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Paris: Eating and Drinking

Restaurants, Bistros and Brasseries

Le Grand Véfour Restaurant
Le Grand VefoursEating and drinking in France, and especially Paris, is actually not the gastronomic and behavioural minefield some commentators would have you believe. But it is true that French people tend to take their dining more seriously than those in some other countries. That does not necessarily mean their food and wine is superior, just that on the whole they show more respect for the process of dining and what they eat and drink.

There are a just few things you need to remember to make your gastronomic adventures in Paris (and the rest of France) more enjoyable.

First, the different types of eating places.

In Paris, "restaurants" are for formal two or three or four course meals, "bistros" for simply cooked meals with straightforward food in an informal friendly atmosphere, and "brasseries" for sandwiches, salads or choucroutes (sauerkraut cooked in white wine with numerous garnishes) or quite substantial meals at any time of day.

Here's a comment from Harriet Welty-Rochefort, who's lived in Paris for 34 years:

 WARNING ! Here's a tip to avoid some embarrassing confusion. In France, a "restaurant" is for a whole meal. If you go to a restaurant, NEVER order just a salad and declare that you are not hungry for anything else ! If you're not very hungry and just want a salad, a sandwich, or an omelette, head for a "brasserie". In general, if you sit at any table which is covered with a tablecloth, it means that that table has been set up for a meal (and for the French, a meal is not a sandwich!). In a brasserie, for example, if you just want a sandwich, head for the "tableclothless" tables!

More about restaurants from Harriet

Brasserie Bofinger
Brasserie BofingerNote:
these days a brasserie seems to be just about anything from a one-room bar to an elegant, multistoried restaurant with waiters in black tie. But if you want a genuine "brasserie experience" stick to the older traditional ones, like Bofinger, Lipp, Flo, La Coupole and Le Balzar.

Cocteau, Braque, Picasso, Apollinaire, Diaghilev, Joyce, Hemingway, Josephine Baker and Fitzgerald were all habitués of La Coupole, Brasserie Lipp and Le Balzar. And Lèger, Chagall and Soutine decorated the columns of La Coupole.

  • Le Balzar, 49 Rue des Ecoles, fifth arrondissement; telephone, Metro stops: St.-Michel and Cluny.
  • Brasserie Flo, 7 Cour des Petites-Ecuries, 10th arrondisseent; Metro stop: Chateau d'Eau.
  • Bofinger, 3-7 Rue de la Bastille, fourth arrondissement;; Metro stop: Bastille.

Read a great New York Times article about Parisian Brasseries here

Guidebooks such as the Zagat Survey of Paris Restaurants and the "Food Lovers Guide to Paris" by Patricia Wells (a bit heavy to carry around) will give you a running start when you're choosing your place to eat, but sometimes it's simply more fun to wander around by yourself and just choose somewhere that feels right (and has an interesting menu outside!).

Next Page: Eating the French Way


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