An ode to rue Oberkampf

A friend sent me a Happy Thanksgiving text, saying we probably wouldn’t be celebrating since we are newly-minted Parisians. I said of course we would! Holidays should be added, not subtracted. Especially holidays that are all about food and eating together. But without a doubt, this Thanksgiving would have a French twist. We would celebrate with our friends and neighbors Pat and Julie, and we would have the contributions of all of our favorite rue Oberkampf vendors. It would be a giving of thanks for our new little favorite corner of the world.

Julie did the lion’s share of the organizing as we were in Slovenia and would arrive back in Paris the night before. Neither of us has an oven; our tiny apartments simply can’t accommodate them. We have toaster ovens, and trying to do a full-on Thanksgiving dinner in them is a situation that would be the making of a horror film in the US. On the other hand, our Slovenian apartment did have an oven, so we dried out cubed bread and roasted chestnuts there, then gingerly carried them home in our backpack. Toaster oven dressing would be just fine.

Bouba, our butcher/roast chicken guy would be making the turkey on his rotisserie. Mark can’t go to see Bouba without him asking how I am. We often make the slight detour past his shop just to say hello, even if we’re not buying a chicken that day. Bouba wants to know, how are our friends from the US who he’s met? How is my sister? How are Pat and Julie? Julie went to see him one day last spring and he asked, how are Mary and Mark? Julie said I don’t know, I haven’t seen them in a while. He said, how is that Julie, don’t you live next door? Bouba has a wife and 4 young children back in Senegal. He gets to see them once a year. He was a French teacher there, now he sells roast chicken in Paris. I’m sure he can’t imagine living next door to someone and not seeing them.

Kris, our wine man, keeps track of what we like. He would be making the wine recommendation. Mark went to see him one day and said he wanted a rosé, but he wanted to try something we’d not had before. Kris went to the section and started pointing: you’ve had this one, this one, that one, that one over there.  Julie asked him to recommend a wine to pair with turkey and he gave her a can’t-go-wrong Bordeaux.

Our cheese man has the tiniest, stinkiest shop of the street. Julie went to ask him for a recommendation for a celebratory cheese for our feast. He instantly said a Mont d’Or, a soft cheese from the Jura. It’s a classic to serve for New Years, baked with sliced shallots tucked inside, and the melty goodness is spooned over boiled potatoes. I went to see him the morning of Thanksgiving to get a gruyère for the green beans we were making. He knows who my husband is, so I barely have to specify what I’m there for and how much I want. He knows what we like. I mentioned that we’re Julie’s neighbors and that we would be having the Mont d’Or. He said the next time we came in we would have to try a cheese similar to the gruyère, but that is aged longer and has crystals of salt. It is considered another celebratory cheese. Julie says he’s trying to kill us.

I detoured a bit to go to a justifiably famous patisserie for a wafer-thin apple tart, as my usual favorite neighborhood shop didn’t have one that day. There would be baguettes. And chocolates. We feasted and toasted.  The wine was perfect. To rue Oberkampf! To our new home in France! To friends both new and old!  Later that evening we went to our favorite jazz club, just down the street in the Belleville neighborhood. Jess, the young American expat server always remembers us and we exchanged thanksgiving stories. And I am reminded how nice it is to show up. To be a regular. We travel often, far away, and for long stretches of time. And I am very thankful I have a place to come back to, even though it’s far from where I used to live, that is now very much home.



  1. Oh, this sounds so perfect! We had our usual party of ten at our house for Thanksgiving with a 25 pound turkey and plenty of Beaujolais Nouveau to drink. That’s become our yummy, fruity, Thanksgiving wine.
    I want to taste Bouba’s turkey!!!! Please tell him we say hello and are looking forward to our return. Give our love to Mark as well–and keep writing! You have a gift!



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