“Veganism is happening now in Paris.” So said the waiter in a Parisian vegan restaurant I visited recently. But is it true?
I recently spent eight days in Paris. It’s a beautiful city and I was visiting to enjoy a break with my partner and then to attend a film festival. Such a treat, but of course, I was a little concerned about the, y’know, vegan thing. After all, French cuisine is virtually a temple to red meat, butter, cream, eggs and beaucoup de fromage.
On previous trips to Paris, I had eaten in vegetarian and even vegan restaurants, but I worried that being entirely vegan would be tricky or at least a bit of a headache. Nobody wants to spend hours traipsing around to find the one specialist restaurant on Google Maps, when you could be sightseeing, or eating already. And once I was back in my AirBnb cooking for myself, or grabbing meals between films, how would I get on then?
The answer is that by and large, the news is good! There are many, many places to eat vegan in Paris, and a notable number of omni restaurants offering vegan food. Also, whatever your phrasebook says, the word vegan, rather than végétalien seems to have stuck – so look out for that on menus and food labels. In my experience, based on my week’s stay, there are plentiful vegan supplies in healthfood shops as well, to a lesser extent in the supermarkets and even the corner shops. But there are a few things to watch out for.
I also experienced my first ever post-veganism cheese craving while killing time between films in Paris. That was a humdinger! To solve this I went for a walk and drank some water, which had absolutely no effect. Then I watched two hours of experimental cinema, which certainly proved a powerful distraction. When I thought about it, I realised I would have been perfectly happy with some vegan cheese at this moment, so that’s a development!
Here are some lovely vegan meals I ate in omni restaurants: a salad in Partie de Campagne, a poke bowl in Chai 33 (both in Bercy village), and a vegan tartine in Dame Tartine near the Stravinsky Fountain (you’ll be able to spot my companion’s very non-vegan assiette des fromages):
The tartine was especially good – inventive and unexpected in a place devoted to various combinations of cheese, ham and toast. There is a layer of artichoke tapenade under that posh ratatouille.
I also visited some specialist vegan restaurants. Here is my beautiful seitan and squash main dish at the Gentle Gourmet, and a yummy lunch at Hank Burger (the burger had black olive and a tomato basil sauce, and the potato wedges were also very good):
I didn’t manage to visit Le Potager du Marais, which has always been a favourite before – I think its comforting stews and roasts would have been perfect for this drizzly week. Here is the delicious mezze sharing plate at organic vegetarian restaurant Soya though – we followed this up with a vegan curry pour moi, and a vegetarian lasagne for my partner:
The restaurant is well named. Soya abounds in Paris! There are several mock-meat restaurants, selling seitan and tempeh as well as tofu, and soya in all its multifarious forms can be found in lots of vegetarian restaurants and food shops. The smoked tofu I found in a healthfood shop was incredibly delicious – I fondly remember when cauldron used to sell it in the UK. In grocery shops I bought seitan steaks (delicious!) and soya burgers (meh), falafel (also with soya in, bizarrely) plus lots of veggies, houmous and ready-cooked quinoa and brown rice packets that were great for speedy self-catering. Non-dairy milks can be found in specialist shops, but didn’t seem to be as abundant as in UK supermarkets. French people love their vegetables – fresh and prepared – so you can easily make a delicious meal at your self-catering apartment. I even saw vegan ready-meals, such as vegetable gratins made with coconut milk, and filled vegan pasta parcels, in the chiller in the supermarket.
What didn’t I find? Cheese. Or “cheese”. I only saw vegan cheese once during my week in Paris, and that was as an optional extra at Hank, which also serves vegan pizza at its sister restaurant. I suppose there is only so far that you can expect French people to go. The closest I saw was a jar of Sacla’s tofu-based non-dairy pesto in my local Monoprix. Good to know – I had actually brought a jar from home in my suitcase! Again, Hank Burger was the only place where I saw vegan mayonnaise on offer, but I suspect it was available in the healthfood shops.
I also never saw any non-dairy milk offered in cafés, or any wine in shops, restaurants or bars labelled as vegan. So obviously I didn’t drink any all week. Um …
These delicious spiced cashews were the perfect movie snack, and similar treats were widely available. This brand is a little pricey, I confess. Also, a square or two of chocolat noir was always very welcome.
I did have slip-ups. In the Cinematheque Française café, the waitress assured me that they didn’t have any vegan food, so I ate the velouté du jour: chicory, almond and a touch of cream. I don’t think it was more than a touch to be honest, thanks to those almonds. Then I saw salad bowls being served to my neighbours that could easily have been veganised. I should have asked the right questions. And the dahl I ordered in an Indian restaurant probably had a little cream in it too. I don’t feel good about either of those, but there is no point dwelling on them.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of finding vegan food in Paris, though this post doesn’t include the many menus I scanned and dismissed before finding the good ones. I was tempted to think that French people find the purity of veganism easier to get on board with than the “halfway house” of vegetarianism, but I suspect that like the rest of us, they are just moving with the times. It’s not foolish to hope that vegan options will be so readily available in all major capitals soon.
- For far more in-depth and expert advice, this blog is very useful, especially the post on what to order in traditional French restaurants.