A café gourmand.  (Alamy)
A café gourmand. (Alamy)

When in Paris, eat like the French

  • Food is a worthy distraction for all those visiting Paris during the French Open
  • Food is a worthy distraction for all those visiting Paris during the French Open

It’s that time of the year when Paris gets trodden by tennis enthusiasts from the world over, there to watch not just the top-seeded performers play their best game at the historic Roland Garros but also revel in the French tradition of 2-hour-long meals on offer. Whether you want to spend a fortune on fine-dining options around the stadium or stop by at the concession stands and stalls within offering everything from macarons to baguettes, or better still, carry your picnic into the arena, food is a must.

Paris, long regarded as the gourmet capital of the world, has enough options to keep you busy. When the game is over, take our pick of some of the Parisian staples and where to find them:

Quiche

This French staple of savoury tart comprises silky egg custard baked in a buttery pastry shell with fillings ranging from meat and herbs to black truffles. It is served as an entrée, as well as a main, at weekend brunches depending on the chef’s whims, but is never out of demand. Derived from pies, which are known to have originated in Rome and Egypt, the quiche is a must-try.

Where: Marché de l’Olive—a farmers’ market at 10 Rue l’Olive

Sole meunière

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the French are fussy eaters. They can be as exacting and merciless in their preparation of a foie gras and disciplined with simpler recipes where they know they shouldn’t overdo things. They love their seafood, for instance, and ensure they don’t meddle too much with recipes where less is more. Sole meunière is a perfect example of this.

The sole, a succulent, flat white fish, is pan-fried in clarified butter until crisp-edged and tender, then served with a brown butter pan sauce, a dash of parsley and a wedge of lemon. Traditionally, a meunière is cooked whole and filleted tableside. Sole meunière is an extravagant dish primarily because it is prepared with the Dover sole, not a pocket-friendly buy. But it is the simplicity of the preparation and the depth of flavour that makes it a luxurious dinner.

Where: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at Hôtel du Pont Royal, 5 Rue de Montalembert (reservations necessary).

Bistro-style seating at a crêperie.
Bistro-style seating at a crêperie. (Alamy)

Bouillabaisse

The traditional French fishermen’s stew originated in the port city of Marseille and has been a dinner staple for generations in local households. A bouillabaisse is distinct from other fish soups owing to the Provençal herbs in the broth, which is boiled and simmered with bony Mediterranean fish, and the way it is served. The broth is served in a soup plate with slices of bread and rouille (bread-thickened sauce) as entrée, followed by the fish brought separately on a platter.

Where: La Méditerranée at 2 Place de l’Odeon

Ratatouille

Another Provençal gem, this medley of summer vegetables, stewed together and flavoured with garlic and seasonal herbs, is a must at celebratory lunches with friends or family. A glorious ratatouille is a slow-cooked affair, often baked these days, that consists of eggplant, onions, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes stewed together with a generous dose of virgin olive oil. It’s often served as a side with grilled meats or as a main paired with a bottle of rosé.

Where: Chez Janou at 2 Rue Roger Verlomme

Steak with a side of fries and salad.
Steak with a side of fries and salad. (Instagram)

Coq au vin

If you like your vin rouge (red wine) as much in a glass as you like it in your food, then order away a succulent portion of the signature coq au vin. The coq (chicken or rooster) is simmered in red wine (typically Burgundy), bacon, onions and mushrooms. Braising the chicken in wine makes it tender and imbues it with explosive flavour. As the bird is slow-cooked over a low flame, it gains a rich dark shade. A French classic.

Where: La Jacobine at 59-61 Rue Saint-André des Arts

Steak

Nothing in French cuisine is as straightforward as the classic steak—a comforting hunk of meat seared and served with a red wine sauce. As staple bistro fare, the ruby-rare steak, mostly made from a handsome cut of beef, is layered in a buttery sauce that scorches the meat on the outside, while keeping it tender and juicy inside.

