As much as I love French food, there is no way I could eat it every day. Thank goodness for Higuma.
This is not to say that the gyoza that arrive piping hot off the flat top or the ramen in what seems like a bottomless bowl are low-fat or healthful, but I have yet to wake up with heart palpitations after eating potstickers and noodles the way I did after a soufflé dinner at La Cigale Recamier or the fish quenelles at Aux Lyonnais. A meal at Higuma cures what ails me, particularly if what ails me is boredom with typical Parisian menus, a hangover, or a low bank balance — Higuma is nothing if not cheap, and cheap is hard to come by in Paris.
There is often a line out the door, but it moves very quickly because the service is no-frills and trés rapide. In truth, the place is a bit of a dive. Brightly lit, the walls have a greenish tint that flatters no one. The kitchen and sweaty cooks are in full view behind the counter and both are less-than-pristine.
Last night I sat directly in front of the gyoza man, whose sole responsibility is to cook the hundreds (or more likely thousands) of pork-filled “raviolis japonais” that Higuma serves each day. He puts them on the griddle, lined up in rows like soldiers, and lets them get brown and crispy on the bottom before pouring in some water and covering them to steam. They arrive at your table too hot to eat. Take a moment to fill your saucer with soy sauce and chili oil, get your chopsticks ready, and try not to burn your tongue.
Higuma serves soba and rice dishes, but I always get the ramen, or “lamen” as it is transliterated into French. This is a two-handed operation: Holding the chopsticks in your dominant hand and the spoon in the other, pull up the noodles and use the spoon to catch what you drop or can’t fit into your mouth. I learned this technique from watching others, and I caught someone — a Frenchman, no less — following my lead last night. For those of us raised in fork-wielding countries, I guess chopsticks are the great equalizer.
Higuma, 32 bis Rue Sainte Anne, Paris 75001, +33 (0)1 47 03 38 59, no reservations.