Vegetarian Paris

My last time in Paris, about 3 years ago, it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food.  Waiters would disdainfully propose a salad – always the same salad, with goat cheese.  Nice stuff, but not something I wanted to eat at every meal.  A few years later and I’m amazed not only at how many vegetarian and vegetarian friendly options have emerged, but also how well it mixes with French food and the French approach to food in general.

Here’s 4 places worth checking out:

1.  Nanashi – Le Bento Parisien.  One on 57, Rue Charlot in the 3rd and another on 31, Rue de Paradis in the 10th.

This place isn’t 100% vegetarian, but very vegetarian-friendly.  It’s like a long train of a place with a variety of regular offerings and daily specials, all written out on a large blackboard.

I had a vegetarian spring roll wrap with rice paper, filled with sprouts and a honey sauce to dip into.  I then had a vegetable soba noodle dish, full of cooked mushrooms and lightly sauteed grated carrots, with a little nama shoe.  It was amazing — fresh and flavorful and a clever combination of Asian and European flavors.  With a glass (or two) of sake, it was a great meal for only around 30 euro or so.

The staff was also extremely helpful and nice and eager to please.

2.  Soya – Cantine Bio on 20, Rue de la Pierre Levee in the 11th.  A bit more upscale at night, it’s a good bet for a semi-fancy dinner and is probably more casual at lunch time.  Located on a residential street with almost no other activity, and without a sign, you could easily miss it, but that just adds to the charm.

Inside are dark cement walls, warmed up by dramatic lighting and some simple, eclectic, unpretentious design.  All vegetarian and mostly organic.

I had a tartare of alge, and a couscous dish with mixed vegetables.

For dessert, it was hard to settle on a choice, but I was very happy with my apple crumble and cream.  All with red wine and coffee for about 35 euro.

3.  Le Potager au Marais at 22-24, Rue Rambuteau in the 3rd about half a block from the Pompidou.  Probably the most well-known by vegans and vegetarians, it gets lots of attention from both locals and tourists.  The menu is large, with interesting daily specials.  The international staff is friendly, and happy to help in a variety of languages.

I went for the seitan à la bourguignon – a dish I’ve always adored and needed to taste what it would be like without meat.  I also wanted some onion soup, but felt it would be too much, so I took the suggestion from the staff and had a velouté of fennel, which was nice and light and flavorful.

Then came the bourgiugnon with rice, which was as hearty and filling as the original.  Ok, it’s seitan — not meat.  I won’t pretend it’s the same thing, but it sure did the trick.  I don’t think a meat eater would have anything to complain about this dish.

In the end  I had no space for dessert, which was a shame as they seemed to know what they were doing in the vegan dessert department as well.  Open for lunch and dinner, they stay open until midnight.  It’s the kind of place you could return to a few times in one trip.

4.  Le Tête dans le cuisine on 29, Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in the 11th near Oberkampf.  This is a small place that specializes in homemade cakes, tarts, quiches and bagels, mostly for takeaway but also for a quick bite for lunch.

Not really on the tourist trail, but if you’re staying in the 11th, it’s worth passing by for a soup and sandwich, or get something to go and have it later when you’re out and about.

There are also a number of suggestions at Happy Cow, especially for vegetarian Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine.

by Steven Brenner

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