Grocery store chains may be your best bets for cutting costs while living in Paris, and they’re perfectly fine and dandy for long-term stays, but what if you’re visiting for just a week or two? Well then, I say, live it like it’s your last!
Visiting one of the finest food capitals of the world, a place chock-full of bountiful “Bon Produits” (specialty shops), all managed by certified gastronomical experts who are more than willing to share their vast wealth of knowledge, is abso-fruga-lute-ly not the time to shop at a chain grocery store in order to save a few centimes.
So take in all those wonderful boulangeries, pâtisseries, chocolatiers, confiseries, glaciers, éspiceries, fromageries, charcuteries, poissonneries, caves, and cafés with a clear conscience. And don’t be shy. Ask for recommendations! Ask questions, and in the process you’ll take home more than the receipt.
Here’s my personal sampling of things to not miss while in France. Cheapos, splurge on!
1. Crème brûlée
Before cracking open this classic beauty, lift the ramekin to your ear, and lightly tap on its hard, caramelized topping with your spoon. Breathe in. Savor the moment.
2. Pain au chocolat
The proper way to eat it is to pinch off teeny morsels with your fingertips to make it last as long as possible. However, I usually peel the individual layers off slowly, thoroughly enjoying each melted chocolate nugget I encounter.
Big wheels do keep on turning. Like skirts, cheese is seasonal, and the variety is endless. So pace yourself! Start off with the “Cantal jeune.” Named after the volcanic peaks of the Cantal mountain range, it’s hard to find this one-month-old taste sensation outside of France. Why, even the Sun King gave it his Good Palace-Keeping seal of approval. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the fromager for a cheese recommendation based on the wine you just bought down the street. They’ll gladly help you out.
If it’s still warm from the oven, do as the locals do and rip a chunk off and pop it in your mouth as soon as you step out of the bakery. I’ve noticed that males tend to carry their baguettes like caveman clubs, while women usually cradle their bread.
5. Macarons and meringues
The ultimate instant sugar rush—but what-the-hey? You only live once, right? That’s what she said. Catherine de Medici’s Italian pastry chefs introduced the macaron to France, and Ladurée is credited with its stream-lined modern sandwich-look.
It’s perfectly normal to say, “I’m looking for something around five euros to go with [fill in the blank].” Trust me, everyone else is asking the same question. Tip: Caviste Pascal Fauvel at La Cave de Abbesses at 43 rue des Abbesses clearly marks his recommendations with heart-shaped signs that read, “Coup de coeur maison.” Others follow suit.
7. French onion soup
Day or night, it’s a hot and hearty Cheapo happy meal (sans prizes).
If you end up loving them (and most people do) then you’ve made a culinary discovery, and if not, at least you’ve got a funny story to tell, and everyone will admire your bravery. I usually order my snails bathed in garlic, butter, and herbs in their little spiral shells. Yum!
“Je voudrais une banane-chocolat crêpe, s’il vous plaît,” is another one of my tickets to paradise.
Any ole tarte will do as long as it comes from Les Petits Mitrons at 26 rue Lepic in Abbesses, just up the street from the Moulin Rouge, and kitty-corner from the café featured in the film “Amélie.” You can also buy your pie by the slice!
11. A drink in Parisian café
If you visit Paris and miss out on this experience, Cheapos, we are no longer friends. Yes! Your alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks will cost a little more than in a grocery store, but the upside is that you’ll be given courtside seats to people watching, and you can stay as long as you like.
12. At least one article of clothing
For the simple love of bragging rights, do pick up a scarf, shirt, or slacks. Then, for years to come you’ll be able to say, “Oh, this old thing? I picked it up in Paris years ago!”
Cheapos, do you have a favorite French treat? Do tell!