Eat Like a Local: Paris

Five easy ways to amplify your Parisian dining experience.

By / July 2012

Let’s be honest, writing about food in Paris is hardly original. So much has been written, in fact, I considered not covering it. But when I found myself on a brief, solo jaunt to the city last summer, I saw Paris and its food in a new light. Traveling and dining alone can do that, especially when you happen to be in one of (if not the most) romantic places in the world. You watch more. You take more in.

Alone in Paris, I was always in good company; in the company of cheese and chocolate shops, open-air food markets, and a local population well-versed in culinary traditions, know-how, and passion. In other words: my kind of people. So while there may be little left to say that hasn’t already been said about Paris and its food (glorious food), below are five of my favorite ways to eat like a local in Paris, whether you’re a crowd, a couple, or a solitary traveler looking for food love.

1. Rent an apartment. 
Want to eat like a local? Then cook like one, too. Given the city’s bevy of fabulous food markets, it would be a shame to find yourself in Paris without a kitchen to cook in. Peruse the produce stands along Rue Cler (7th) or the fresh seafood on Rue Montorgueil (2nd), before returning to your abode to chop, sauté, and sip champagne. With a sink full of dirty dishes and an empty bottle of bubbly, it will be easy to convince yourself that you actually live in Paris.

2. Sit at the bar.
I’ve come to love eating alone, but many solo travelers dread dinnertime and the lonely table for one that it brings. If convivial and chatty is more your style, seek out restaurants where patrons can dine bar side. Bar service tends to be quicker, less stuffy, and provide more opportunities to chat up the bartenders and fellow diners. Both of my bar bistro meals in Paris last summer resulted in spontaneous and friendly conversations with locals seated nearby.

Mystery sandwich of ham, brie, and artichoke tapenade.

3. Order what he’s having.
If a menu full of French has you lost in translation, get your head out of your pocket-size dictionary and have a look around. As one of the savviest and most discriminating eating populations in the world, take a cue from the food Parisian’s order. Last summer, I happened upon a tiny café with a takeout window and a lunchtime line of French businessmen that reached out the door.

But the all-French chalkboard menu and the growing crowds didn’t allow for careful translation so I simply pointed to the man in front of me and said, “la même, s’il vous plait” or “the same, please.” The “same” turned out to be ham, brie, and artichoke-olive tapenade on a baguette, which made me glad I’d left myself in the stranger’s capable hands.

4. Take a stroll along Rue du Bac in the 7th.
The sheer quantity of food choices in Paris can be overwhelming, especially if you’re short on time. Rein in the city’s sprawl with a food crawl along Rue du Bac near the Musée d’Orsay. The stretch between the Seine and Rue de Sèvres will take you past one of Eric Kayser’s bakeries, an Androuët cheese shop, Chapon chocolate shop, Ryst-Dupyeron spirits, and countless patisseries all within a morning’s walk. Walk, sip, eat, repeat.

5. Take it home.
That stroll along Rue du Bac ends on the doorstep of one of the city’s biggest food shrines – La Grande Épicerie. Think department store meets grocery. La Grande Épicerie is the perfect spot to get lost for a few hours and find those nagging souvenirs and pantry must-haves among the carefully cultivated collections of spice blends, oils, vinegars, and more. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up with luggage full of mustard jars wrapped carefully in pants and shirts for the return home.

 

Martha Miller is the food columnist for EthnoTraveler. Her writing and recipes have appeared in the Washington Post, Washingtonian, Smithsonian.com, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

 

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