I have vivid memories of Chinese New Year in Beijing. It’s a huge celebration and the whole city is covered in red and gold. I remember running from the subway dodging firecrackers (most of which by my estimation were big enough to be considered “fireworks”) to get into our building. We watched from the window of our apartment, which rumbled with their booms and cracks all night long. The Spring Festival is easily the most important Chinese holiday, which begins on the first day of the lunar calendar and runs for not one but two weeks afterward.
I was chatting with a storeowner in Little Wenzhou yesterday, who said she was concerned that the festivities here in Paris wouldn’t be as big this year, since New Year’s day falls on a Monday and most people don’t have the day off. I asked her about the market and other events I heard about in the 13e, one of the largest of Paris’ quartiers asiatiques. (Many call it a Chinatown, but it’s also home to a large portion of Paris’ Southeast Asian population too.) She said she sticks to the rue Volta area and almost never goes all the way out to the 13e. Ça fait trop loin juste pour faire les courses! As for me, a bike ride out to some far-flung part of the city? I’m in!
I set out south on my vélib‘ almost all the way to the périphérique (a round highway that circles the city). After I passed through Place d’Italie, red New Years banners lined the streets the rest of the way. I was definitely in the right spot. I ended up at Paris Store and Tang Frères, where I stopped to stock up on stuff for dinner as well as some other pantry staples.
The place was packed, with people stocking up on last-minute provisions, hostess gifts, and hóngbāo for the traditional reunion dinner tonight. That’s what I get for coming here on New Year’s eve. But, I was still able to pick up a few things, including some fresh thai basil and other herbs, noodles, rice vinegar and a new mortar and pestal. I was able to resist the lanterns, bamboo, tiny blossoms, and tangerine trees, mostly because they wouldn’t have fit in my basket for the ride home.
At about 5 minutes to 13h I was wandering the cookware section when a man walks by, mumbles “on ferme” and shuts off the lights in the upstairs part of the store. Message received. I checked out downstairs and was ready to move on when I noticed what everyone was in such a hurry to close up shop for: some students of the local Chinese martial arts school were putting on a dragon dance. Miss the dragon dance for the year of the dragon? Absolutely not. So, I nabbed a spot on a nearby wall (which was a little precarious with the groceries, but thanks to the guy next to me, we got the job done), and waited for the performance to start. Dragon dances, like lion dances, are traditionally performed during Chinese festivals and celebrations. If you haven’t seen one, you really should. This was a smaller performance with a two-person dragon, but many involve multiple people stacking themselves on top of each other to make it leap into the air. It’s a pretty spectacular thing to see. There will no doubt be tons of these in this area as well as around Belleville and in the Marais over the next few weeks, especially since we’re ringing in the year of the dragon.
If all of this is, well, too Chinese for you, those who really want to get their lao wai on should head to the Chinese New Year Market out front of the mairie du 13e. You’ll find nothing you can’t get at the grocery store and, as you can see below, strictly non-Chinese patrons. At the booth pictured farthest to the right, a woman will take you through a series of tastings of Chinese sweets, standing right next to you yet speaking into a microphone. It runs through January 29th.
Finally, since the New Year falls on a weekday, the parades and city celebrations will be next weekend, so you still have a chance to catch some of the festivities. The parade in the Marais will be on Saturday, January 28 starting at l’Hôtel de Ville. The super popular Belleville Chinese New Year parade will be the following day, starting at 11h30 at boulevard de la Villette. See you there!
Oh and, this little guy jumped in my basket at Paris Store, and I just couldn’t say no to him. I needed a spot for my ever-growing brown change collection anyway (do we really need a 1 centime piece?). And, I think he’ll do just fine.
à plus et 新年快乐!
44 avenue d’Ivry, Paris 75013
+33 01 44 06 88 18
48, avenue d’Ivry, Paris 75013
+33 01 44 06 61 86