When it comes to dining in Paris, I feel like we have truly done the full spectrum. From super-fancy-you-can’t-dine-without-a-jacket to buying bread and cheese at a local Franprix to make sandwiches in our hotel room. Notably, the sandwiches happened the night after we had the fancy meal with a jacket and we were feeling exceptionally poor. So here are a few of my tips on eating on your trip to Paris!
The most important meal of the day: Coffee
If you just ask for coffee you’ll probably get an expresso. And if you’re having breakfast you might get some bread with it, but not milk. I am not a big coffee drinker, so getting that tiny expresso down the first time nearly put hair on my chest. If you want filter coffee, ask for café Americana, and if you want a cappuccino, ask for café creme. If this gets a but much for you, just head to you nearest McDonalds. In Paris you can also get a croissant, pain au chocolat or a macaroon with you coffee! A McDonalds Cappuccino and pain au chocolat became our preferred on-the-go breakfast combo as it was simple and cheap when we had somewhere to be in a hurry!
In my opinion you really can’t beat a french cafe breakfast on a cold morning. Look out for a place that has a combo breakfast going on your hotel’s street. There’s usually a combination of baguette, crepe and coffee to start your morning. We loved grabbing some sort of pastry for breakfast, and pain au chocolat quickly became a favourite. directly translated it means bread with chocolate. Remember that bread is a staple in french diets, so expect it with most of your meals.
Dining off the street
I’m a sucker for a Nutella crepe. Any time of the year, and under any weather conditions. My husband prefers the Nutella banana variety. These usually go for about 3€ to 3.50€. If you’re paying more, walk to the next corner. Of course Paris is known for itsfood and bakeries or patisseries. There are the delicate pasteries you know you couldn’t appreciate, to the French staples like quieche Lorraine and baguettes.
You can get fabulous baguettes you can from street vendors and small shops along your route. We loved grabbing a quieche or baguette and eating them as we walked to our next destination, or sitting in a park or along the banks of the Seine munching on food. And don’t forget the markets. There are many markets along the streets of Paris selling fresh produce. And the price tag is a lot better than you think. Grab some cherries and a peach, and head off somewhere pretty to eat them.
On our first trip we noticed a lot of people just sitting in groups with their friends and drinking on the many banks of the Seine. So we bought a bottle of red wine, two glasses and used the corkskrew I keep in my handbag while travelling and watched the sun set while enjoying our wine. On another occasion, after walking for ours we rested on the Seine among the locals with two beers. In my opinion, its a way to experience Paris like the locals do.
On actually eating French food in Paris
You can get everything in Paris. From pizza to sushi, to Korean food and American bagels. But a ‘French’ meal in a ‘French’ restaurant was somewhat harder to find. We eventually found a restaurant to have a very French supper as our last one in Paris. And it was in the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter is the area around the university and its hostels, and is known for its student life. There are also many fantastic restaurants and shops in this area. We found Hostellerie de l’Oie qui fume (Hostel of the goose who smokes) across student acommodation. Here we got a three course meal for a decent price. The food was amazing, and the proprietor was fascinated by his South African patrons.
Saving the best for last: The Three Michelin Stars
Mauritz found Epicure as one of the suggested restaurants on trip advisor. As it was our first anniversary he wanted to do something special. At first we walked past Hotel Le Bristol, not realising that Epicure was inside. When we realised it was I told my husband that the hotel was so fancy, that there was no way that we could afford a meal there. How little did we know at the time about I right I was. But Mauritz insisted.
When we walked in we were informed that we could not dine there unless Mauritz was wearing a dinner jacket. I thought that this was our ticket out, but a jacket was found for him, and we were lead to a table. Without seeing a menu wine was poured for us and the meal began. We were treating so fantastically by the staff, despite it being painfully obvious that we were not their usual clientele. We could barely afford a main meal when we saw the prices, but we were in it, so we enjoyed it.
The meal was beyond fabulous, and when the waiter came round for dessert we respectfully declined.
To this day I do not know if the staff just found us too endearing, or if the guy behind us eating the seven course tasting menu paid for us, but the waiters returned with two plates of the most amazing dessert I have ever, and probably will ever taste.
“The chef said that you simply cannot leave without dessert” the waiter informed us. We were then plied with macaroons, coffee and the daintiest little chocolates I’ve ever seen. And just before we left, Mauritz magically whipped out a red rose. Before we left the maître d’ insisted on taking a photo of us.
“Memories are so important. And this is special”
Splurging and Saving
Dining in Paris is possible on a strict budget, as we did for the rest of trip after Epicure. But leave a little place for a little gastronomic romance here and there. Where else are you going to find rum-soaked rains encapsulate in organic dark chocolate? Or nutella and cream macaroons? You can live off bread and cheese for a while when you get home. In fact, it is a diet the Parisians would probably approve of.
Oh and lastly you will probably see the word ‘tartare’ on many menus. ‘Tartare’ means raw. I had steak tartare, or raw steak, at a quality establishment and I loved it. If you prefer you steak well-done and not rare like I do, I wouldn’t recommend it.