15 January 2016

a quiet revolution: le zingam, 75011

When Voltaire-area greengrocer Le Zingam first opened in April 2014, I gave it a wide berth, because it seemed like yet another overpriced organic-locavore bear-trap. A messenger bicycle forms part of the outdoor vegetable display, while the interior's rough-hewn furniture recalls Big Sur. Proprietors Sonny Lac and Lelio Stettin are two young guys from the neighborhood whose combined food and wine experience could be recorded on the back of a short receipt. (Lac used to work at folkloric neighborhood wine bistrot Mélac.)

I first visited Le Zingam simply because it was open Sunday. It was far less expensive than I anticipated. A year or so later, I realised, in something like astonishment, that Lac and Stettin's little shop has slowly taken over my entire diet. Its products have all become staples: its trios of slender saucisses, its tomme de chèvre and its Saint Nectaire, its Sicilian clementines, its yogurt pots, its onions, its turnips and leeks, its craft beers, its natural wines. For foodstuffs I no longer shop anywhere else, save for the occasional foray to Belleville for Asian and Middle-Eastern ingredients.

In their surprisingly astute product selection and their ironclad commitment to affordability, Lac and Stettin have done something that runs up against my most basic principles as a Parisian consumer: they've created a place that supersedes the weekly street markets. Le Zingam's products are better, and just as cheap, if not cheaper.

The primacy of street markets is one of Paris' more vexing pleasures. If one seeks fresh fruit or vegetables, there are almost no alternatives other than to schedule one's shopping around weekly street markets, for the produce available in the city's supermarkets is almost universally of a grotesquely low quality. (I have often found myself standing in an otherwise professional-seeming Monoprix, staring in dismay at a pile of wrinkled courgettes, encrusted with flies.)

A third option exists, the city's stand-alone grocers, primeurs, which fall into two subcategories, those run by Arabs, whose products often seem to be street market leftovers, and those run by ethnic-French, who charge much higher prices.

More recently, east Paris has seen alternatives arise in the form of various organic-locavore boutiques. (Many are in Le Zingam's immediate surrounding area: Maison POS, La Petite Cagette, and Les Poireaux de Margeurite.) Typically these establishments earnestly offer products of wildly inconsistent quality at prices that approach highway robbery. Sentier's Terroirs d'Avenir is an exception, in that their products are of a consistently high quality, and their prices have arrived at highway robbery. Mentally I class most of the other organic épiceries along with the recent crop of gluten-free cafés across the city, as the work of twee amateurs.

To be fair, the product selection at Le Zingam is not without the occasional blind spot. The chipolatas (breakfast sausages) in the fridge are lean and unpleasant, and the bags of organic pasta are no match for De Cecco. I have no idea why they stock coffee from Brittany. (That's like stocking sardines from Auvergne, or Amish salsa.) Lac's wine selection is improving by the week - most recently with the addition of Beaujolais from Georges Descombes and Marcel Joubert, and Burgundy from Gilles Ballorin - but for now still skews a tad downmarket and just-organic.

But nowhere else in Paris does one find the terrific local craft beers of Deck & Donahue so plentiful and so inexpensive. And from the cheese selection to the charcuterie to the vegetables, the rest is outstanding. (The place is, by default, the best fromagerie in the 11ème.)

Moreover, in addition to possessing almost infallible good taste, Stettin and Lac execute it well: service at the shop is invariably sunny and efficient. Their business model, in which profit margins are very modest, obliges them to work hard and handle high turnover, which in turn keeps product fresh. This is, I might point out, the opposite approach to that taken by most Paris restaurants and épiceries, many of whose operators seem hell-bent on working as little as possible for the greatest possible profit, heedless of the morose, miserly ambience that often results.

Le Zingam's name, despite its sonic awkwardness, is apropos. It's the French word for shop, magasin, rendered in verlan, the simplistic French youth slang that, to anglophones, can't help resembling pig latin. Embedded in the choice of name is the quietly revolutionary conviction that fine foodstuffs should be egalitarian and unpretentious, and, above all, normal. Like part of a daily routine.

Le Zingam
75, rue du Chemin Vert
75011 Paris
Métro: Voltaire or Saint Ambroise
Tel: 07 87 55 65 56

Related Links:

A 2014 article in Le Monde about Le Zingam. 


  1. I've missed your posts about Paris! Are you back? Delighted to hear about this place, but I've found another wonderful cheese shop in the 11th, on tiny rue Abel Rabaud: La Fromagerie Goncourt. They have the classics--beurre Bordier, Greek yogurt from Mavrommatis (awesome with homemade granola), a lovely truffled Brillat-Savarin, a really good brebis whose name escapes me. Of course, they also have overpriced organic juices, but they recycle and are very nice.

  2. Is this the coffee they're selling though?