Rue Oberkampf Is The Coolest Street In Paris
By: Tom Malone - Summer 2017
Paris, France - While adventuring through Paris for four days, we stayed on Rue Oberkampf by complete happenstance (we found the cheapest room there). We knew nothing about the neighborhood, only that it was about a 30-minute walk from Notre Dame.
As it turns out, we stayed in the coolest neighborhood in the entire city. After exploring every corner of Paris on bikes and Metro stops, we ended up spending more time near our hotel than anywhere else because it was just that cool.
But, why? I mean, Paris has the St.-Germain neighborhood, where famous artists used to live and modern celebrities frequent its five-star restaurants. The Montmartre area has the famous Rue de Martyrs and the illustrious Moulin Rouge. The Left Bank has its quaint cafes, where you can buy a cappuccino for seven Euros. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Le Marais! How can this off-the-beaten-path Rue Oberkampf area be the coolest neighborhood in Paris?!
Simply that: it’s off the beaten path.
Rue Oberkampf embodied the everyday Parisian lifestyle. With little-to-no tourists (aside from us), the neighborhood allowed us to feel the day-to-day life of Parisians. There weren’t thousands of tourists clamoring through the streets to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. There weren’t hundreds of people trying to angle the perfect selfie of the Eiffel Tour. There were just Parisians enjoying their Wednesday afternoons at cafes and bars after work.
Since the neighborhood is just outside of the touristy areas, the prices reflected its location. Prices for the same cappuccino, baguette, and plate of duck were cut in half (or better) compared to places along the Seine River.
Though prices were halved in this area, the food was better than the tourist centers. Little, up-and-coming bistros served samples of braised beef. New vineyards tested their rose on the streets for one Euro per cup. Chocolatiers whipped up new candy creations and begged for people to try them. Even streetside crepes were half-price and twice as delicious as the same crepes in St.-Germain.
The food scene in Rue Oberkampf wasn’t just French; it was a multicultural fusion of deliciousness. We ate Bengali-French fusion food and fresh-fruit smoothies from Paris Feni. We sampled French-African cuisine from a restaurant with seemingly no name.
And then came the street fair.
Every night, whether it was a Wednesday or a Saturday, Rue Oberkampf morphed into a trendy food street fair. Each shop set up a small table outside and sold cheap samples of their products. From the bakery to the chocolatier, the sushi restaurant to the winery, and the butcher to the cafe, each shop showed their best products.
We drank 1 Euro rose that would have gone for 10 U.S. dollars per glass in the States. We ate an entire plate of braised beef for 2 Euros, three types of cheese directly from the cheesemaker for 1 Euro, and four pieces of fresh salmon sushi for 2 Euros.
The rose-petal food creations from Christian Morel were incredible: from flower-infused sushi to rose with a rose petal. Not only did they look amazing from an artistic standpoint, but they tasted phenomenal. Again, the rose petal in the rose would have been a bank-breaker in the U.S. (or any other neighborhood in Paris, for that matter).
The desserts and macarons from Carl Marletti were indicative of his 2009 Pastry Chef of the Year award. They presented an unbelievable color palate, but that’s not why we love dessert. They just tasted really, really good.
The grilled steak from Sebastien Martin of La Belle Bete might have been the best steak I’ve ever had. Whatever they marinated the steak in gave it the juiciest flavor combination, grilled to perfection. They poured a beer with it that was crafted from an ancient beer recipe that was unlike any beer I’ve ever tasted.
If we would have had this food in Le Marais, or near the Louvre, or in St.-Germain, we wouldn’t have been able to afford any other meals the entire time were stayed in Paris. But these healthy portion-sized samples in Rue Oberkampf barely dented our pockets.
Eventually, a few shops opened their doors for different fashion designers and artists to showcase their work. They offered free mojitos for anyone who wanted to stroll through the small exhibits, discuss the artistic process with the artists themselves, and explore the shop. But mostly, people just hung out on the street and enjoyed the crowd.
Some mopeds rode through the mass of people, but the people on the street bounced back and forth between the different food stands without a concern for a passing car. The D.J. blasted French-electro fusion music throughout Rue Oberkampf. The fair lasted from 7:30 p.m. until sunset (11:00 p.m.-ish).
I would stay on Rue Oberkampf next time I return to Paris, and every time after that. I felt immersed in Parisian culture, safe strolling through the neighborhood, and economic in my spending. I’m sure down the road Rue Oberkampf will become another place that the weary traveler can’t afford, as many areas in Paris have over the years. But until then, Rue Oberkampf remains the coolest street in Paris.