Where: Le Colimaçon at 44 Rue Vieille du Temple; Le Louchebem at 31 Rue Berger

Cassoulet

Originating in the south-west of France, this hearty meat and bean casserole may not be one of the fussed-over items on a haute cuisine menu, but what it lacks in flourish it compensates with rural charm. Named after the cassole, the earthenware pot in which it is traditionally cooked, cassoulet evolved over generations, with varying ingredients and methods of cooking. The États Généraux de la Gastronomie recommended in 1966 that to be called cassoulet, a broth must be made of at least 30% pork, mutton or preserved duck or goose (or a combination of all three), and 70% white beans and stock, fresh pork rinds, herbs and flavourings. A flavourful, luscious meal, this one takes the stew into new territory.

Where: L’Assiette at 181 Rue du Château

Soufflé

An emblem of French cuisine, the soufflé never fails to surprise, whether in a sweet or savoury avatar. In their immensely influential cookbook of 1961, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle described the soufflé as the “epitome and triumph of the art of French cooking". And rightly so, as it uses little more than air to revolutionize humble eggs into high art, swelling and browning in the oven before collapsing at first bite. The essence of a good soufflé lies in a flavourful base and glossy beaten egg whites, which are folded together before baking. The term soufflé is derived from “souffler", meaning “to breathe" or “to puff". The base may be either savoury, containing cheese, vegetables, meat or seafood, appropriate for a light dinner or lunch, or sweet, containing fruit, chocolate or liqueur, making for spectacular desserts. When it comes to soufflé, you are quite spoilt for choice in the French capital—so take your pick.

Where: Le Soufflé at 36 Rue du Mont Thabor; Le Récamier at 4 Rue Récamier

Pastis

The locally available pastis, a sweet, complex, herbal liqueur, is to France, and especially to Marseille, what the aperitif is to Italy. The name pastis comes from Occitan pastís, which means “mash-up". Commercialized first by Paul Ricard in 1932, the anise-flavoured drink succeeded the then banned absinthe. Served with water and ice, a wide variety of pastis are available at most Parisian bars.

Where: Chez Janou at 2 Rue Roger Verlomme. It serves 70 varied kinds of pastis

Absinthe

Absinthe, despite its brush with infamy in the past century, perhaps due to its exaggerated psychoactive properties, is back in Parisian bars. Although Swiss in origin, this spirit was adopted with enthusiasm by the tortured literary and art icons of Paris, such as Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, among others. Famous for its mind-bending and heart-swelling properties, la fée verte (the green fairy), this sweet, pale green spirit presents a perfect combination of wormwood, anise, fennel and other culinary and medicinal herbs.

Where: La Fée Verte at 108 Rue de la Roquette; Cantada II at 13 Rue Moret, Paris; Lulu White at 12 Rue Frochot

A cassoulet.
A cassoulet. (Alamy)

Crêpes

No visit to France is complete without sampling a most satisfying bite or more of the very French snack—the crêpe. Primarily of two types—crêpe sucrées (sweet crêpes) and crêpes salées (savoury galettes), it is served at brasseries and sold by street vendors. These exquisitely thin, light and layered pancakes are served with a variety of fillings, from only sugar or honey, to flambéed crêpes suzette or elaborate savoury galettes that include eggs, meat or mushrooms. A Brittany staple, crêpes are not only a religion in France but found all over the world today.

Where: Crêperie Port Manech at 52 Rue du Montparnasse

Café gourmand

If you love your dessert and often find yourself in a difficult spot while trying to pick a panna cotta over fromage frais, then try a café gourmand. It is an espresso served with a selection of mignardises or petit fours (small bite-sized confectionery or savoury appetizers). The café gourmand is a dessert version of “a little bit of everything", and helps you shake off those two-three glasses of wine at lunch and carry on with your day. Just walk into any bistro or café and order away.

Where: Le Centenaire at 104 Rue Amelot, Paris

Close