The Quest for the Perfect Sandwich
by Veronica Louis
This tale begins like all good stories should… with food.
The year was 2010, it was my second time visiting Paris. After a long visit at the Louvre, one of the largest and most famous museums in the world, my stomach grumbled in hunger. Ignoring the pangs, I made my way through the Jardin des Tuileries towards Champs Élysées, where some of the most expensive shops in the world line the avenue.
Right outside the garden gates, facing a small merry-go-round, there was a modest crêperie/sandwich stand. While I wasn’t really a sandwich person (I was only familiar with the Subway-styled sandwiches), I egged myself on to get a sandwich.
The simple cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich with Dijon mustard had me at first bite. The sandwich crudité, on baguette bread, melted in my mouth. Every bite was a tad bit more delicious than the last. I had no idea a mere sandwich could taste that good.
Fast forward to the present. I had just spent a few hours at the Centre Pompidou to see three different expositions: the captivating photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Surrealism and the Object” and the permanent contemporary art collection. The surrealism exposition was my favorite: weird, dream like elements strewn together to create evoking pieces that made sense and did not make sense all at once.
Once again, beautiful art made me hungry.
I thought the idea romantic to go back to that first sandwich stand which made me first fall in love with Parisian sandwiches. While Métro Concorde was only a few subway stops away, I thought the prize would be that much sweeter if I walked. Working for what we want is always more rewarding than having it handed over, I find.
With that attitude in mind, I thought I would add an extra element of challenge. The challenge was for me to find my way to the sandwich place without looking at a map or asking for directions. Sounds easy? Not in Paris! In Montreal, streets are on a grid system and run from North to South and West to East. If you keep on walking on a street in the same direction, you’ll pretty much get to where you need to go. However, Paris is a mosaic of intersecting streets, squares and boulevards. Figuring out their street network is more like deciphering the green squiggly characters from the Matrix.
So I made my way to Châtelet – Les Halles, the city’s central shopping area, busy with cafés, terraces and plazas. I knew that if I made my way to La Seine, I would easily reach my destination if I followed along the most important waterway within Paris. So I headed south. At least, what I thought was south. I never reached the river. In reality, I was walking north-west. At least I had one direction right.
When I ended up on Boulevard Poissonnière, which becomes Boulevard Montmarte, one of the four Les Grands Boulevards of Paris, in front of the Métro Strasbourg – Saint Denis, I knew I was heading in the wrong direction.
I turned left and kept on taking random streets, walking in a southwest-ish way, using my inner compass to gauge if I was heading the right way. I don’t know how I managed to reach the Château du Louvre, but after a lot of walking I eventually did. With the Louvre palace in sight I knew exactly where I was. I entered the château grounds, headed south in the Jardin des Tuileries, a huge public park and garden. My step hastened as my anticipation of eating a really delicious baguette sandwich grew. I could only hope that the stand would still be there like I remembered.
I reached the edge of the Jardin, just as they were closing the garden gates. I was delighted to see that the sandwich place was still there and wasn’t closed for winter. I made my way to the side where they sold sandwiches to claim my reward.
I laughed. “Vous n’avez plus de sandwiches?” I asked.
They said, “Ah, non. C’est fini pour aujourd’hui.”
I smiled and shrugged. I understood that the journey to get to that sandwich was more exquisite than the actual sandwich could ever be.