Africa in Paris

Goutte d'Or © T. Joly
Towards the North of the capital, the Goutte d’Or boasts a cosmopolitan population including a large number of African immigrants. They have developed commercial activities that give an exotic look to this neighbourhood you can explore on your own or with a guided tour allowing a better understanding of their way of life.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
Metro stations Château Rouge (Line 4) and Barbes-Rochechouart (Line 4 and 2)
- Restaurants
Le Nioumre, 7 rue des Poissonniers
Mini-Resto : 46 rue des Poissonniers
Chez Aida, 48 rue Polonceau
- Going out
Lavoir Moderne Parisien, 35 rue Léon
Olympic Café, 20 rue Léon
- Shopping
La Ferme Parisienne, 26 rue Myrha
Toto Tissu, 49 rue Barbes
Etoile de Kindia, 36 rue Stéphenson
- Exhibitions
Institut des Cultures d’Islam
19-23 rue Léon
- Good to know
The Goutte d’Or is sometimes described as a dangerous neighbourhood but there is no risk at all during the day.
- Guided tours
Atalante offers half day walking tour around this neighbourhood.
Price : €35 per person.
Next tours : November 10th, 17th and 24th, December 1st.
Paris is not only the City of Lights and the setting of worldwide known museums and monuments. It is also a cosmopolitan and multicultural city full of surprises for the ones who want to get off the beaten tracks and the purely touristy itineraries. Such is the case of the Goutte d’Or, this neighbourhood of the 18th arrondissement that spreads around the metro stations Château Rouge and Barbes Rochechouart.

Villa Poissonnière © T.Joly
 Mosaic of people
Inspired by a golden coloured white wine that was once produced there, its name reminds that in the former time vineyards were covering its hillsides. Today it is difficult to imagine such a pastoral setting except in the Villa Poissonnière, a private alley lined with small buildings and gardens that is hidden between rue de la Goutte d’Or and rue Polonceau. This neighbourhood is indeed one of the most densely populated of the capital with 22 000 inhabitants living on 38 ha. It is also a mosaic of people from the whole world with 47 nationalities represented. It is probably the record in Paris. Symbolising this diversity, one finds there churches, mosques and synagogues.
This vocation to be a place of refuge for migrants is not recent. Before the foreigners came, from mid 19th to mid 20th century the Goutte d’Or was one of the main lodging areas for provincials from all France flooding in Paris to look for jobs. French writer Emile Zola set here the story of his novel “L’Assommoir” that depicts the harsh living conditions of the working class at the end of the 19th century.

Goutte d'Or © T.Joly
 Wide range of shops
Having said that, nowadays this neighbourhood is above all known to shelter an important African community mainly made up of immigrants native of former French colonies in Sahel, North and West Africa. The first ones arrived during and right after the First World War but that’s from the 60’s that their number really became important. “Many are settling here because lodging is cheaper than in the other districts”, explains Céline Chanut, from the Abeca association that organizes guided walking tours around the Goutte d’Or.
At the same time, a wide range of businesses popped to fulfill these migrants’ needs and desire for products they used in their country of origin. To such an extent that from now on African people come there from all over France and even from other European countries to shop. These all kinds of stores create a colourful world of scents that pleases people fond of exotic products. Inasmuch as prices are far cheaper than in the other neighbourhoods of Paris.

Goutte d'Or © T.Joly
 Tropical fruits and vegetables
Here a grocery store contains millet, pistachios, almonds and different kinds of spices. A little further on, a fish shop offers the main African fish species like the capitaine, the thiof and the tilapia. Elsewhere butcheries sell hallal meat and tasty spicy sausages. In a quiet street, a store named “La Ferme Parisienne” (The Parisian Farm) – unique in Paris - even sells living chickens and guinea fowls.. Moreover, every day cassava roots, yam, hot peppers, mangoes and many other tropical fruits and vegetables fill the Dejean market stalls located near the metro Château Rouge. As to the typical products from Maghreb they are rather available at the market that takes place on Wednesday and Saturday mornings in Barbes under the aerial metro.
Of course the opportunities to discover the African gastronomy are numerous. There are many Congolese, Cameroonian, Malian… and above all Senegalese restaurants where its possible to taste the main traditional dishes of the country. Thiepboudien, which is a combination of fish, rice and vegetables. Yassa, which is made up of chicken or meat marinated in an onion, green lemon and spices based sauce accompanied with rice.

Goutte d'Or © T.Joly
 Magical powders
Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerian restaurants are as numerous and the cheapest ones offer couscous for only 6 € !!! And for dessert there is the choice between bakeries abounding with oriental pastries and bars serving mint tea as good as in North Africa.
However commercial activities are not limited to the ones related to food and catering. So numerous that you can’t miss them, beauty care shops for African ladies are everywhere. They come there for hair plaiting, artificial nails fitting and to buy fake lock or lotion to bleach the skin that are sometimes dangerous for health. Those products are so popular that they are also found in the stalls of many other boutiques including incredible ones selling anything from religious medals to powders supposed to have magical powers to become invisible or seduce one’s beloved. Admittedly superstitions and beliefs still take an important place in the neighbourhood life. The great number of marabouts (witch doctors) practising there is a proof.

Goutte d'Or © T.Joly
 African clothes
According to rumours Haitians would also practice macumba ceremonies… Is it true or is it a legend, no one knows for sure.
As to the fashion shops, they reflect the ethnic diversity of the population. Some are selling up to date clothing, others Arabic dresses worthy of the Thousand and One Nights or African boubous, sarouels, loincloths and headgears. It’s also possible to buy the coloured clothes adorned with traditional or modern patterns that are used to make them : basin, bogolan and Dutch wax. A batik style printed cotton, the latter is the most prized and the most expensive. However, being made in Netherlands it is cheaper here than in Africa !!! If you like those clothes, tailors can make you tailored dresses and outfits. For instance, Etoile Kindia, an outstanding dressmaker coming from Guinea-Bissau that owns a shop named “L’Etoile dee Kindia”. And if you are looking for clothing mixing tradition and modernity go to the rue des Gardes where the Mairie de Paris has set up workshops for ethnic style fashion designers.

Square Léon © T.Joly
 Engaged artists
It will also build an Institute of the Islam Cultures that should be inaugurated in 2012 – 2013. Till then a small temporary centre has been open on rue Leon and already organizes exhibitions. Besides, engaged artists took up residence in the neighbourhood. In the same street, the Lavoir Moderne Parisien and the Olympic Café have thus become renowned auditorium where French and African musicians, actors and humorists perform. But the Goutte d’Or also keeps an unchanging identity symbolized by those fellows who come every day to play Kings with mineral bottle caps in the area only green space of the area : the Square Leon, which was created in 1973 beside the beautiful Saint Bernard church. A contrast that sum up well the neighbourhood and makes its charm.

October 13, 2012