{ Dining Out } How to Eat Veggily in French Restaurants

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manger dehors et sain en france

I know. I live in France.

And words that come to mind when thinking about French restaurant gastronomy often begin with foie and end with gras. (i.e. rich/greasy.) Not… light, and cruciferous.

And you may be thinking, she must just make a constant circuit of the growing number of veggious places in Paris… that’s how she’s able to be plant-based in France! And you’d be right. Most of the time.

Then there are those other times.

The times you find yourself in an unknown neighborhood, after a job or appointment, starved, with no places saved on your Mapstr veggie map. The times you go out for a bite after the theatre with a group of friends and you end up at some random brasserie because, after all, you can’t always be a control freak.

Those times.

So what do you do to keep it clean and veggie?

Glad you asked. We’ve got you covered.

These 5 tricks have saved me time and time again from either going hungry — and therefore hangry — or having to endure yet another salade verte with a side of crusty high-glycemic loaf. (Not my idea of the best restaurant experience.)

 

5 Ways to Eat Healthily and Veggily in Restaurants

1. Make friends with the waiter

Take the waiter aside, and with your most sincere, kind, and embarrassed face, say something to the effect of: “I’m so sorry, but I can’t* eat meat, do you have any suggestions for me?” Now, keep in mind, your waiter has maybe never even contemplated a meal without animal and may still think that salmon is vegetarian. (Seriously.) If you want to have a half-way decent dining experience patience is key here.  If he or she is totally incapable of suggesting a dish without meat that isn’t an omelette, continue being extremely polite, and either ask them to ask the chef if he can throw all the veggies he’s got onto one platter with some rice or potatoes, or see #2 (below.)

*can’t sounds better than “don’t” — it may spark more sympathy than disdain since, for them, meat is probably (sadly) un grand plaisir. And keep in mind that mentioning that you’re “vegan” is just going to majorly mess with their head. Deal with that later, surreptitiously, by asking for it sans la crème or beurre or whatever the case may be.

Brief French lesson:

“Je suis navré(e), mais je ne peux pas manger de viande, auriez-vous quelque chose à me proposer? Un plat végétarien peut-être? Avec plein de légumes?” *Big smile*

String beans

Green beans are one of my favorite sides.

2. Opt for the Side Dishes

The side dishes are your healthy holy grail in French restaurants — green beans, potatoes, avocado vinaigrette, side salads, etc. Your waiter may be slightly perplexed when you order three and bring them all to you on separate plates (annoying, but oh well), however, all those sides can amount to a yummy and consistent meal. (Hint: Just ask that they be sautéed in olive oil instead of butter.)

My love just got back from Haiti — a land that loves its meat. But he, too, said it was relatively easy to eat veggie by just asking for only side dishes, which in Haiti are: rice, beans, potatoes, and plantains. Yummy!

 

Appetizer avocado melon

The avocado and melon sorbet appetizer at Jardin des Pâtes in the 5th.

3. Order a Few Appetizers Instead

Many accidentally veggie dishes hide in the appetizer section — order a few instead of a “main dish.” Again, if you’ve made friends with your waiter, you can just say, as sweetly as possible:

“La salade tomates sans le fromage, s’il vous plait, merci, merci!”

And

“Le melon-jambon, sans le jambon, si c’est possible.* Merci mille fois.” 

* Of course it’s possseeeebluh, but, again, you’re just being polite.

 

4. Be a Menu Sleuth

The best way to ascertain what they’re hiding back zair in zee French kitchen is to look at all the sides or “accompaniments” to the meat dishes. Sometimes the waiter, and even the chef, forget that these sides (often omitted from the à la carte sides) could be served without their meaty centerpiece. Again, since you’re messing with the grand chef’s idea of what a “proper” plate is composed of, use your most apologetic tone when you ask for the rice pilaf from the duck dish, and the shallot asparagus from the coq au vin. (Of course, make sure they’re not going to be swimming in a butter bath or have hidden lardons.)

 

5. If All Else Fails, Opt for Asian Cuisine

Frenchies are getting more and more into sushi, Thai food, and other easily-made-veggie exotic cuisines. If you’re with a group, do your best to gently steer your friends toward a resto of the asian persuasion. This alone will make your life a whole lot easier. Sushi? Avocado, radish, and cucumber, oh my! Thai? Veggie coconut curry. Indian? The easiest! Just say “hold the crème please” on any of their myriad veggie dishes, and you’re set.

 

In the end, you choose what you put in your mouth, and in social settings, most people are more focused on the conversation than if you ate your salad. In dire situations (of the salade verte, high-glycemic loaf variety) I always keep a jar of nuts with me, so if I’m still hungry, I know that I have a snack for the ride home, if need be.

Until all French bistros and brasseries have more plats végétariens, I sincerely hope these tips help you healthify your dining out experiences! Do you have other tips for navigating the creamy and meaty land of la cuisine française? Leave us a note in the comments below.

 

Green beans and potatoes,

{ Merci to Rina at 5 Lorette for allowing us to use your beautiful blue wall. Of course, at 5 Lorette you can disregard all this advice because everything is Gluten Free and Vegan! 🙂 }

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