Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Eating in Paris on a budget: French Foodie's 12 top tips

Hostelsclub is having a "Fantastic Five Shots 2012" photo competition and this week's theme is "Foodie Holidays 2012". I teamed up with them and shared my 12 top tips about eating in Paris on a budget. My entry is also on their blog.

Eating in the French capital doesn’t have to be all about fancy restaurants and expensive drinks. Here are some tips for trying French food, eating and drinking like a Parisian and above all avoiding the tourist traps. I won’t give you any specific places/restaurants but more general tips about eating in Paris and also on how to experience French food on a budget.

1.   Avoid restaurants/cafés located close to famous landmarks. Most of these places serve bad quality food and charge you more than anywhere else. Eating/drinking on The Champs Elysees, at the bottom of the Sacré Coeur, close to the Eiffel tower can be tempting but most of the places are overpriced or/and don’t serve great quality food. In general, I always avoid places with a sign “Tourist menu”, you’ll most likely end up with a meal from a tin and won’t experience real French food. The Champs Elysees is one of the most expensive places to go for a drink especially at the terrace. I’d advise to head to St Germain district, rue Mouffetard (although quite touristy), Bastille and the Marais district both for food and drinks.

2.          For breakfast, if your accommodation doesn’t have breakfast facilities, you can grab a few fresh croissants, pains au chocolat and much more in a bakery for a very French breakfast. You can always bring this to the place you’re staying at and have it there (bakeries are located at pretty much every corner) or sometimes they have seating spaces and you can enjoy food on site.

3.          Brunches are popular in Paris. At first they can seem pricey, usually at least €16 but they’re very substantial (hot dishs, fruit, hot drinks, juice, cakes/viennoiseries/bread, cereals). There are many places offering brunch and sometimes in the form of a buffet. Think of it this way: its breakfast and lunch at the same time so it’s already 2 meals sorted and paid for. Also they’re usually so big that if you have brunch around mid-day, you’ll only need a light dinner. See the two links below for more info on where to brunch in Paris. (English) (French)

4.          For cheap lunches, try small brasseries/Parisian bistros. They often serve simple/traditional French dishes a lot cheaper than classic restaurants. It’s also about experience the atmosphere. Locals go to brasseries for their lunch breaks. Waiters may seem grumpy but don’t be offended or surprised, it’s very common. Try their “Plat du jour” (dish of the day) usually around €10-€12. Giant salads are delicious and cost around €15, you often have a large choice (Warm Goat cheese, Salmon salad, Foie gras/fried potatoes, Nicoise are usually found pretty much everywhere). Another cheap option is to go for sandwiches or Croque-Monsieur (like a ham and cheese toasty).

5.          Fancy some free food? Yes, something that you probably don’t know. A few Parisian restaurants decided to serve free food usually “Couscous” or “Moules frites” (mussels and fries), the dish is free but not the drinks (minimum drinks orders may apply). Couscous is one of French people’s favourite, originally form North Africa, it’s a vegetable and meat stew served with couscous. It’s a great initiative that brings people together in a warm atmosphere.

For info, visit

6.          Food markets are plentiful and you can buy some quality products and bring them back home. Amongst the most popular Marché d’Aligre (12th district) and “Marché des Enfants Rouges” (3rd district) are both a must-see for any foodie traveling to Paris.

For a full list of Parisian markets visit:

7.         With many parks scattered around the city picnics are a good way to save money and enjoy some French food al Fresco. Buy some French products in bakeries, cheese shops, delicatessen and traiteurs (caterers), pick up some plastic cutlery in a grocery shops and enjoy a little picnic. I personally love Place des Vosges, Jardin des Tuileries and beautiful Buttes Chaumont.  For romance, do like the Parisians and picnic by the river Seine, there are loads of nice spots close to Ile de la Cité, this way you can look at Notre Dame while nibbling away. You can get a full list of parks, gardens and places to picnic from the below links.

8.    Paris is a very cosmopolitan city and has a big Asian community. The 13th district is a little Chinatown with numerous Chinese restaurants. I love Vietnamese food in Paris, there are many small, inexpensive Vietnamese eateries all around the city. You can get a set menu for as little as €7 which is good if you don’t want to spend too much and also try something different.

 9.     Be aware that eating/drinking at a terrace is more expensive. It’s a lovely Parisian thing to do, sitting with your coffee or beer (demi: half pint), looking at the people passing by and showing yourself to the world, but don’t be surprised if you are charged a little (or a lot) more. It’s usually written in small print on the menu.

10.      It can be difficult to eat at any time of the day, watch out for the “service continu” sign. This means that food is served all day, mostly brasseries will do it. Lunch is usually between 12pm and 2pm whereas dinner is usually around 8pm.

11.     Tipping is not so common. Service is included in food prices and the general rule is to leave a tip if you’re happy with the service.

12.     Did you know that every year in Paris there is a best baguette of Paris award? In 2012, Boulangerie Mauvieux (159 rue Ordener, 75018 Paris) received the prize. Something you might want to check out for yourself.

Finally, You can’t leave Paris without having tried (the list could be endless):

-    French Onion Soup
-    A real Parisian baguette
-    A butter croissant/pain au chocolat
-    Macarons (The most famous are Ladurée and Pierre Hermé but many places sell them)
-    Crepes (cheap snack/lunch/sweet treat)
-    Snails (don’t look at it, just eat it)
-    Croque Monsieur or Madame (cheap lunch)
-    Foie gras
-    Steak frites or Moules frites
-    Mixed platter of cheese and meat in a wine bar
-    Coq au vin
-    Duck confit
-    Perigord salad (in most brasseries)
-    Boeuf Bourguignon

You can’t truly discover Paris without experiencing its gastronomic delights. These 12 tips should help you to have a more authentic food experience.

Bon Voyage and Bon Appetit!