A Quick Guide to Eating in Paris
A few essentials to help negotiate the world’s gastronomic capital
What’s a typically French meal?
French cooking has been evolving for hundreds of years and each region features its own type of cooking (typically tied to the produce that’s produced in that region) but some of the most popular dishes are:
Escargot- Snails severed in their shell and typically covered in garlic butter (nope, they don’t taste like chicken, garlic flavoured chewing gum is my favourite description).
Steak Tatar – Ground horse or beef meat, served raw (like a burger patty) and usually accompanied by egg yolk (raw again) and a variety of spices.
Moules Marinière- Typically great value for seafood lovers. Mussels in white wine sauce usually accompanied by a huge side of fries.
Crêpes – This Breton speciality can either be a cheap snack or complete meal, available in sweet or savoury with practically every filling imaginable.
Beef Bourguignon – A hearty beef stew braised with red wine, carrots and onions.
Raclette – A large portion of cheese, which is melted at your table and then poured over charcuterie (cured meats) and potatoes.
Onion Soup – A classic you probably already know, covered with a large cheesy crouton.
Fondue- Especially popular in the mountain ski regions this is a mix of cheese and white wine, kept warm so you can dip in baguette, potatoes or charcuterie.
Croque Monsieur – Similar to a cheese and ham toasted sandwich, with cream added to the cheese and placed on top of the bread. A Croque Madame is the same but with a fried egg added.
Sandwich Jambon Beurre – The typical French sandwich is ham and butter in a baguette (you’ll probably be surprised at how much butter they put in there).
What should I avoid, food wise?
Nothing. Make sure you follow the same common sense rules as in any country (clean, freshly cooked etc.) but try not to shy away from foods that might sound strange- you might be surprised.
I’m a vegetarian. Will I survive in France?
The French love their food, including their meat, and while you’ll typically find at least one vegetarian meal on each menu they are often not very creative. Practically every restaurant displays their menu outside so you can at least look around before making your choice. People with severe allergies/dietary restrictions may find dining our difficult but chefs are often willing to adjust to individual clients, just make sure you learn the name of your dietary restriction in French to make sure your message gets across.
Why is the service so slow?
In practically all restaurants the meals are made fresh and there is not typically much frozen food, nor microwaves. Good food takes time and French dining is an art form, to be savoured and enjoyed. Look around and you’ll see very few people in a rush to finish their meals.
Why is my waiter so rude?
A French server generally believes s/he’s there to do a job, not to be your friend, but there are many exceptions to this stereotype and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Will I be able to understand the menu?
In tourist areas menus are almost always translated into English (if not several other languages). If not, either look around the restaurant to see what looks good or simply embrace your adventurous streak and pick something at random.
I know nothing about wine, what should I order?
France has a unique way of labelling and marking its wine so for most people a wine list means very little. From a small café to the best restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, the staff will be more than happy to advise you.
Do I need to tip?
A tip is usually included in the bill (under ‘service compris’) but an extra euro or two is always appreciated.
Are the restaurants affordable?
If you’d like to eat at Le Jules Verne, the restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, you won’t get much change from 200 euros a head. However, good deals are available everywhere.
In fine dining restaurants look out for ‘tasting menus’ that offers you a sample of some of the chef’s best dishes and almost every restaurant offers daily lunch or dinner specials; typically a choice of two or three courses, often with a glass of wine or coffee included. These can start from as low as 8 Euro in the Latin Quarter.
Where should I go?
Practically every street in Paris has a restaurant or bistro on it and your hotel can usually recommend something good in the area. The Latin Quarter has the highest concentration of reasonably priced restaurants, St Germain and the Marais also have plenty of choices.
Is it really more expensive to sit outside?
If you’re just ordering drinks, yes. Cafes employ a three-tiered price system: cheapest at the bar, average in the main room but most expensive outside. All cafes must have a list of price showing the differences in price but typically it’s less than 50c.
Can I get this to go?
In most French restaurants you’ll get a strange look if you don’t sit down to eat, but Pizzerias, kebab/falafel stores and Asian restaurants, among others, can usually be ordered out.
I can’t eat all this for lunch!
The French typically eat their main meal at lunch time, but if you’re after something a little lighter, stop by a boulangerie (bakery) which usually has a good range of sweet and savoury snacks as well and sandwiches. If you feel like stopping for a picnic, make sure you check out the local markets (or even supermarkets), which have a great variety of fresh products.
I want to know more!
Try some of Paris’s Gastronomic Tours
Context Traveloffers gastronomic tours of the city’s markets, shops and restaurants, including the dedicated ‘ Chocolate Tour’.
O-Chateau offers wine tasting and an introduction to the complicated world of French wine