I love Paris, and I just went back there, for the first time since becoming vegan. Thus I won’t be sharing a recipe in this post, but my experience and tips about getting vegan food in Paris.
Traveling as a vegan can be tricky, especially in places like Europe where a vegan lifestyle, or even the concept of veganism, is still not really well known. I hear that in some large cities though, this is becoming easier, such as Berlin or London.
Paris is by many accounts the culinary capital of the world, well known for its innovative gourmet food. But alas, it is a cuisine that embraces meat, fish, butter and eggs, so what is a vegan to do when visiting this beautiful city? I was researching my options when I came across the book Vegan Paris by Emily Horne (available for the Kindle). I found plenty of great suggestions and descriptions of vegan and vegan-friendly places therein, so we decided to try out as many of them within the few days that we were there.
As a first measure, however, we made sure to stay in a place equipped with a small kitchen. When traveling, most of the time you have to rely on others to serve you the quality of food that you desire, so depending on how picky you are, this might become a real issue. You need to trust them, as you have no idea about their quality standards or their ingredients. You can alleviate these concerns by having your own kitchen, giving you the option to prepare some meals at the hotel, even if it is only breakfast or sandwiches for the day. The slightly higher cost for booking such an Aparthotel is easily offset by saving on cooking yourself rather than dining out. I will point out some places to buy produce and other basic ingredients at the end.
On to the restaurants.
The first stop was for lunch at Voy Alimento (they recently renamed themselves to Sol Semilla and are located in the former Bar des Artisans, in the 10th arrondissement). This 100% vegan and organic restaurant serves seasonal products, and plays with them by adding superfoods mostly originated in South America. Their main dish is a single assiette du jour (“daily plate”), a varying composition of grains, vegetables, mashed potatoes, marinated tofu, and salad. These components are always combined with a superfood, also varying on a daily basis, such as spirulina, acai, raw cocoa, maca, blue corn, aloe vera or lucuma. They also serve non-alcoholic drinks, “milk” shakes, soups and dessert, all containing some of the above mentioned superfoods in them.
The place is little and cozy, with a rustique deco, and can accomodate about 16 seated customers. They have an integrated boutique where you can buy the same superfoods they add to their food and drinks. When we went there the place was well visited, the ambiance was easy going, and the staff was nice.The food was good, although we found it a touch too bland for our taste and would have preferred it a bit spiced up. Nevertheless, it was satisfying, tasted fresh, and was prepared with love. I would definitively go back there.
The second stop, in the 5th arrondissement, was a real treat! Vegan Folie’s is a bakery that offers vegan sweet and savory cupcakes. They all looked sooo beautiful. We bought two savory and two sweet ones, and ventured to a nearby park to try them. While all four were great, and I do love sweet things, we definitively preferred the savory ones. And I find the whole concept of savory cupcakes a brilliant idea to begin with. I will certainly come back here during my next Paris visit.
The Gentle Gourmet Cafe
Many vegan places in Paris, including the two above, have limited opening hours, often serving mainly lunch but not dinner. This might be due to the fact that the vegan business is only starting to grow, and it is less risky to cater to the lunch-time crowd. However, at least one pure vegan place is run more like a traditional restaurant, offering lunch and dinner; this brings me to the the third stop, the Gentle Gourmet Cafe in the 12th arrondissement.
First and foremost, it is great that there is a full scale restaurant serving only vegan food in a city that is so full of animal products. Kudos! Now, we could tell there were still new and the whole restaurant running routine was a bit iffy: we had mismatching menus, they had run out of several items, and the waitress had to go ask in the kitchen for every question we had about the food. That can be easily forgiven, as I am sure they will get their footing. Also, the staff was very forthcoming and incredibly friendly.
I had great expectations for this place, and I am sad to say that their food was a bit of a let down: The taste was nothing to write home about, and their choice of products and preparations was not catering to the healthier crowd. The presentation was decent, and overall the restaurant had a fine dining ambiance. It is just unfortunate that these positive aspects were not matched with quality dishes.
On the last day we went to the vegan-friendly Lebanese restaurant chain Noura. There are several in the city, and we visited the one located on the roof-top terrace of the Arab World Institute in the 5th arrondissement, with a beautiful view over Paris.
They do serve meat, but our waiter was familiar with the vegan lifestyle, and gladly pointed out the many vegan-friendly choices. So we sat there on this beautiful, sunny terrace, with a great view over Paris, enjoying a wide variety of Lebanese vegan dishes: hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, lentil-based appetitzers, and other delicious things. The food was excellent, and I will go back there during my next visit for sure.
In fact, ethnic restaurant are often a great option for the traveling vegan, such as Lebanese, Thai, Indian, etc. While they include meat in the cooking traditions, often they won’t utilize dairy and eggs, or can easily replace them (such as cooking with olive or coconut oil instead of ghee), so a vegetarian dish may already be vegan or very close.
We would have loved to try other vegan places, but forgot that August is summer time and traveling time in France, and many businesses close for several weeks. Thus we encountered some closed doors, which was a bit frustrating (note to self, no visiting Paris in August again). Nevertheless, I would like to mention two of them here anyway, because I was especially curious about them, and the raw foodies among you may want to know about their existence as well.
The first one is Bob’s Juice Bar in the 10th arrondissement, serving green juice for those not traveling with their juicers. The second one is Pousse Pousse in the 9th arrondissement (pousse is French for sprout), a 100% raw vegan restaurant which offers raw food (obviously), green juice, etc. It is also a boutique that sells ingredients (such as sprouts and algae), equipment (such as juicers and sprouters) and books.
Another good alternative to get vegan food is Le Pain Quotidien, of which there are four (at the time of writing) in Paris. By the way, this chain has restaurants all over the map, and in many larger US cities. You can always get a nice and satisfying salad there, a tartine or a soup. All their vegan dishes are marked on the menu.
Naturally, every supermarket will have some fruits and vegetables, and I found that the larger ones carry a limited amount of organic and vegan products, such as the Bjorg label; for example, I found tofu in the few larger supermarket I went to. Naturalia is an organic food chain, dispersed all over Paris and the rest of France, and there I found a very good selection of vegan products, especially the more healthy ones, such as sprouted breads, nut and soy based milks, grains, seeds, and beans. The best discovery however was a newly opened, large, beautiful, organic health food store in the 5th arrondissement called Le Retour a la Terre (“the return to the earth”); you will probably find everything there should you opt to prepare some vegan food back at the hotel.
My Paris tour ends here. I hope I was able to motivate you to go to Paris as a vegan. It is absolutely possible continuing your lifestyle there, while enjoying one of the most beautiful cities in the world! And with so much potential, the availability of vegan options will certainly grow.