People choose Paris as a destination for various reasons: art, design, sightseeing, history or even just for the simple joy of going for a walk by the Seine River admiring the artists and architecture along the way. Activities are countless and opinions and feelings of the city vary in extremes. But there is one thing that links all preference and choice. One thing everyone wants to do when in Paris: to have good food.
Cliché, reputation, word of mouth. You can call it however you like but French know how to eat. And pretty well.
Below a list of must try per meal in the city of lights –and food-.
Le petit déjeuner – The Breakfast
Kicking-off your morning without a viennoisserie would be a bad sign. This is one of the most famous categories of pastries in France. It is made from a yeast-leavened dough, and with usual ingredients as eggs, sugar, butter, milk and/or cream. A must try!
Most famous viennoisseries are croissants -which were originally created in the Austrian Empire and not in France- pain au chocolat, chausson aux pommes, brioche and pain aux raisins. But this list is not exhaustive as there are plenty of variations to these delightful treats.
Where to get these? In any boulangerie or patisserie.
People usually think both shops sell the same goods. Incorrect. A boulangerie specialises in bread and a patisserie in pastries. You may not find a cake in a boulangerie, and you won’t find all types of bread in a patisserie. However; in this case, the viennoiseries narrow the gap between both, as they are sold in both shops. Price per viennoiserie unit varies from EUR 0.80 to EUR 1.50 and depends on the shop reputation and neighbourhood.
There are many variations of French breakfast. However; another alternative if you want to taste and feel like a French for one day is to just have du pain, de la confiture et du beurre (bread, jam and butter).
The most famous bread, as you may know, is the Baguette (stick). The standard baguette weighs 250 grams (about half a pound) You will find the ordinaries and the higher-end, quality, baguettes made with natural leaven and quality flours at the same boulangerie. I personally recommend the Baguette de Tradition, which cost all of 0 to 50 cents more. You will notice the difference.
Baguettes are the most important items in a boulangerie as they are the most fundamental element of sitting down to eat for a French. The Grand Prix de la Meilleure Baguette — otherwise known as the official “Best Baguette” competition is run every year in Paris.
The jam I would recommend is the well known Bonne Maman, good quality-price preserve that can be found in any supermarket.
French are also good in butter, they produce one of the best salted butter in the world in Brittany. The most famous brand is the Paysan Breton butter, you can use it for cooking but also for spreading.
So, you can have a great breakfast for a really good price.
After your morning walk or visit to the museum, you are then ready to have a quick lunch or as the French call it, to have Le déjeuner.
Le déjeuner – Lunch
The typical Parisian lunch on working days is a sandwich. Yes, as simple as that. Sandwich au Jambon Beurre is the most famous sandwich in France. It is a simple baguette spread with butter and filled with ham. Of course, the quality of the bread is the key component of this meal.
French usually get a benefit on their jobs called Ticket Restaurant which is a Meal Voucher per day, usually with an EUR 9 value each. This is why boulangeries and another famous brand chain as Paul, Brioche Dorée, Le Pain Quotidien, and the more local Pomme de Pain, prepare the lunch menu (drink+sandwich+dessert) around this price.
Quiches are another must try if you are in Paris for lunch. Quiche is a savoury, open-faced pastry crust with custard filling (made with eggs and milk or cream). Quiche Lorraine (named after the Lorraine region of France) is the most popular pastry filled with custard with lardons. There are many quiche varieties, with vegetables, seafood. You can fill it with anything you want as long as it contains the custard filling. I can’t choose one of them, they are all just superb.
Croque Monsieur. This is the king of the sandwiches. Simple, tasty, and full of flavour. A baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich. French do usually take it as a really quick lunch/snack.
You could also have a salad for lunch… but the options above sound a bit more local and tempting.
If you are not in a rush and want to have a seat in a proper restaurant, it is a great option as they usually do a 2 or 3-course menu for a real affordable price, it could cost you up to half price comparing to the evening menu. I will write more about the typical elaborated French choices in the dinner section.
Tea Time – Le goûter
Did you spend the afternoon in the Louvre Museum and Orsay? Or walked along Rue de Rivoli, Galleries Lafayette and did some sale shopping? You could also have gone to the Eiffel Tower or to the glamorous Champs Elysées… in any case you are now tired and again hungry, or craving a good treat.
Tea time is sacred for French people. It is called goûter.
