Three Asian-American girls from California are on a serious mission to find the best-tasting Asian restaurants in Paris. Melissa Lim, Jocelyn Ho and Diana Liu are the ChopChicks in Paris! The three adventurous young ladies met in France where they now live and work, and for the past year, conspire every week to hunt down the most authentic (and affordable) Asian flavors in Paris. Co-founder Melissa Lim says their tantalizing project was motivated by a love (and homesickness) for Asian food.
“As you can imagine, being expats comes with a lot of homesickness. We’ve found that food is a powerful medium to help us stay in touch with our heritage and build new friendships with others in similar situations.”
The ChopChicks in Paris use a community-based approach for their gastronomical treasure hunt. The curated “Asian” finds includes not just East Asia but also South, Southeast, Middle East, and Russia so they can explore a variety of culinary traditions and cultures. Don’t expect stereotypically “Asian” dishes to fill your palate. On their different media platforms, they publish restaurant reviews, original photographs and short clips of the restaurants they’ve dined at.
Every week, they host a “ChopChicks Dinner“ at a new Asian eatery and invite strangers to dine with them. INSPIRELLE joined them for some savory Indonesian street food at Djawa restaurant during Chinese New Year celebrations. Before you rush to check out their Top 10 Picks in Paris below, meet the ChopChicks who are crazy about their bibimbops, bentos and bubble tea.
How did three California girls meet up in Paris to form ChopChicks?
Although we all previously lived in Northern California (around San Francisco), we met in Paris through the power of social networks. Melissa and Diana met via email introduction through a mutual friend, and Jocelyn and Melissa met through a Facebook group for expats in Paris. After spending some time together, we realized we all shared a passion for Asian food. We only ever wanted to eat at Asian restaurants and were always discussing our favorite dishes, recipes, and new places we wanted to try. We figured that we probably weren’t the only ones who felt this way so we decided to channel our gourmandisme, our love for Asian food, into a project. Since we’re always eating at Asian restaurants anyway, why not do something interesting with it?
How would you rate the Asian food scene in Paris compared to other big cities?
For tourists who don’t know the city well, it may seem like the ubiquitous traiteurs, often serving a questionable mix of Hong Kongnese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese-style dishes, represent the Asian food scene in Paris.
“People don’t come here expecting to find an Asian food mecca, but this is where we hope to surprise them… and overturn stereotypes.”
The diverse restaurants we’ve had the pleasure of trying – from trendier establishments (Street Bangkok Local Food, the three Ippudo branches that opened up in the past few years) to more traditional, family-friendly places (Thai Yim 2, Akasaka) – testify to an Asian food culture that is vibrant, flourishing, and most importantly, truly delicious.
We would say that it’s on par with other big cities we’ve lived in and visited. However, it’s still lagging a bit behind London, whose extensive range of international cuisines and diverse food markets still trumps most. There will be places in every city that serve subpar dishes or pander to the local palate instead of working to showcase the unique flavors in a particular culture’s cuisine. (Don’t get us started about that horrible bubble tea experience we once had). But this is where the ChopChicks and our restaurant reviews come in handy. We’ve dined at 93 restaurants and counting! Nevertheless, we’re still searching for a Malaysian or Singaporean food that really hits the spot so recommendations are welcome!
Is it true that there are no good authentic Chinese restaurants in Paris?
No, and we’re not sure where this came from. Try Trois Fois Plus De Piment for Sichuanese cuisine, Raviolis Chinois Nord-Est for dumplings, cold vegetable dishes, and their house tea imported from China, and 0 d’Attente for a family-style meal that includes dishes like xiao long bao, mapo tofu, and fish heads swimming in scallions and spice. Oh, and decadent Chinese-style hot pot at Chungking Express (extra points go to their nod to Wong Kar-wai’s film).
What are you judging a restaurant on? Food, presentation, authenticity or price?
All of the above contributes to one’s experience of a restaurant and factors into our reviews. Of course, when it comes to determining authenticity, we’re better placed for some cuisines than others. For example, we’re all most familiar with East Asian food. But judging a restaurant is one of the purposes of our ChopChick community dinners. We love discussing with people from different backgrounds who have either never tried the cuisine in question or are much more knowledgeable about it than ourselves. In the end, the food obviously carries more weight than an over-emphasis on presentation. After all, we’re there for the food!
In fact, there are many Asian restaurants in Paris. How do you find the one that tempts a ChopChick?
We receive many promising recommendations from friends, followers, different websites; our to-eat list is ever growing! Then it’s a simple matter of trying the place out for ourselves – sometimes several times – before we post our review. But on a deeper level, our favorite restaurants as ChopChicks tend to be determined by both the quality of the food and the memories the dishes evoke for us.
ChopChicks was also birthed out of a certain homesickness (we’re all Asian-Americans living in France) and an acknowledgment of the fact – in the words of famous food writer M.F.K. Fisher – that food, love, and a sense of security are deeply intertwined. The restaurants we go back to over and over again usually nourish us through taste but also through memory whether it be conversing in Mandarin with the owners who also have a Taiwanese accent or discovering the lion head meatballs that we rarely find outside our family’s kitchens. But we’re also creating new memories around the shared tables we’ve found in Paris, bringing perfect strangers (or friends, or anyone who wants to come, really) together to connect over Asian cuisine. How do you know if a restaurant is le bon? Join us at dinner and you’ll discover for yourself).
ChopChick’s Top 10 Picks
ChopChick’s top picks list is constantly evolving – here are the latest spots that they’re crazy about:
1) Akasaka for seafood pancake and sundubu (spicy soft tofu stew), ChopChick Joce’s favorite.
2) Sweeteas for bibimbap or kimchi jjigae lunch sets, in a trendy and charming Parisian spot.
3) Rice and Fish for fresh chirashi bowls and sushi.
4) Juji-ya for delicious + affordable Japanese bentos.
5) Koh-yang for piping hot bibimbap bowls and homestyle Korean food.
7) Thai Yim 2 for the best Thai we’ve had in Paris so far.
8) Chatime for bubble milk tea (ChopChick fave = oolong milk tea, 30% sweet, no ice, pearls)
9) Kunitoraya for Japanese udon noodles in an eclectic atmosphere.
10) Shiki for beautiful authentic Japanese cuisine, dinner bento set (€32) is pricey but amazing.
Yearning for more? discover INSPIRELLE‘s roundup of favorite Chinese restaurants in Paris!