What food do people eat in France and how to dine cheaply?
Well, my travelling friend, if you are weary from your journeys across Europe and feeling the crunch from some of the more expensive countries such as Finland and Norway, your time in France will be a nice respite. Relative to most of Western Europe, in France you’ll be able to eat well for practically nothing. And drink too, which is definitely a change from the Scandinavian countries!
You’ll see baguette sandwiches flogged on just about every corner. Jambon (ham), fromage (cheese) and the ever ambitious “jambon et fromage” (I’m guessing you can work that one out for yourself.) It will come as no surprise to the seasoned traveller that these are expensive and really not particularly satisfying. They will most likely have been made early that morning and by lunch the bread isn’t at its best. As with sandwiches elsewhere, it’s cheaper to hit the grocery store and make your own.
One thing that you might want to splurge on is a crepe. Outside cafes you’ll see these being made on large round iron griddles, and offered with a dizzying variety of toppings and fillings. Sweet ones are usually cheaper than savoury with “buerre et sucre” (butter and sugar) being the cheapest. It’s simple, lovely and warming for both your tummy and your hands on a brisk day.
The latest innovation in Parisian street food is a vending machine that dispenses warm, freshly baked baguettes straight into your hands the way other machines would a chocolate bar or can of Coca-cola. While obviously convenient these have been greeted with mixed reception, especially since as in France, as in other countries, there is a sad decline in the number of local bakeries as people are turning to the large super-size grocery stores outside of town for a “one stop” shop.
Monoprix, G20 and Others Bits of Paradise for the Hungry
Even in the some of the more elegant parts of Paris you will find large chain grocery stores. They may be nestled in between more trendy boutiques and tucked away practically to the point of being invisible but they do exist. These will no doubt be your mainstay while travelling so it’s best to scout for the one nearest your accommodation upon arriving. It will be comforting to know you have a good source of freshly baked baguettes, fruit and drinking water all available at rock bottom prices.
With the French being deservedly proud of their national cuisine and specialities it will come as no surprise that anything produced in France will be significantly cheaper than imports. A search of the Monoprix website revealed a 240g box of Camembert at 1.23 EUR versus Edam 2.3 EUR of 290g or Cheddar at a very pricey 3.34 EUR for only 200g. Add a baguette for 1.10 EUR and less than 2.50 EUR gives you a nice lunch for 2 people or more depending on how hungry you are. For another 1 EUR per person, the two of you could even split a bottle of Côtes du Rhône making it a very merry luncheon indeed!
Restaurants and Cafes
Well, if you are going to splurge on a night out in a restaurant, France would be a good place to do it. After all, French cuisine is widely acknowledged as one of the most elegant in the world. As in other countries though, there are always opportunities for meals to be over-priced and of only mediocre quality. Choose wisely and you’ll end up with a fantastically memorable experience as a price that won’t ruin the rest of your trip.
As always, stay away from the bright lights of the big touristy locations. If the menu outside the door is offered in more than 3 languages, you’re probably in the wrong place. Look for menus with a high ration of French to American-style dishes. If there are a lot of dishes you are unfamiliar with, you probably have found something relatively authentic.
And finally, don’t be afraid to duck down little alleyways and narrow streets. If you see tables and chairs outside, go have a look. A good example of this is the area to the south east of Place St. Michel in Paris. From the street entrance, Rue de la Huchette looks no more than a small cut-through but along it and it’s crossing streets reside a lively quarter of relatively cheap eateries where proprietors will stand in the doorway of their establishments, trying to lure you in with offers of free appetizers or drinks. Browse the street carefully and wait for the best offer.
While native cuisine here is certainly tantalizing on the tongue, France also has many people who have immigrated from North Africa and other Arab countries. Restaurants and grocery stores catering to this segment of the population abound. The food is delicious and certainly nothing to turn your nose up at. Most also offer a hearty selection of vegetarian dishes which can be notoriously difficult to find elsewhere in France.