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Jul 14, 2010 06:46 AM

The food tourist's dilemma

Hello all. My question is complicated but not new. When I go to a new city, I am usually looking to experience multiple facets of the culinary life of the place. Among those facets is the "traditional" or "typical" food of the place. However, many (often good) restaurants in tourist cities are packed with tourists, which is natural and obvious. However, the snob in me wants to eat on holidays without being surrounded by my fellow tourists. I want to be among the locals at play. I understand the silliness of my position - I myself am part of the problem. I just don't notice that because I am, well, me. "L'enfer, c'est les autres", as an over-quoted Frenchman once said. Anyway, my question is this.. Among the good French bistrots of Paris, which are the "least touristy"?

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  1. On the holidays the locals leave town and the bistros usually covered here are closed. Remember, six weeks of vacation is the norm. Middle management types get eight weeks. If you don't want to hear English spoken just dine late, very late.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Oakglen

      Thanks, I'm in Paris in late September, when most will be back. I'll be eating late (as a consequence of drinking early, usually). I don't mind a few English speaking voices (I'll be one of them). I just don't want to be surrounded by Brits, Yanks and Aussies.

      1. re: panaroma

        I totally agree with JT. Panorama, instead of asking an English-language website where one could avoid English-speakers, - which means asking us where you could avoid us, - wouldn't it make much more sense to inquire French websites?

        1. re: Parigi

          I can see how my post may have come across but I am not seeking to avoid other tourists completely. I'll be staying in the 6th, so that would be an exercise in futility. The deluded "I'm off the beaten track" tourist is pretty annoying and I really hope I am not coming across as that guy. However, my experience in other cities has taught me that in any city the best places tend to have tourists in them but there are a few places that you can be (literally) surrounded with other tourists. In Sydney, for example, Quay and Icebergs are much more touristy than Tetsuya's or Claudes. In Tokyo, Sushi Daiwa is always full of Americans but there are three great places within 100 metres that are just as good and you won't feel like you are on a bus tour. Thanks for the suggestion, I am looking on French sites.

    2. Ans: any place that's been well reviewed in the French press but not yet in the guidebooks, New York Times, etc. Check out the blogs like Paris By Mouth.

      1 Reply
      1. re: John Talbott

        When I was a kid, my Mother used to settle disputes between my sister and me by saying "you're both right" - which got of us both furious. But.....
        Today I ate at a new (1 month old) resto (those of you with Google skills and patience will find out which) where voices were all sotto voce and local (except for 4 folk speaking what must have been Serbian/Slovakian, also not at a high pitch) and the sound level was wonderful.
        On the Metro home, three Southern US ladies of a certain age were shouting at a terribly nice young French guy who patiently tried to tell them how to get to the St Ouen flea market in perfect and perfectly calm English.
        BTW, it's not just the ugly (I know, I know the Ugly American was anything but) Americans who exceed the sound limit, it's hearing "These were the days my friend" one more time on the accordian when you're trying to figure out if there really is no food stuff in Figaro today.

      2. One issue is, the opposition between local and English-speakers is less and less relevant in Paris. I realized that when friends asked to me, about l'Ami Jean, whether the clients were local or Americans, and the response was... both: Paris is a city that is more and more populated with expats, especially in nice neighborhoods. And the prices of restaurants mean that high income people are over represented (yes, in bistrots too. Particularly in bistrots, actually), which means that expats are overrepresented too.

        The way to eat what the French speaking French people eat, and to be with them, is more simple and less expensive: visit bakeries, supermarkets, crepes stands, Chinatown.

        2 Replies
        1. re: souphie

          This is a very helpful response souphie and your observation about expats is accurate for most of the World's big cities. I am going to l'Ami Jean, so I guess I will see for myself.

          1. re: souphie

            And, as an additional tip, do not hesitate to order lunch at a corner bistrot or brasserie — you know, where the office employees eat at lunch and tourists never go. Nothing with a name that you can find in guidebooks or on food boards, but unconspicuous-looking troquets with names like "Le Marigny", "Brasserie du Carrefour", "Le Balto", "Café de l'Aubrac", "Le Métro", etc. You'll never know what you'll eat there but sometimes it will be surprisingly decent. A bit of a lottery, yes, but you can't have both at the same time: reliable written advice and adventurous exploration. To find the non-touristy places, you have to go to places nobody ever writes about.

          2. Panorama, we also prefer the non-tourist-frequented restaurants. If you speak a little french, you are NOT part of the problem, and I don't know if "snob" is the right word. "Independent traveler" might be more appropriate.

            A good website to go to is L'internaute. It's in french (of course) and lists hundreds of restaurants with comments. Filter your categories, and read the comments carefully, and you should find your less-touristed venues.


            3 Replies
              1. re: menton1

                ""Independent traveler" might be more appropriate. "
                That has the sound of my mother and her chaperone going on the Grand Tour between the wars,

                1. re: menton1

                  This may go without saying, but I had great success using to sort through the many dining options in Paris (and beyond). Sure you'll see/hear other English speakers at many of the places they've reviewed, but they've also reviewed many restaurants that English speakers might not otherwise know about. And I find their prose to be highly entertaining.

                2. I disagree. anywhere you go they'll spot you for a bumpkin as soon as you enter.

                  What the French really have fun working over is the ridiculous attempts folks with US training at the "Ivy" level plus the JR year abroad make as they try to speak the language. Anyone without "born in Paris" accents is laughed at. Face it and get over it. I do as well as I need to by showing only the ability to greet the staff in a friendly and respectful manner and then using pointing, hand jesters and bribes to get what I want. As large dogs treat children and daft folks kindly, I skate with the French by showing only "the kind hearted fool." You'll beat your head to pulp, or totally delude yourself, with any other strategy..

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: hychka

                    I agree with your basic point. Only a pretentious idiot would kid himself that he can "blend in". My high school French is so bad that I hope locals will find it amusing, and be kind as a result.

                    1. re: hychka

                      Pretty cynical. Actually, I've gotten a modicum of respect from the French for trying to fit in and not be the "ugly American" that speaks loudly and shouts out commands in English. It's not the idea of trying to fool them into thinking you're a native, it's the idea of blending in and gaining their respect.

                      And, yes, by finding a less-touristed venue you're less likely to cringe because at the next table Americans are shouting at each other and getting daggers from the staff. And you have your guilt by association.

                      1. re: hychka

                        I have never experienced being laughed at for speaking intermediate level French at any moment of travelling 18 years in France. I think if you extend yourself it is appreciated and you get more out of the experience.