If you’re looking to step off the beaten path and take a break from "traditional" Paris for a while, head over to the neighborhood known as La Chapelle, situated at the cusp of the 10th arrondissement. Otherwise referred to as “Little Jaffna" in reference to the Sri Lankan capital city, this neighborhood is bursting with activity, culture, and color. Here, you’ll not only find shops and restaurants reflecting the prominence of Sri Lankan and South Indian culture; you’ll hear the Tamil language bouncing around you on the streets.
Being in La Chapelle feels like getting out of Paris, and you’ll be very glad to have done so once you get to know the city well and are looking for unusual jaunts. Make sure to save time for chai tea, samosas, and window-shopping for saris.
Orientation and Transport
La Chapelle is relatively tiny in comparison to other Paris neighborhoods, located northeast of the Seine in the district known to locals as the 19th arrondissement. The Bassin de la Villette and the Canal St. Martin runs to the east with Gare du Nord just southwest. Montmartre is not too far away to the northwest.
- Main Streets around La Chapelle: Rue du Faubourg St. Denis, Boulevard de la Chapelle, Rue de Cail
- Getting there: The neighborhood is best served by the metro stop La Chapelle on line 2 or Gare du Nord (lines 4, 5 and RER B, D). From the stop, the Rue du Faubourg St Denis offers a panoply of shops and restaurants; explore the other streets around this main artery to dig a bit further.
This neighborhood owes much of its current cultural character to the 1980s when large numbers of ethnic Tamils fled the violent civil wars in Sri Lanka and landed in France. While the French prefecture (immigration authority) was at first reluctant to give the Tamils asylum, the Office for the Protection of Refugees opened its doors to the refugees in 1987. Now, over 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in France, with the majority residing in Paris.
Events of Interest
Ganesh Festival: Ganesh, easily identified by its elephant head, is the most well-known and beloved Hindu god. Every year in Paris, a festival is thrown in honor of his birthday, usually at the end of August. A bronze statue of Ganesh is mounted on a flower-adorned chariot and paraded through the streets by devotees, while an intoxicating joyfulness fills the air. This year’s celebration takes place on August 28th starting at 9 am, at the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple. Don't miss it for a decidedly different Parisian experience.
Out and About
Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam (17 rue Pajol, Metro La Chapelle) is a Hindu temple, located near La Chapelle in the 18th arrondissement, offers a calendar of events throughout the year. Besides its regular daily worships, or “poojas,” it organizes celebrations for Divali (Festival of Light), the Tamil New Year and its most famous, the Ganesh festival.
Eating and Drinking in the Area
- Muniyandi Vilas (207 rue de Faubourg St. Denis) - One of the most authentic diner-style South Asian restaurants in Paris, you can sample a choice of delicious Sri Lankan dishes here for next to nothing-- from dosas to curries and samosas. Water and mildly spicy hot chai are served in traditional metal cups, the wait staff is eternally friendly, and you’ll feel the hustle and bustle of the place at any hour of the day. Watching the staff make home-made parathas (Indian flatbread) in the window outside is always a tempting sight, too.
- Krishna Bhavan (24 rue Cail) - This 100% vegetarian eatery serves South Indian fare in a calm, friendly atmosphere. Like other nearby restaurants, you’ll find your choice of masala dosas, samosas, and chapattis, with lassi and chai to drink. If you can’t decide what to eat, go for the thaali special. At just 8 euros, you’ll get an assortment of mini vegetable and curry dishes that won’t disappoint.
- Restaurant Shalini (208, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis) - If you’re searching for a nice sit-down restaurant in the area, try this one, where a host of Sri Lankan dishes are on offer. Try a tandoori entrée or a plate of biryani rice, or choose the 12-Euro set menu of an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Make sure to save room for vattalappam, a traditional spicy coconut custard.
- VT Cash and Carry and VS. CO Cash and Carry are two of the best shops in the city for procuring authentic Sri Lankan and Indian food and products. Whether you’re looking to cook a chicken curry during your stay or simply searching for some chai teabags or tasty nibbles, these shops should have what you’re looking for. Be prepared for cramped aisles as both locations are extremely popular with the locals.
- Singapore Silk Point - If you’re not feeling daring enough to try on and/or buy a sari, check out this western-style Indian clothing store. Here, you’ll find wearable cotton and linen basics, in addition to a large selection of jewelry. Meander your way to the back of the store for a glimpse of the tablas drums and traditional Indian guitars.