To save on eating out or combat restaurant/waiter fatigue in Paris, sometimes it’s nice to stay in and enjoy a simple meal in your room.
But we have watched one too many tourists wander through the dreary aisles of a French supermarket scavenging like lost urban seagulls for industrially made scraps when all of Paris is there for the taking in its competitively priced gourmet food shopping glory.
Follow our tips on how to get more value and quality for your money and turn that in-room picnic into a memorable meal you couldn’t get at home.
Why the Supermarket Should Be Your Last Resort
Note that while American supermarkets have become more glamorous and high quality in recent years, Paris supermarkets just don’t try that hard. Even larger chains like Monoprix with their own deli counters and more extensive offerings can’t give you the same quality that you can find elsewhere. And if you are going to make a meal of wine, bread and cheese, which are usually accompaniments to the main meal in France, remember that life is short and you have better options than the inferior mass-market variety.
A Paris Farmers Market for Every Day of the Week
Another obvious one-stop destination for in-room picnic supplies is the Paris farmers market. Paris has 82 farmers markets in every neighborhood of the city, meaning you have your pick of locations any day of the week.
The lively markets of Paris are entertaining and life-affirming. Not only can you find fresh whole foods, you can also find more exotic but still affordable pre-prepared offerings like warm freshly made paella, choucroute or roast chicken and potatoes, or even a plate of shucked oysters (just ask) that you can enjoy with a glass of wine, some made-in-Brittany butter and fresh bread in your room, no cooking required.
Because the food is not pre-packaged, you can buy only as much food as you need, like a single roasted chicken thigh with a handful of roasted potatoes, instead of a whole chicken, or any sized morsel of cheese, which will save you money on wasted food.
Specialty Shops and Traiteurs
Don’t be intimidated by cheese shops, wine shops, fruit and vegetable sellers, butchers (who sell ready to eat cooked meats and pates as well), fish shops (which sell the aforementioned oysters or already cooked shrimp or smoked salmon) and other specialty shops, which may look fancy but aren’t necessarily more expensive.
The traiteur is the name for a gourmet take-out shop or deli where you can buy prepared foods. This is not a budget option per se, although if you want to sample gourmet dishes prepared by French hands without paying for a sit-down restaurant meal, there are savings to be found. Also be aware that even apparently upscale wine shops will have plenty of perfectly drinkable wines priced at well under €10, and the staff is trained to help.
Boulangeries and Patisseries
There is no point buying pre-packaged supermarket pastries when the city is jam packed with patisseries where you can buy anything from a single macaron to a slice of tart for the price of a pack of industrially made cookies at the supermarket.
It should go without saying that the boulangerie is the cheapest place to buy the freshest bread. But the boulangerie is also a reasonably priced place to pick up sandwiches, quiches, desserts, salads and in some cases hot meals packaged to go (if you want your meal heated, just ask).
Pretty much every boulangerie offers a fixed price menu option (or three) that can save you money on a sandwich/quiche/pizza/stuffed bread plus a dessert and a drink. (But be sure to do the math in your head first since in some cases you can save by buying separately.)
Remember not to buy more bread or pastries than you plan to consume asap, as items are baked fresh and not injected with preservatives to give them a shelf life.
If you want fresh bread but don’t want your baguette to go stale (which it will, often in a matter of hours), don’t go for those overpriced mini breads they sell like candies at near the cash register. Instead, ask for a “demi-baguette,” and you will pay half price for half of a full-sized baguette (this generally works only for standard baguettes, not ones made with special flours or whole grains or added ingredients like nuts or olives).
If your hotel has a microwave, we have two words for you: Picard Surgelés. This ubiquitous chain has been selling flash frozen foods and upmarket TV dinners to French citizens since the early 1970s, and now has more than 100 locations in Paris alone. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, taking a stroll through the chilly aisles provides a fascinating sociological glimpse into the modern French palate. Plus you can try French specialties like escargot, duck stuffed with foie gras and more without paying restaurant prices.
Take Out and Delivery
More and more Paris restaurants offer take-out (à emporter), which isn’t necessarily a low cost way to go, especially since tipping is included in the price of items. Some restaurants, like the hipper than thou organic pizza makers Pizza Flamingo, knock €1 off for take-out. And there are mediocre sushi restaurants all over Paris that offer food to go.
Delivery (livraison) is also increasingly popular in Paris, but you will wait an hour and quality to price ratios are not necessarily givens. Be sure to check first with your hotel if you decide to go the delivery route.