Like a bottle of fine Bordeaux or a ripe brie, Paris’s kosher scene has come of age. When Polish Holocaust survivors Joseph and Helene Korcarz opened their eponymous bakery in 1948, it was one of only a handful of kosher eateries, which were relegated primarily to the narrow streets of Le Marais, the city’s historic Jewish quarter. Today, kosher palates can hardly keep up with new restaurants, as befits a modern-day capital. The City of Light and its 20 arrondissements are now home to more than 200 kosher restaurants, cafes and bakeries.
“There’s a real market for kosher food that wasn’t there when my grandparents opened Korcarz,” said Michael Korcarz, Joseph and Helene’s 29-year-old grandson, whose fourth kosher sushi restaurant opened last month in the 11th arrondissement near the Place de la Republique.
In the past decade alone, the number of kosher restaurants serving Paris’s 300,000 Jews has doubled, according to the Beth Din of Paris, which oversees more than 75 percent of the country’s kosher eateries.
“I think more and more young people find it normal to say, ‘I eat kosher,’ which wasn’t the case 15 years ago,” said L. David Cohen, a research scientist who maintains a list of the country’s kosher restaurants on his Web site “Cashere a Paris, Kosher in France” (kosher.online.fr). According to Cohen, the site he launched in 1996 now attracts about 1,000 visitors per week.
The multiplying number of kosher restaurants in Paris is an encouraging sign for French Jews, who have been the target of more than a thousand antisemitic attacks since the beginning of the second intifada. France is home to about 6 million Muslims, and many of the attacks have been linked to hostile Muslim youth. After a Jewish school was firebombed in November in the Paris suburb of Gagny, French President Jacques Chirac called an emergency cabinet meeting to address the country’s spiraling antisemitism. The French president has since pledged to implement educational initiatives to promote tolerance, increase security at Jewish institutions, and track antisemitic incidents in the coming months.
“I know Jews who are buying apartments or houses in Israel in case they have to leave France,” Cohen said. “It’s interesting that at the same time [as] some Jews are talking about leaving the country, others are investing in kosher restaurants.”
Cohen attributes the growing demand for kosher cuisine in Paris in part to the outreach efforts of Chabad-Lubavitch. The organization, which encourages the practice of traditional Judaism, runs 30 centers in the area — and 60 throughout France.
Rabbi Mendel Asimov, who heads a Chabad center in northwest Paris — where a spate of kosher restaurants have opened in recent years — agreed that the organization’s outreach work has helped perpetuate the trend. “When you open a store, you need people to be interested in the products you sell,” Asimov said. “Chabad made people want to eat kosher.”
Still others attribute the rise in the number of kosher restaurants to the culinary predilections of the descendants of Sephardic immigrants who came from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia during the 1960s. “While the first generation in France made their own pastries and challah, their children want to buy it or go to restaurants,” Michael Korcarz said. “They lead very different lives than their parents.”
Herve Kabla, an Orthodox Parisian whose parents emigrated from Tunisia in 1965, agreed. “It wasn’t until the children became involved in French life that there was a push to adapt the pleasure of the French city for a Jewish audience,” said Kabla, who frequents Paris’s kosher restaurants.
A few years ago, most of the kosher restaurants were informal, family-style joints, but hungry Jews and their friends now have many options in terms of ambiance, cuisine and price ranges. One can grab a slice at Pizza Hai, not far from Montmartre; sit down for Indian food at Tandoori Palace in the densely populated 19th arrondissement; talk business over pasta at Il Conte, located just off the Champs Élysées, or order traditional French fare at La Brasserie du Belvédère in the chic 17th arrondissement. Today, the Marais — still home to Korcarz bakery — boasts a lively mix of trendy boutiques, gay bars, Judaica stores and some of the most high profile kosher restaurants like the Jo Goldenberg delicatessen and L’As du Fallafel.
“Ten years ago, there wasn’t much of a choice if you had a meeting with your boss or you were receiving an important guest,” Cohen said. “Today with so many types of places — and with every week a new restaurant opening — there is no excuse for not going kosher.”
The demand for kosher food has also boosted the market for kosher products in grocery stores. Slowly more French foods, like Beaujolais wine and a Nutella-like chocolate spread, have earned a hecksher seal of kosher certification from the Beth Din of Paris. Menachem Lubinsky, the editor of “Kosher Today,” a trade publication for the international kosher food industry, said increased availability of kosher products in mainstream supermarkets can be attributed to “increased awareness of kosher globally, and to a greater emphasis on savvy marketers who do not want to miss out on a key market.”
“Many supermarkets in Paris have opened kosher sections to meet the demand,” Michael Korcarz said, noting that his parents, who now run five Korcarz bakeries, provide kosher bread to 260 markets and retailers in France. “Still it will never be like in America, where you see [hekshers] on everything, including French Evian and Perrier bottles.”
Korcarz, 29 rue des Rosiers, 4th arrondissement
Jo Goldenberg, 7 rue des Rosiers, 4th arrondissement
L’As du Fallafel, 34 rue des Rosiers, 4th arrondissement
Il Conte, 36 rue de Berry, 8th arrondissement
La Brasserie du Belvédère, 109 av de Villiers, 17th arrondissement
Pizza Hai, 18 rue Tchaïkowski, 18th arrondissement
Tandoori Palace, 1 allee Darius Milhaud, 19th arrondissement