I recently returned from Paris after living there for four months. I’ve eaten vegan for more than two years now, and had no intention of giving it up when I went abroad, much to the surprise of many. Even now, after my return, I still see shocked faces: “But how did you do it? Did you eat anything?”
Yes, yes, I did.
Now, I won’t lie; it wasn’t a walk in the park. As a New York native, the whole vegan eating thing is no problem for me Stateside. I knew before going that I could kiss this kind of convenience goodbye. But this was a sacrifice I was willing to make for a fabulous new cultural experience. And though it wasn’t easy, I made it work.
It did help that I have visited Paris in the past, before I was vegan. Vegetarians who eat cheese and eggs will have no problem whatsoever experiencing the culinary wonders of this foodie city. I have eaten (and enjoyed) macarons, croissants, and tartines. So while I wasn’t willing to compromise my newer beliefs for these authentic dishes, I will admit that the memories of them were enough to tide me over. Visiting other cities and countries was a bit more of a challenge; I love trying new things and like to soak up local culture as much as possible. But I was determined to stick to my guns, and I did.
I also had my own apartment, and was able to cook for myself most of the time. Generally, the produce over there is hyperlocal, unless you would like to spend a fortune. Shopping and cooking in Paris was an awesome lesson in preparing seasonal foods, and the ingredients were so fresh.
But since cooking for oneself isn’t exactly an option for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit beautiful Paris every year, I thought I would provide some additional tips. I promise, there are options, and you don’t even have to feel like you can’t be authentic. It’s possible, and the city has definitely made steps in recent years to accomodate special diets and the health food movement.
- “Vegan” in French is… “végétalien” (vay-jay-tahl-y-ehn). As in, “Je suis végétalien” (I am vegan). “Vegetarian” is almost pronounced the same way as it is in English, but keep in mind: many French people will assume that, as a vegetarian, you eat fish.
- Do your research. Do not assume that a restaurant will have at least one veggie option, because this is often not the case at all. Look up veggie-friendly places ahead of time. If you’re wandering around the streets, check the menus posted on the outside of restaurants, and look at least for a plat de légumes (vegetable platter), a soupe de légumes (vegetable soup), or a salade de crudités (salad with raw veggies). A salade de crudités can be found at many french brasseries, cafés, and bistros, especially those located in central and touristy areas. It was my go-to dish when I went out to lunch with my friends, and usually consists of things like avocado, cucumbers, corn, tomato, carottes râpées (kind of like a vinegar based carrot slaw), and the amazing, authentic dijon vinaigrette. Though not quite as authentic, there are a few restaurants throughout the city that are specific to vegetarians and vegans, like Bob’s Juice Bar, Soya, and Cafe Ginger. Paris also has a ton of really fantastic ethnic restaurants, many of which offer a variety of veggie options.
- Be aware of etiquette. My foodie friend put it perfectly: in America, the customer is always right. In France, the chef is always right, and the customer has come to experience the chef’s expertise. This being said, substitutions and/or modifications to dishes are generally a big no-no. Respect is a really big deal, and it is considered disrespectful to change around a dish to your liking. With things like salads in a casual bistro, it’s generally okay to ask for something like leaving the cheese out (sans fromage), because that’s usually a matter of garnish. But other than that, it’s a generally a no-go. And don’t ask for dressing on the side, unless you want a funny look.
- Visit the market! Paris has a huge array of incredible open-air and covered markets, bustling with vendors of the freshest produce, spices, and teas you could possibly imagine. It’s such a fun experience to visit! Buy a baguette, fresh tomatoes and avocado, and head down to the Seine for a picnic lunch.
- There is authentic food you can eat. The chocolate, for one! Many experts (yes, experts!) agree that French chocolate is the best in the world. The chocolat noir (dark chocolate) is vegan, and absolutely incredible. There is no shortage of chocolate shops, so go in and stock up on the amazing confections. Also, the bread. You can buy the most heavenly baguettes for one euro, because it is French law that baguettes cannot be more expensive than this. And the wine? A bottle that would normally go for about 15 dollars in the States is readily available for as low as about 5 euros.
All in all, don’t stress out, because it will put a damper on your time in this incredible city. Just be savvy, be polite, and try what you can. Bonne chance!