Eating on the Cheap in Paris
Ah, Paris. High romance, high fashion, high art… high prices?
“Prepare to go broke,” a friend told me before I left home. “Paris is the most expensive city I’ve ever visited.”
But maybe not – at least not when it comes to spooning up some excellent food at a reasonable price.
A Parisian breakfast can be a very simple affair, just a croissant or a brioche and a cup of black coffee. Take a quick walk around any city block and you’ll easily find a bakery with croissants at under two Euros apiece. Although they are about as light and fluffy as a puff of air, you may find that their rich, buttery texture makes them more filling than you expected. If you prefer something more substantial, go early to the bakery and choose a slice of spinach and salmon quiche or a tart with tomatoes and goat cheese.
Sandwich shops will also be your friend if you’re eating on a shoestring budget. Many small shops carry sandwiches made of crusty baguette-style bread, laid out in cold cases and stuffed with combinations of chicken, lettuce, brie, tomatoes, tuna, and ham.
For a lunch-to-go in one of Paris’ many parks, a simple chicken sandwich can cost between three and four Euros. It’s easily rounded out by a demi bottle of wine or a can of beer from a convenience store.
For a sit-down lunch, in the Les Halles area you’ll find a trendy neighbourhood of pedestrian-only streets, and an excellent place to take part in the city-wide sport of people watching. The Rue Montorgueil is jam-packed with small restaurants and food shops. You can sit facing the street as couriers deliver fish from boxes strapped to the back of motorcycles and well-dressed men in fine leather shoes walk by. The pedestrian mall is right in the centre of Paris, close to the underground shopping centre Forum Les Halles, and a short walk from Notre Dame. This might lead you to think it’s expensive, but two glasses of wine, two glasses of beer, and a very filling shared charcuterie plate ran us just 22 Euros. Read the chalkboards for the prix fixe menu and the specials of the day – often an excellent deal, with a two or three course meal starting as low as 14 Euros.
At dinnertime, if you’re looking for an inexpensive meal try wandering along the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement. On an evening stroll near the Gare de l’Est, we came across numerous small candlelit restaurants that seemed to have only about a dozen tables inside. After settling on the one that seemed the most bustling, we were served up a truly memorable dish of lamb stew and a nice half-bottle of Beaujolais. Don’t expect any English menus in this area, but if you get stuck it’s very likely that your waiter can help you over the language barrier. If all else fails, order the “canard.”
If you’re less of the wandering type and would rather home straight in on your target, try the online reservation website La Fourchette (“The Fork”).If your French is good (or your Google Translate skills are passable), you can read menus and reviews for various restaurants, and make bookings right on the site. It’s a good way to search for restaurants by neighborhood, and you can also take a look at how other people have rated the place. The really great deal about the site is that if you make a reservation through it, many excellent restaurants will give you special offers ranging from 20% to 50% off the food. Sometimes the discount includes cheap drinks as well. If you’ve made a La Fourchette reservation, the price should be discounted on your bill when it comes time to pay.
To top things all off, sweets in Paris are not to be missed – but dessert is a course I’ll often skip in Canada, as usually I’m too full after a meal. And let’s admit it, I’m too cheap to pay full price for a piece of cake that I probably can’t finish.
Not so in Paris. Dine with another person and look out for “assiette gourmande” or “café gourmand” on the menu. Not every restaurant offers this choice, but if you order it you’ll end up with one large plate with miniature selections of every dessert on the menu. If you order the ‘café’ version, the waiter will also bring you a cup of espresso on the side.
I ordered one such plate and ended up with a little pattypan of crème brulee, a chocolate fondant, a lemon tart, a warm apple strudel with caramel sauce, and an apricot tiramisu. The sweet little pastries are big enough for a taste for each person: Perfect for sharing, less expensive than two large desserts, and a nice close to a day of eating that won’t leave you feeling overstuffed.
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