IS THIS PARIS?
A visual journey through an ethnic supermarket
by Ingri Bergo, Sadia Rao & Mick ter Reehorst
"Food is a cultural landmark", says Abdoussalam Shajahan (30).
Like many other South-Asians, Shajahan visits the 10th District of Paris to purchase Indian spices, fruit and vegetables. Every month, he makes the 30 minute-drive to take his mum shopping to VS CO Cash and Carry. It is the largest Indian supermarket in Paris, in Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis.
With the biggest train station in Paris - Gare du Nord - just down the street, people from Paris and far beyond come to the neighborhood to eat South-Indian dishes, drink traditional mango lassi, and stock up on pastries. The restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries down Rue Faubourg Saint Denis are all Indian. Most of the menus are all vegetarian - something rather particular in France, a country known for its meat-dominated cuisine.
Inside the busy store, customers stock baskets full of South-Asian spices, leafy greens and fresh mangos. A smell of spices mixed with sweet tea hangs in the air. Passing around heavy bags of rice, the young men working at the store are communicating in Tamil or English rather than French. Tall shelves are propped with colorful cans of spices; turmeric, cardamom and all kinds of curry spices.
“This is a unique place,” Sugeyan Ganesan (26) says. “It’s the first and biggest Indian supermarket in Paris. We have more than 10 thousand products in the shop.” Ganesan has worked in the supermarket since he moved to Paris from Sri Lanka two years ago to study international business.
“Most of the customers here are Indian or Sri Lankan,” he says. The store imports groceries from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and sometimes Pakistan. The selection of fruit depends on the season. This month, it is mangoes. An endless row of boxes with fresh, yellow mangoes are piled on top of each other outside the store.
Surayya Taranum lives in the neighbourhood and has come to the VSCO Cash and Carry since she moved to Paris six years ago.
“When I arrived in Paris this was the store with the most variety in products,” she says. While filling up her basket, she said this supermarket is the only place where she can find all the necessary ingredients to cook traditional Indian dishes.
To both Taranum and Shajahan’s mum, Halima, being able to cook traditional Indian dishes is an important way of keeping in touch with their home country.
In this particular area of Paris, they feel closer to their cultural roots.
“I grew up here, so I have the French food culture in me,” Shajahan says. His parents do not.
They moved from a tiny South-Indian village to France 30 years ago. They prefer cooking traditional Indian food, despite their son’s effort to introduce them to French cuisine. “Boeuf bourguignon, moules frites, or even sushi - it’s not their thing,” Shajahan says.