There are plenty of reasons that may keep someone tucked safely in his or her country, state, or even town. Family, friends, food, common language, ease of transportation, being within one's comfort zone... creature comforts to say the least. The reason that kept my fingernails firmly stuck in the large, stable tree trunk of California as snugly as possible was this: My small intestine's genetically-dictated aversion to gluten.
This "aversion" is also known as Celiac Disease in America. In other places, it's called things like Celiac Sprue. In France -where I currently reside as I study at Paris III to complete my French major back home (I needed to study abroad to earn enough "upper division" units because of my level of fluency)- it's called coeliaque. Ah, France. The land of cheese... and bread. Bread. Pain. When I say pain, I mean the French translation for bread. The fact that it translates to "pain" is wonderfully amusing to people like me. Believe me, I tried as hard as I could to avoid making this trip so that I wouldn't have to deal with eating at restaurants, bothering waiters, host families, and potentially running into gluten-bombs (as Celiacs so lovingly call them). Sadly for me, the choice came down to study abroad, or drop the French major, and I have a wicked stubborn streak, so here we are. I did plenty of research before I came to the land of cheese... and bread. While France is nowhere near America when it comes to a level of understanding gluten-free diets, there are options. Even Carrefour (a chain grocery store that appears to be everywhere in large cities at least) has gluten-free options from par-cooked croissants, to bread, to rice cakes. Finding health food stores in France has proven to be a little difficult, but they usually carry familiar brands and products, from pastas, to breads, to cookies, and even cracker packs.
Since I've been in France, I've already run into one incredibly rude waiter, and had it out with my Parisian host mother right when I met her, since neither of them knew how to deal with me, and my dietary restrictions. I've managed to patch things up with my host mother, and she's taken to serving me gluten-free pasta (thank you Carrefour) at meals when she and the other student have normal pasta. I've started to get tired of having galette du riz (rice cakes) with jam for breakfast every morning, so I wanted to try to find a health food store in Paris to buy some other breakfast foods, like biscuits, or other breakfast-related pastries. In my relentless googling... I came across something much more exciting...
Enter Helmut Newcake, Paris' first (and only) completely gluten-free café, patisserie, and salon du thé. Located in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, Helmut Newcake (and it's owner Marie Tagliaferro) are here to show Paris that going gluten-free doesn't mean you have to sacrifice taste for your health. A resounding... 1% of Parisians are diagnosed Celiacs or gluten-intolerants (versus the one in 133 Americans statistic), so this is still something that's new. They serve brunch on the weekends, and lunch during the week. Needless to say, as soon as I saw this, I HAD TO GO FIND IT.
I already knew from my roommate that the 10th arrondissement is not a nice area. A building for both Paris VII and Paris III that my roommate and I both have classes in is located in this arrondissement, and she's already had a couple of scary incidents going to class, so I didn't want to go find Helmut Newcake alone. I took my friend Rouge with me. We took the metro to République (the nearest metro stop, which services lines 3, 5, 8, 9, and 11), and headed down Rue du Faubourg du Temple until we saw Rue Bichat, then we turned left. This is definitely the scary part of town. I went to high school on the "wrong side of the tracks," and Rouge and I go to school in Los Angeles, so we're not exactly trembling with fear walking around an area like this, but keep your wits about you when you go looking for your gluten-free goodies. Helmut Newcake is located at 36 Rue Bichat, and we found it!
Helmut Newcake has a very modern coffee-shop vibe to it. There are white feathers hanging from the ceiling, which was interesting. The sign on the pastry case said "Everything is 100% gluten-free paradise" and I couldn't argue with that! They had all sorts of pastries available for purchase, from eclairs to tarts, to fruitcake... you could even get a slice of cheesecake (which the locals rave about according to the Yelp reviews)! The prices were lower than I expected them to be. Rouge said that she could have had the lemon tartlet she ordered for about a euro cheaper at a patisserie closer to her house, but that's also for a pastry that's not gluten-free. I had a chocolate eclair and a cup of chocolat chaud for 6,50 euro, and that's with the sur place ("for here") fee.
Chocolat chaud et éclair chocolat
Tartelette citron mérenguée
I've had eclairs before, and this one trumped it. I was near tears while I ate it, it was so good! Rouge loved her tartlet, and she said she couldn't tell that it was gluten-free. The quote was "I'm a crust fiend, and I still think this is one of the best things I've ever eaten." They also had a small area with a few gluten-free pantry items you could buy (pastas, cereals, and tea), so I picked up a packet of "instant ramen." In reality, they're instant soba (buckwheat, blè noir, sarrasin) noodles, but they still look pretty good.
I also bought three more pastry items to take home: chou à la crème (cream puff), tartelette au fruits rouges, et de la cheesecake. When I went to the register, they had packages of chocolate chip cookies, so I snagged one of those as well. This transaction was all of 17,65 euro.
Clockwise from top: Cheesecake, cream puff, and red berry tartlet.
I ate half of a cookie while I wrote this article. They're to die for. I've been a diagnosed Celiac for about four years, so I still remember what a good, gluten-laden chocolate cookie tastes like. These are better. I have yet to actually eat the tartlet or the cream puff, but I tried a little bit of the cheesecake that was smeared on the box from transporting it home. It's better than what the Cheesecake Factory can ever dream of baking.
Helmut Newcake is an absolute treasure. It may not be in the best area of Paris, but my desire for delicious, gluten-free pastries trumps my fear of scary areas. For those of you that don't have dietary restrictions, you have a liberty to eat wherever you please. You can walk into a boulangerie or a patisserie, and say "I'll have this, that, the other, and a little of that." I get to walk into a boulangerie, smile, watch my friends eat, and say "none for me, thanks." I can go to a patisserie and have a macaron, but that's about it. I go to a restaurant and say "I think I want this, but is it cooked with flour?" and hope the waiter doesn't think I'm crazy... and that I guessed correctly with what I wanted to order so I don't look stupid. I can't remember the last time I got to go somewhere and say "I'll have this, that, the other, and a spoonful of that" with such reckless abandon. Today, I walked into Helmut Newcake, and I got my freedom back. I didn't have to ask "does this have flour or gluten in it?" because I KNEW it didn't. I got to say "I'll have one of these, and one of those, and a slice of that" because I could eat everything I pointed at. I plan on visiting Helmut Newcake once a month. I say once a month because I'm trying to stop myself from going every day it's open... This is a must visit for certainly every Celiac that comes to Paris, and even if you aren't a Celiac, you should stop by and enjoy a canelé that (for all intents and purposes) shouldn't taste as good as it really does.
Helmut Newcake 36 Rue Bichat 75010 Paris, France 09 82 59 00 39