Macarons (or Macaroons in America). You probably already heard of or tried them. In case you did not, these are little delicate and sweet, a meringue-like shell that sandwiches some sort of ganache, buttercream, or jam filling. These little gems are sold in most of the boulangeries, but you definitely need to try those from Pierre Hermé or La Durée, the best macaron Shops. My Favourite? The salted caramel at Hermé.
Ice Cream. Just one word. Berthillon. The original and unique shop is in the Ile Saint Louis, in the 4th Quartier. Some restaurants have the privilege of reselling this ice-cream; however, it is a very selected choice. Salted caramel and chocolate flavours are my preference but you would also enjoy peach if you look for something a bit more fresh in summer.
Crêpes. Can be found everywhere in Paris. For a more local experience, if you happen to visit the Montparnasse Tower in the 5th Quartier, then you can enjoy and eat some crêpes in that famous area. If you just went to Saint Michel and visited Notre Dame, you will find all the petit restaurants and small crêperies to fill your appetite. My choice? Nutella crêpes without any doubt. Prices for plain Nutella crêpes can go from EUR 2.50 to EUR 4 if you have them on the go. Head to La droguerie du Marais in the quartier 4th or to Au p’tit grec in the latin quartier for a good one.
Cream puffs or Choux. These light pastries are similar to profiteroles but softer. Choux are really trendy nowadays in Paris and a definite must try if you have a delicate palate. My choice? Go to Popelini and have the coffee chou, or try at La maison du chou the chocolate and praline one. Prices vary from EUR 1.50 to EUR 2 each. A real gem.
Flan Patissier or Flan Nature. Delicious thick custard browned with a buttery pastry on the bottom. It can’t be simpler, it can’t be better. This is one of my favourite treats. My choice? Head to Gérard Mulot in the 6th quartier although you should be able to find good flans in any patisserie. Price? Varies between EUR 1.40 and EUR 2.30 approx per slice.
Brioche with Nutella. If you are more keen on a picnic-style treat or if you made a stop in your Airbnb to have the tea in-house, a good choice would be a plain brioche (a soft type of viennoisserie, slightly sweet bread spread with Nutella. This a favourite French afternoon treat when at home!
As you may have noticed, I mentioned Nutella quite a few times already, and this is because French love Nutella, I would say even more than the Italians!
Other top rated treats and pastries in Paris:
- The Opera Cake at the top patisserie Dallayau
- Paris Brest and Financier at Patisserie des Reves
- The Napoleon at Cafe Pousckine
- Chocolates from Jack Guenin
- Eclairs from L’Eclair de Genie
Le dîner – Dinner
There are too many good dishes in France and Paris offers a broad variety of typical dishes from all different regions. To make your life easier, I narrowed the selection down to the best choices for all types of taste.
Onion Soup. The most famous French Soup. This is a stock made mainly with caramelised onion.
Baked Camembert. This is my favourite starter. Simply baked camembert with honey and Provence herbs. Goes really well with fig jam and nuts.
Foie Gras. For a more high-end starter, choose this delicate and delicious speciality. Foie gras is paté made from the fattened liver of geese or ducks, this is why a good Foie Gras can be pricey but absolutely tasty. It usually comes with a dried fruit jam or fig chutney to pair with and brown bread. Tastes like heaven, but do not have too much of it as you can be easily full, and you are just in the starter.
Escargots. Snails baked in a simple, yet delicious garlic and herb butter. Light and tasty.
Boeuf Bourguignon. Meat lover? Try this slow cooked in red wine beef stew with vegetables. Super yummy, ideal for winter!
Where to try it?
Le P’tit Troquet is a nice cute restaurant top rated for this dish.
Coq au vin. Traditionally made by slowly cooking a rooster/chicken in red Burgundy wine with mushrooms, this is a national preferred dish and a must try during your stay!
Where to try it?
Head to La Jacobine for a great taste and an affordable price.
If you opt for a more traditional French restaurant, then go to Bastille and sit at A la Biche Au Bois. Not to be missed.
Steak Tartare. Brave and meat lover? You can’t leave Paris without trying this dish. Raw hand cut meat burger with spices and a raw egg. Served usually with fries. Different and controversial.
Where to try it?
Le Petit fer a Cheval is a great place where to try a steak tartare.
Cheese Raclette et fondue Savoyarde. It is all about cheese. These are two traditional dishes from the Haute Savoie (although Swiss also claim the ownership) but Paris has many great places where to try these specialities.
