In a culture where red meat is forefront on every menu, butter is the first ingredient in most recipes and chain-smoking is still cool, it seems unlikely that those looking for a slightly less hedonistic diet will succeed. However, Paris, like a fine wine, is beginning to mature when it comes to its long-established, and often, unyielding, cuisine. Sure, French food has long been heralded for its seasonality, freshness and succulent roasted vegetables, but one can only subsist on a plate of asperges blanches (albeit huge asperges blanches) for so long. With menus ranging from veal cheek to cheese plate to crème brulee, the classic French bistro often does not offer much choice or variety for visitors trying to steer clear of animal products.
But times are a-changing, and, with them, French cuisine has taken a few small steps for mankind, and what may seem like a giant leap forward for the Frenchman. There’s still a brasserie on every corner serving up bread and butter, steak frites and duck confit. But, now, slowly popping up across the city are food trucks, juice bars, vegan dishes, natural grocery stores, and even gluten-free restaurants (albeit few and far between).
And though I am the first one to dive into a basket of pain and a plate of fromage when I step foot on French soil, I was determined to eat with a slightly lighter hand on this trip – to HRx my French experience if you will. With temptation lurking around literally every corner in the form of flaky pastries, I won’t lie and say it’s easy to eat healthy in Paris, but it is absolutement possible. I should note that it is much easier to eat healthy when actually living in Paris – having a fridge, microwave and stove makes all the difference. When I lived here, I would eat fruit and yogurt for breakfast, boxed organic vegetable soups from the grocery store for lunch and have market dinners of in-season vegetables, roast chicken and freshly-baked bread. In a hotel room, however, with nowhere to store my cold foods and nowhere to heat my hot foods, I am completely reliant on restaurants and ready-made goods. And baguettes, which can be handily stored on my bedside table. 🙂
Though I try to live by a motto of moderation, when vacationing, with more limited choices and temptation abound, I tend to make bad choices. However, the search for the lighter side of Paris during this trip has tempered my constant need to check out all the new and exciting restaurants in Paris and eat as much cheese as possible. While one meal may have contained a serving of mashed potatoes that I’m absolutely certain was 80% cream and butter, 20% potato and 100% delicious, the next meal consisted of a much lighter, delicately prepared sea bream fish and roasted vegetables in olive oil pesto that made me just as over the moon.
I definitely ate my share of filets, pork cheeks (check out L’Avant Comptoir for some amazing pork and even better salted butter), and even pulled pork sandwiches at Frenchie – one of my new favorite restaurants – but vegetarian options were not as hard to come by as they used to be. I feasted on vegetable and lentil dosas at a street food festival, chowed down on a hearty spinach and date tarte at Le Baratin, an Anthony Bourdain recommendation, and there is nothing better than a vegetable quiche from one of the many boulangerie-pâtisserie in the city.
Sustaining from dairy and eggs and going completely vegan is a little more difficult but the Gentle Gourmet Café and Le Potager du Marais both offer up vegan dishes as well as Bob’s Kitchen & Bob’s Juice Bar where you can get veggie stew, soups, salads and a variety of smoothies and juices.
Gluten-free is a little harder to come by than vegetarian, but, again, the movement is gaining traction. There’s a completely gluten-free restaurant called Noglu and a gluten-free bakery, Helmut Newcake. The Breizh Café in the Marais offers gluten-free galettes (savory crepes) made with organic buckwheat flour, which are to die for.
The hardest thing to abstain from in Paris, in my mind, is the dairy. The cheeses, the cream-laden sauces, the desserts. They’re just too tempting, and as far as I know, dairy is still too sacred in France to be messed with (I can just hear them now. Almond milk? Non!!! C’est pas possible!) Check out this funny blog post from a lactose intolerant guy living in Paris. In my case, where dairy is more of a nuisance than a curse – blotchy skin, a possible upset stomach, and/or a little throat congestion – I suck it up for the week, arm myself with Lactaid and probiotics and enjoy all the dairy France has to offer. For those of you who don’t have that luxury, I would recommend visiting the handful of vegan restaurants I mentioned. Ethnic restaurants, though not always the best in Paris, are another way to abstain from dairy. The French seem to love their “Japonais” so there is no shortage of sushi, the Moroccan food here isn’t bad and the falafels in the Marais are delicious. As for me, I’m going to stick with my usual brand of flexitarian eating – a croissant here, a steak there, with a few organic green juices and gluten-free crepes thrown into the mix. Bon Appetit!