Sunday is a very lazy day for us in Paris. Everyone sleeps in, shops are not open, and the roads are devoid of vehicles. The only places buzzing with activity on Sunday mornings, besides places of worship, are the open air markets, filled with fresh produce and prepared foods, flower stands, sundry corners and certain bizarre offerings such as fur coats. The Sunday market on Boulevard Raspail is one of the more popular markets, due to its central location in the 6th arrondissement as well as its focus on organic (bio) products. The Raspail market is worth a trip in and of itself, to ogle at the fresh, still dewy lettuce and inhale the alluring scent of roasted chicken turning on spits and freshly fried potato galettes. For me, the icing on the cake is lunch at Le Tourne Bouchon, on the side of the market.
At first glance, Le Tourne Bouchon looks like any ordinary neighborhood cafe, humble and faded looking, with a long bar in front and a sitting area extending deep into the interiors. Due to its location just off the market however, you find it crowded on market days, not just with shoppers, but also the vendors themselves, catching up with each other and the tres sympa cafe proprietors after the market closes. The friendly service extends beyond the “friends of the house” to regular folks like me, who was there only for the second time, making me fall in love with the cafe even before I’ve taken a bite.
Le Tourne Bouchon offers a short menu of traditional bistro dishes, but on Thursday, Friday and Sunday afternoons, all their diners invariably order couscous, which comes with a variety of meat options, from a hulk of a souris d’agneau (lamb knuckle), grilled lamb chops and beef balls, to long, thin sausages of spicy merguez. The meat, while not of the best quality is properly grilled till tender and juicy. The couscous that accompanies the meat is of the fine, pale variety, somewhat bland in taste though one can introduce chickpeas and raisins to enhance the mouthfeel and flavor. However, the steaming stew of vegetables is without reproach, well seasoned and brimming with freshness, especially comforting when spiked with just a dot of the piquant harissa sauce. The vegetables cooked till fork-tender but with each vegetable still recognizable and vibrantly colored instead of being overcooked to an undistinguishable dull-colored mush. Portions are ridiculously generous, where a 12 Euro order of lamp chops comes with 4 largish chops with an extra merguez thrown in for good measure. And should one finish the big bowls of couscous and harissa tinted stew, one is welcome to ask politely for refills, which the smiley proprietress is happy to oblige.
We ended with a pot of creme caramel, unfortunately with a burnt base. I should have taken a hint from the regulars, who eschewed the desserts, which look and taste like they’ve been sitting in the refrigerator for far too long, and instead nursed their cups of Moroccan mint tea poured from individual tea pots. Perhaps next Sunday, after a jaunt in the market, I will return and remedy that mistake….
Le Tourne Bouchon (couscous available only during lunchtime on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays)
71 Boulevard Raspail, 75006, Paris