Just to explain the difference, Raclette is sliced cheese that is roasted near a heat source until bubbly, then poured over food, (usually potatoes). Fondue is a dish made of melted cheese and other ingredients as white wine into which food can be dipped.
Where to try them?
For a good Fondue in Paris: Go to Pain Vin Fromages
For a great Fondue and Raclette, a great choice is Le Chalet Savoyard. It is a not exactly in the centre of Paris, although by Metro you will get there in less than 15 minutes. It is worth to stroll around Bercy which is also a lovely neighbourhood. Full of locals.
Galette Bretonne. Oui, we have mentioned crêpes, but galettes take a step further. These are typical from the Bretagne (Brittany) Region, and the difference with crêpes is that galettes are usually savoury and made with buckwheat flour, and that gives them another taste and the grey colour in the dough. You can fill a galette with anything you want, personally, I love the spinach and goat cheese combination.
Head to Le Crepuscule if you want to have a quick dinner but still delicious! Great galettes (and you may want to have a sweet crêpe as dessert)
Tartiflette. Another dish from Haute-Savoie made of potatoes, bacon, white wine and reblochon cheese.
Where to find it? Just go again to Pain, Vin, Fromages or to Au Chalet Savoyarde!
Full but ready for a small dessert? No, hold on. French do not jump from the main to the dessert. If you think you are already too full as to treat you with a sweet, well, you may want to leave some space for the cheese first. French have small portions of 2 or 3 type of cheese before the dessert to separate the taste from the main course and to aid digestion. Brie, Rochefort and Comte are my favourite choice, but selection on cheese will depend on the dinner and desert you will have. The decision is really hard, especially when you have almost 500 type of cheese to choose among.
Presentation of the platter is key and considered an art in France as the type, quality and age of cheese will determine its place in the platter, its shape and the knife you should use to cut.
To wrap up the dinner options, a little restaurant tip: If you want to have the nicest french experience as if you were at your grandma’s house, you should head to La petite Rose des Sables. Fun and cosy place, with a great welcoming staff. Zou-zou will make your dinner the best experience, but please note there are just 4 tables and no reservations, but it is worth the wait.
Le Dessert – Dessert
The day almost came to an end, you are super full and satisfied, you had an unexpected lovely great old mature cheese. I am sure you had also tried some great wine per meal. You feel it is time to stop..but it is hard to avoid the temptation of trying a good dessert. You are in Paris, it is a must.
Below is my top choice:
Crème Brulée. the literal translation is ‘ burnt cream’ as it consists of a caramelised cream dessert made of yolk, sugar, cream, caramel, and vanilla. Unbeatable for those who like a soft taste without giving up on flavour. A good creme brûlée is usually a bit warm when served as chefs are supposed to burn the surface before it goes to the table.
Crème Caramel. Also a cream dessert all wrapped in caramel, but different from the Crème Brulée that is softer and where the caramel is just covering the surface and usually warm. Crème caramel is also world known as Flan. It could come with some clotted cream aside.
Moelleux Au Chocolat. Chocolate lovers, this is your best bet. From the outside, this lovely gem is a chocolate cake, however, the inside is full of a warm chocolate sauce, that surprises you when you give the first cut. Do not confuse this chocolate volcano with the also famous Fondant au chocolat as this is mainly a chocolate cake cooked very slowly, which gives a richness and density in the inside that makes it similar to a brownie. You could try both, what about one for lunch and one for dinner?
Tarte Tatin. Do you opt for something more fruity? This tart is similar to a warm apple tart but overturned. Why? Because the apples are cooked, caramelised and placed in the tray before the dough. The origin of this tart would have been a mistake of the Tatin’s sisters who owned a restaurant, and while cooking an apple tart, forgot to place the dough first and cooked just the apples, so in order not to throw the preparation they put the dough above, cooked the tart and then turned it back when cooked. It then became famous and notorious when Maxim’s owner went to have dinner at Tatin’s restaurant and discovered that awesome new taste. This Tart is usually served with vanilla ice-cream, making a perfect combination of the warm and cold mix in your mouth, or it can also come with plain clotted cream.
Profiteroles. These are balls made from choux pastry– light pastry dough, usually filled with cream, custard or even ice cream and covered with warm chocolate, caramel, or powdered sugar. Note: profiteroles can also be savoury, so you can try them for a quick snack.
Now that you know what to eat in a day in Paris – although I believe you would need more than a week probably – it is time to book your tickets and hotels and why not to start exploring the must drink options with each meal. That will be a topic for another extensive post.