Paris is definitely a miracle destination for foodies and gastronomes. It is said the city has over 40,000 restaurants. That’s not counting the smaller eateries, boulangeries and other places where you’ll get a very good feed. The gastronomic offering is simply incredible. But it also poses a challenge. How does one choose what to eat in Paris?
Narrowing down your list of what to eat in Paris to a manageable selection isn’t a simple task. So we’ve decided to give you a few traditional and local pointers, today. Read on to find out some of our top picks of essential things to eat.
Whatever you decide to put on your “must eat in Paris” list, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your meals.
Be Parisian, spend much of your life at table. For a nation that has over 350 cheeses (one for every day of the year), it’s only natural the Parisian dedicates hours every day to eating.
Start your day with the very best French baguette and croissants with hot coffee or a divine hot chocolate. That’ll give you the energy to kick-start and sustain your sightseeing. Then, when you’ve pounded the pavements, museum floors and Eiffel Tower stairs a little, you’ll be ready for something more hearty for lunch and then dinner.
But before doing that, let’s start with a little warning.
What not to eat in Paris
France is, undoubtedly, world renowned for its cuisine. The grand French gastronomic meal has even been beatified by Unesco. Paris, as far as French cuisine goes, is indeed the centre of that universe.
The sheer variety can be overwhelming, from haute-cuisine temples to all-day cafés, eccentric wine bars, vintage bistros and the new “bistronomiques” serving affordable modern cuisine in a casual setting.
But, like any large cosmopolitan city, it’s not all fabulous. In Paris you will, of course, find the very best … and the worst temptations.
In recent years, Paris has been plagued by the spread of bistros serving pre-cooked meals. It certainly pays to choose your dining location wisely.
Similarly, the city has its fair share of “junk food”. Now as addictive and tempting as it can be, we always ask, “Why punish your palette?” There’s simply no reason to torture your body with “malbouffe” (junk food) when you can so easily sit down to a fabulous meal for a very similar price.
Having said that, we should qualify what we mean by “junk food”. In Paris, not all junk foods are made equal. If you feel the need, why not opt for some local “French junk food”?
When it comes to the home grown junk food outlets in Paris, French chefs like to add a touch of “French class”. They also often use fresh local ingredients sourced in local markets, which makes a huge difference to the quality. They dress up their burgers and kebabs, making them more aesthetically pleasing and, yes, tastier. Let’s just say, real Parisian “junk food” is more “distinguished”.
OK, but still, why bother?
With such a huge selection of fabulous food options, opt for a more genuinely French and eminently Parisian experience.
When eating in Paris, be adventurous
On your next trip to Paris, be adventurous in what you choose to eat. Dip into your explorer’s spirit and try some of the wildly different foods you’ll rarely see at home.
Go ahead, exercise your culinary curiosity!
I always encourage travelers to try snails (escargot) soaked in garlic butter, even if the thought makes you squirm. It’s like a right of passage. They’re actually wonderful.
There’s also frogs legs, of course. They’re amazing, too. One of my favorite recipes is Frogs Legs of Provencale (Grenouille a la Provencale), seasoned with salt and white pepper, sautéed until golden brown with garlic and parsley.
Another great dish is Tête de vaux (literally, “calf’s head”). OK, this is one that might not be a great choice for the squeamish but it’s certainly a favorite of true French gastronomes. It’s also one of those dishes best left to a well-trained French chef to prepare.
Tête de vaux takes a very long time to prepare properly. It’s boiled and simmered in spices with a layer of fat for anything between four to seven hours. The plate is then served with one of two sauces (ever so important in French cooking). Either it’s presented with “gribiche”, a mayonnaise-type sauce with ingredients like capers or, “ravigote”, a thinner but similar sauce that is more like a vinaigrette.
Too much for you? OK, try “gesiers”. They’re bird guts which are best mixed into a salad. You really should try these at least once in your life. After all, you’re traveling … and this is your great adventure!
… and if you need a historical or cultural explanation of why to try these dishes, think on this.
Weird foods in France are treated with great honor. The country is replete with confréries (brotherhoods) dedicated to preserving and promoting the traditions of a particular “weird” dish and, of course, eating them.
What better way, then, to taste a real slice of authentic French culture!
Talking of which, let’s take a look at some more classic dishes to spruce up your list of what to eat in Paris.
Indulge in classic French cuisine, 100%
It’s not necessary to book into the very best Michelin-starred restaurants to find good French cuisine in Paris. Of course, delving deep into the Michelin-starred experience would give you a truly unforgettable culinary experience.
You can experience fabulously simple and rich French cuisine in most bistros or brasseries, too. Some are better than others, of course, especially when you choose exceptional company to make your Paris dining experience even more special.
Take your pick and get ready to explore classic French cuisine. Here’s our quick selection of French dishes not to miss in Paris.
Try a starter of foie gras poêle (seared fattened goose or duck liver). Move on to a favorite, the steak tartare (finely chopped raw beef with onions and seasoning). You might opt for the magret de canard (fattened duck breast) or sole meunière (a special fried fish with butter sauce and lemon). There’s also andouillettes (intestine sausage).
Want more? How about traditional dishes like terrines (a coarse type of pâté), charcuterie (cured and prepared meats), or duck confit (a leg of duck cured in salt and cooked in its own fat). There isn’t anything more delectable than duck preserved and cooked in its own fat. Try it with a serving of duck fat-fried potatoes. Truly exceptional!
Definitely my favorite and top pick is “boeuf bourguignon” (beef stew). On nice cold days, I’ll give traditional onion soup a go. The onions are cooked down until they are soft and sweet. Then the soup is baked in the oven with a rich covering of cheese.
How to keep it light when eating in Paris
Prefer something lighter? Try some of these specialities.
You’ll find a great selection of salads in most dining rooms. Try the “Niçoise” salad (tomatoes, tuna and boiled egg). Although it’s not originally from Paris, it’s an all time favorite.
I like Breton crepes. Maybe you’ll opt for a “galette de sarrasin” (crepe made with buckwheat). Pick your filling, whether it’s savory or sweet. Fill your crepe with egg, ham and cheese. A nice option is a crepe filled with spinach, crème fraîche, ham and an egg. Or go sweet with fresh farm butter and a sprinkling of sugar. Accompany your crepes with a glass of cider. It’s traditional!
Another favorite is the very simple, extremely delicious croque monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). The croque monsieur is a baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich. Traditionally made with Brioche-like bread pieces, or with normal butter bread, but with a soft crust, topped with grated cheese of the same type, slightly salted and peppered. Opt for a croque madame to have a fried egg added on top.
Now, with all that in mind, I’ve become totally famished. It’s lunch time, so I’m going to head off to my favorite bistro for a bite to eat.
Will you join us?
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