Passionate About Paris: Vegetarian? C’est pas grave!

Vegetarian?  Heading to Paris? C’est pas grave, as they say: it doesn’t matter.

Let’s face it, in the past our Gallic neighbours’ predilection for eating alleged delicacies such as duck’s gizzard has rendered them pretty impermeable to any understanding of the concept of vegetarianism.

When I made my decision to become a vegetarian over 20 years ago, French friends thought I had suffered some kind of brainstorm and shook their heads, more in sorrow, I suspect, than disbelief.

In my early trips to Paris as a vegetarian I was consigned to the culinary badlands that was omelette with or without fromage, and quite possibly accompanied by frites.  That, as they say, was that.  I quickly became immune to the astonished looks of waiters on learning that I didn’t partake of their national delicacies and —quelle horreur — didn’t eat fish either.  Clearly I was beyond redemption and my path to gastronomic heaven was forever barred.

Fortunately my passion for Paris has always been such that a few days of cholesterol overload was a small price to pay; balance would be restored on my return home.

But, plus ça change.  Le Credit Crunch at least did the herbivores a favour and out of necessity restaurants had to change their traditional modes of operation.

Eating out saw a rise in opting for a one course (and therefore cheaper) meal rather than the three courses previously enjoyed.  Once, a request for an off-menu item may have been met with a haughty ‘non’.  Now, a change in approach has seen a new and more flexible thinking emerge and this has led to a better recognition of vegetarian requirements.

Alain Passard, triple starred chef at the expensive L’Arpege restaurant is credited with elevating the status of vegetarian dishes in French cuisine, in particular using seasonal vegetables grown organically.  He was quoted as saying that ‘to be creative with vegetables is intoxicating’.  Add in the growing move towards eating healthily and where possible organically, et voilà:  vegetarianism doesn’t seem quite so cranky after all.

Here are some of my favourite places:

Le Grenier de Notre-Dame (Vegetarian and Vegan)                                      18, rue de la Bûcherie, 5th arrondissement                                                              Metro: St-Michel or Cité                                                           www.legrenierdenotredame.fr

Tucked away behind the cathedral of Notre Dame, this tiny vegetarian eatery serves hearty soups, and vegetarian staples such as lentil moussaka and tofu ravioli.  All food is organic and booking is recommended.

Le Potager du Marais  (Vegetarian)                                                                    22 rue Rambuteau, 3rd arrondissement                                                               Métro: Rambuteau

This organic vegetarian restaurant is near the Centre Pompidou. The menu includes ravioli, vegetarian patties and hearty soups, with a fixed price menu as well as à la carte dishes.   It’s a great place to fill up with tasty food.

Although not a vegetarian restaurant, Chez Marianne does some great vegetarian food and is a real favourite of mine. Choose a mix and match platter from such veggie goodies such as hummus, aubergine, couscous and stuffed vine leaves.

2 rue des Hospitaliers-Saint-Gervais, 4th arrondissement                                         Métro: Hotel de Ville

For a truly budget meal option, head to the Latin Quarter (5th arrondissement), where for around 5€ you can pick up hearty portions of falafel and salad in pitta bread (with chips or sweet potato fries if you have room) at

Maoz, 8 rue Xavier Privas                                                                                          Métro:  St-Michel.

I spent a year living in Israel and ate a lot of falafel — which was as and is fantastic street food.  I’ve yet to find falafel truer to its roots than that served in Maoz.

Bon Appetit and À bientôt!

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