Welcome to Passage du Prado, part of Paris's modest but jewel-like Indian quarter in the 10th arrondissement.
Paris's Little India is just that: two small, covered passageways so discreetly tucked away in the shadow of Porte St Denis that you'd be unlikely to stumble across them par hasard, but picturesque in their compactness, and a great place for a lunch-time feast at budget prices.
Porte St Denis, which towers over the 10th arrondissement, is presently under wraps - a restoration programme is due to end next March. But even when covered like an enormous, gift-wrapped parcel, it still manages to retain its monolithic and imposing presence - not unlike a Christo extravaganza.
The 17th-century gateway, once part of the city's outer boundary but now engulfed by the extended metropolis, was the first of several triumphal arches built by Louis XIV to impress visitors coming into central Paris. Louis also took this moment to smash down the old city walls of Charles V, which he replaced with tree-lined boulevards.
Rue du Faubourg St Denis, which leads north from Porte St Denis in the direction of Barbes - a draw for dressmakers, with its low-price fabric warehouses - is constantly bustling, and has fabulous greengrocers, a specialist cheese shop and a fishmonger, all of which make you want to grab a basket and join the throng.
If you're walking west along Boulevard St Denis you'll come across the first passageway, Passage du Prado, on your right, before reaching the archway.
Passage du Prado, which links Boulevard St Denis to Rue du Faubourg St Denis, is fairly low-key, though it is more music-oriented than its sister arcade, Passage Brady, with a huge stock of colourful cassettes crammed into doll-size shops. Glamorous, Bollywood-style stars smile out from the covers. And the Indian and Pakistani music that floats out provides the perfect soundtrack to the Salon du The window display: a crowded table of card-playing Asian men, talking intently while slapping their cards down on the table.
One of the smaller ethnic groups that help to populate Paris hails from Mauritius; two Mauritian French are making a bit of a name for themselves. Spicy smells taunt the nose, but with a stomach full of croissants and pains au chocolat I had to make a mental note to come back with a healthy appetite at the first opportunity.
Prado comprises bars, restaurants, music shops and a number of barbers doing good trade, but still feels sparsely populated. This is clearly a male-only preserve, as the only Asian woman I saw was a seamstress in one of the wholesale dressmakers.
Step out on to Rue du Faubourg St Denis and you are suddenly hurled out of the Orient and back into the Paris street life of the 10th arrondissement, a lively residential area.
Head north, but pay attention. Passage Brady, which dates back to 1828, is set back through a discreet archway on your right. Chez Jeannette, opposite, is a good landmark, with its red and chrome interior and faded, cliched Toulouse Lautrec wallpaper - and a handy pit-stop for a quick, cooling beer.
If Prado is echoey, Brady could not be more hectic and overflowing - here, every spare inch is used.
The passageway is run-down but romantic, with ancient street lanterns hanging high above, and yellowed, peeling shop signs like travel stickers on a well-worn leather suitcase. The tiny, den-like restaurants all double their size by cramming as many tables as possible against the open fronts, leaving a small walkway in between, so narrow that you instantly feel part of the party, and get a good, close-up look at the dishes on offer.
"Entrez ...Venez gouter." Waiters stand in front of the tables, ready to lure you in as you squeeze by. You can settle down to a bargain set lunch for 40 francs, grab yourself a takeaway snack, or simply head into the bazaar-like stores where you can buy anything from a brass god to a flower garland, from interiors piled high with colourful treasures.
Passage Brady was chopped in two by Boulevard de Strasbourg in 1854. The second, shorter section is open-air and cobbled, with a strange mixture of outdoor restaurant, the Seven Stars Video Bazaar, specialising in Pakistani and Indian videos, and several incongruously placed fancy-dress shops.
After a thorough browse of Little India, I found myself heading off in the direction of the Pompidou centre - a 15-minute walk from Porte St Denis - to which, it seems, every tourist in Paris is inevitably drawn.
Walking back past the entrance to Passage du Prado, three exhausted rollerskaters hovered around catching their breath, clearly warming up for another energetic onslaught on the passage.
Kate Mikhail paid pounds 89 return for a ticket on Eurostar (0345 303030). Fares from London Waterloo to Gare du Nord start at pounds 69 return. To qualify for this deal, you need to travel on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, in both directions, and to stay away for at least one Saturday night; or book 14 days in advance and travel there and back in a day, between Monday and Thursday inclusive.
From Gare du Nord, you can walk south to Little India in 15 minutes.Reuse content