Head’s up – there’s a green revolution a-brewing in Paris and it wants you to eat cruciferous vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Don’t mind if I do!
When I first arrived in Paris ten years ago, there was still a serious lack of options for vegetarians. Frustrating for me, you’d think? Meh… not really.
I never actually noticed the lack of vegetarian food that one might normally desire as a main course, since I subsisted on dessert. Even though I was already meat-free at this point, I was what you might call a ‘90% baked goods vegetarian’. Pain au chocolat. Millefeuille. Eclairs… At the time I got a lot of: “Ooh, poor you, a vegetarian in Paris. That must be tough”, and I’ll admit it now, I was outright lying when I would gravely concur.
Luckily for me, Paris got on its health kick at pretty much the same time I did. I stopped with the daily croissant fix; Paris started doing gluten-free treats. I saw Forks Over Knives and gave up dairy and eggs; suddenly Bob’s Kitchen, Sol Semilla, and Gentle Gourmet popped up to welcome me into their deliciously non-stodgy, cruelty-free fold. Thanks, guys.
It started with a handful of these delightful places. And nowadays everybody wants a piece of the organic, lactose-free pie. There are juice bars in pretty much every arrondissement, vegan brunch menus a-plenty in the more hip cafés, and the mainstream supermarket Carrefour even has a few exclusively organic branches stocking heaps of veggie products.
Of course there has always been a great selection of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern restaurants in Paris, which are inherently vegan-friendly. But let’s face it, most people want to sample the legendary traditional French cuisine when visiting Paris, and this has never been an easy feat for veggies.
However, the platinum VIP top dog of French gastronomy, Alain Ducasse, an unstoppable Michelin-star collector, recently created an almost entirely vegetarian menu at his restaurant (pictured above) in the very chic Plaza Athénée hotel. Mon dieu!
Granted, the dinner menu will set you back a cool 380€, so it’s not exactly what you’d call accessible, but I find this bold move interesting, and a clear sign that the veggie Zeitgeist is finally taking hold in obstinate Paris. Other Michelin-starred restaurants are now following in Ducasse’s influential wake (Alain Passard’s Arpège has been described as a mecca for well-heeled vegetarians). So these days it is possible to sample French haute cuisine while letting our furry friends live on. A first.
And now you can even have a 100% vegan meal at a brasserie très parisienne.
Brasserie Lola rather cheekily doesn’t even tell its clients it’s plant-based, serving up hot dogs and croque monsieurs without an inverted comma in sight. It’s a clever way to get people in the door, because although change is afoot, the word végane still makes most Parisians bolt.
The well-known French journalist (and fervant veggie), Aymeric Caron, recently wrote a book called No Steak, which brings to light the injustices in intensive animal farming and also the negative impact that meat and dairy has on our health. I almost fell off my chair when I saw him featured on the biggest French TV shows and getting widespread attention and acclaim for bravely asking “Do we really need to eat this way?”
He is featured in this interesting debate from 2014 called ‘L’Adieu à la Viande’ (in French, for those who want to pratiquer leur français!):
And there’s been a real knock on effect. A few months ago, a French politician launched a petition for vegetarian options to become obligatory in school canteens. This idea was really put forward in response to the prickly subject of secularism in school, but, as Yves Jégo, the politician in question points out, a veggie option suits all cultures, and not inconsequentially, works out cheaper for schools (not to mention healthier. Canteen chicken nuggets, anyone?).
While this is all excellent news to us (and hopefully to you too since you’re reading this!), the veggie option is still a bit of an alien concept to your average Parisian brasserie, and yes, you’ll still get eyeballed if you ask to substitute X for Y in a restaurant. It’s just not a ‘thing’ in Paris. But arm yourself with your most dazzling smile, and a few tactical compliments about the décor, and you’ll surely be able to convince your waiter to rustle up an assiette végétarienne for you.
We will of course be featuring our favourite plant-based joints in Paris over the coming months, but until then, here are just a few of our top picks:
And here’s Happy Cow‘s exhaustive list of veggie-friendly spots in Paris to keep you ticking over. There are 226 of them, quand même.
p.s. May I also point you towards these interesting blogs that document – and provoke! – the rise of healthy living in Paris: