My first excursion into Paris’s Chinatown took place on Christmas Day 1997. I lived on rue Mouffetard at the time, just two metro stops away from the 13th, but I had never really known it was there. But that day I was hanging out with a few other solo expats, and we all decided to catch dinner and a movie. One of the largest cineplexes is at Place d’Italie, which just edges the borders of Chinatown, so we stopped into a nearby Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner (people do strange things on holidays when they’re not ‘home’).
There are two Chinatowns in Paris, now, with the Belleville area Chinese now outnumbering the formerly North African dominated neighborhood. But the Far East culture in Paris isn’t just concentrated into these areas, but is rather spread out. Paris is imbued in every way with Asian touches, from restaurants and boutiques to fashion, architecture, and art. Here are just a few examples of this vibrant community, made up of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and others, all unmistakably tainted with a very special Parisian flair.
Students have long known of the value of Chinese take out. In Paris, there are plenty of Asian restaurants offering low-cost meals. Some are simple take-away fast-food type eateries. Others are bustling restaurants. All of the sushi restaurants along rue Monsieur le Prince, between Luxembourg Gardens and the Odeon Theatre, are inexpensive and yummy, even if the packed tables resemble a high school cafeteria. For the most authentic Asian food on a budget, go to one of the Chinatowns (Belleville or the 13th arr.). If you want to stay closer to the center of town, check out the small wholesale district area dominated by Asians (and their markets and restaurants) between Metro Rambuteau and Metro Arts et Metiers in the 3rd arr. I used to eat a five course meal (with saki offered) for under 50ff at the Yakitori Grill in the Quartier Horloge (behind the Pompidou Center). The area around Metro Opéra, especially rue Ste. Anne, has become a bit of a Japanese quarter, with many Japanese restaurants such as Higuma, an authentic kitchen-style restaurant at 32, rue Ste .Anne. For those who want to splurge on something a bit fancier, Lô Sushi and Shozan are considered to be very good quality, while the Buddha Bar (Metro Concorde) and China Club (behind the Opéra Bastille) are known more for their trendy decor than their cuisine.
Check out the Time Out Guide to Paris for more up-to-date listings of both Chinese and Japanese restaurants. The Pariscope also lists restaurants by arrondissement, and can be found every Wednesday at news kiosks in Paris.
Kioko at 46 rue des Petits Champs is one of the oldest Japanese food stores in Paris. They sell noodles, soya sauce, sea-weed, rice, and all the ingredients you need to make home-made sushis. The Japanese residents living around the Palais-Royal come to stock up here. The Tang Brothers, who are very well-known to Parisians, manage two shops in Chinatown at 48 avenue d’Ivry and 168 avenue de Choisy. There is a great variety of exotic fruits, papaya, lychees, mangoes and fresh herbs, frozen pre-cooked dishes like prawns and ravioli or pork and prawns. Also on the avenue d’Ivry is the Paris Store, which stands out because of the quantity available and its low prices. Better take a shopping trolley because once you’re inside you want to taste and buy everything in sight. Here you can stock up on exotic fruits and vegetables, rice, prawns, and frozen Asian snacks. Up in the Belleville Chinatown you’ll find the Hong-Kong supermarket at 27 rue de Belleville.
Around the Opéra and the St. Germain area are many Japanese-owned boutiques, mostly duty-free luxury goods stores for the bus loads of Japanese tourists, but there are also some nice places tucked in there if you look. The Chinatowns are full of Chinese food markets, clothing stores, and boutiques. On the chic shopping street rue Etienne Marcel (stretching from Place des Victoires to Metro Etienne Marcel) are plenty of stylish Asian boutiques with pricey shoes and clothing such as Kabuki, Barbara Bui (and the minimalist Barbara Bui café), Miss China, and Junk (by Junko Shimada). Kenzo, the Japanese-born Parisian designer has one of his many boutiques here as well. Esteban is a beautiful boutique in the Marais at 20, rue des Francs-Bourgeois selling exquisite scented gifts such as Japanese incense and hand-made Kabuki sparkling candles. For an authentic Japanese kimono, visit Kimonoya at 11, rue du Pont Louis-Philippe in the 4th arr. Near the Hôtel de Ville.
