to be seated by French business folk rather than someone speaking English and you will definitely get an authentic taste of this particular type of French food.
We had a delicious meal. As most restaurants in France, you have a “menu” option of entrée (appetizer) + plat (main dish) or plat + dessert plus a café. As Basque food is very rich and heavy, for the most part, I decided to choose a main dish only which was by far sufficient.
If you’d like to try snails, Chez Papa offers a variety of dishes featuring les escargots. Other scrumptious dishes include: aiguillettes de canard à la sauce pêche and coufidou (a beef stew) which is served in a large red stemming cast iron pot.
We both chose duck prepared in various ways with a Basque beer. And snug at a table, as is only natural in Paris, we enjoyed a delightful trip down to Basque country. Affordable, especially for Paris, with a detailed and authentic decor and a hospitable staff, Chez Papa is one restaurant off the beaten path I’d recommend for a little Taste of Basque.