The Marais is an area in Paris that straddles parts of the third and fourth arrondissements. Marais means “marsh” in French and was created from swampland drained by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. When the Jews were expelled from Paris 600 years ago, many settled in the Marais, which was just outside the city’s boundaries at that time. Their presence has continued until today. The Marais also houses Paris’ oldest square, the Place des Vosges, built from 1605-1612.
Its narrow, cobblestoned streets are lined with art museums, trendy clothing boutiques and Jewish bakeries and restaurants. Two such restaurants, specializing in falafel, face each other on the corner of Rue des Rosiers and Rue des Écouffes. One restaurant, L’As du Fallafel, gets lots of press and has lines of tourists. Noted restaurant critic Lenny Kravitz even recommended them. Summer or winter, there’s always some guy who appears to be an ex-Israeli commando in front, encouraging passersby to take a break and eat a pita. The other restaurant, Mi-Va-Mi, is treated like LDF’s poor stepsister, getting less attention and shorter lines. There’s a slightly chubbier and less aggressive guy in front, also drumming up business.