Two shopping chains found scattered all over Paris are Muji and CFOC. Muji is the famous Japanese ‘no brand’ utilitarian shop full of bath, kitchen, and office accessories along with a few basic fashions in black and white. CFOC, or La Compagnie Française de l’Orient et de la Chine, is full of laquerware, Chinese teapots, silk jackets and other Asian goods. For Japanese cosmetics and skin care, every major department store carries Shu Uemura, but you can also visit their store at 176, boulevard Saint-Germain in the 6th arr.
For a limited time only, Japanese butô in Paris. Read the Paris Voice Online review. From January 8-19 the Maison de l’Unesco at 7, place de Fontenoy (Metro Segur) presents an exhibit on Chinese art and calligraphy throughout the 20th century, free to the public. Until the 21st of January, the Thés de Chine presents Contes Chinoise (Chinese Stories), a theatre production, at 20 bd Saint Germain (tel: 01.43.58.20.80). The Maison de la Culture du Japon has various events and exhibits throughout the year, with a focus on Japanese dance and theatre. It’s located on the Seine near the Eiffel Tower at 101bis quai Branly, 15th arr. For the season schedule of events call +33(0)126.96.36.199.00. For art buffs, check the Time Out Guide for listings of the Oriental Arts Museums. The Musée Cernuschi at 7, av. Vélasquez (8th arr.) features collections of Asian art, and ancient and modern Chine art. Interested in Asian dance music? ‘Asia Folies’ takes place every Friday at the French club L’Assemblée, 4 rue Arsene Houssaye in the 8th arr. I haven’t checked this one out personally, so caveat emptor, etc. For some entertainment in Chinese-style glamour, the Pagoda Cinema is an Oriental theatre built in 1895 and still going strong. Even if there’s nothing showing you’d want to see, it’s worth a visit. Get off at Metro François-Xavier and you’ll see it at 57 bis, rue de Babylone in the 7th arr. (01-36-68-75-07). The more modern Gaumont Grand Ecran is at the giant Cineplex at Place d’Italie where I went on that Christmas Day in 1997. The huge complex was designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, and has the biggest screen in Paris. Perfect for watching action films from home (all of the films here are shown in VO — original version – with French subtitles).
One of the floating dance clubs on the Seine has Chinese origins. The Guinguette Pirate started out as a boat on which a gang of Parisians tried sailing around the world. It fell apart in China, so they rebuilt it as a Chinese junk and sailed it back to Paris. It now rests on the Quai François Mauriac in the 13th arr. (Metro Quai de la Gare), and is one of the best nightspots in Paris. The China Club has a restaurant, a piano bar downstairs, and a fumoir upstairs serving fine whiskeys and Cuban cigars in a well ventilated lounge full of cosy leather armchairs in an Indochine-inspired colonial decor. Visit this place more for the atmosphere than the authenticity.
The Pavillion de Paris at 7, rue de Parme (the 9th arr.) is a boutique hotel just two years old, Japanese with its zen design and Chinese with its feng shui décor. Worth a visit if you’ve got quite a few francs to spare. If your budget is a bit more restrained, you could always pass by the Parc des Buttes-Chaumon for some gentle early morning tai-chi-chaun (Wu style). Sponsored by the Chinese Association of the 13th Arr., you’ll find the group every morning at the Allée de la Cascade from 9-11am.
For more of an insider’s view on the Asian culture in Paris, read a fantastic eight page article on the Asian portal site GoldSea.com. The author describes the historical, social, and cultural development and growth of the Asian community in Paris, and how it’s different from Asian communities in the United States.
The Musée Guimet has just re-opened after a year of renovations, featuring an international showcase of Asian art. Over 45000 artifacts from Japan, Korea, Nepal, Tibet, and India. Between Jan. 25 and April 1, the museum hosts an exhibit of 150 objects from the Asia of Alexander the Great to Gengis Khan. Find Japanese books, magazines, and Hello Kitty products at the Japanese Bookstore, Bunkado. On rue Augustin just outside Metro Quatre Septembre. The only sake store in Europe is right in the heart of Paris. Fugi Saki Cave, 8 rue Thérèse 75001.
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.