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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 LeFooding.com 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.

                      2. The website that Talbott mentioned (http://parisbymouth.com) presents a list of "trusted reviews" on each of their featured restaurants, which means that you can very easily see if a restaurant's press has been mainly local, international, French or English. If you see five anglophone reviews and any mention of the NYTimes, plan on dining with a lot of visitors (especially in August). If you see two French reviews with more recent dates, you'll know it's local and under the radar.

                        Also, I totally agree about dining late as a way to filter out a lot of tourists. Have a snack at 4pm and book your dinner for 9pm.

                        Good luck!

                        1. What's up with this board's aversion to being around tourists? Aren't 99% of you tourists yourselves? For some reason, the France board is the one where this issue comes up repeatedly.

                          It's one thing to complain about tourist traps (food is not good, prices are too high) but to complain being around other tourists? I find the disdain (which ultimately amounts to self-bashing) a little bit ridiculous.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                            I think you need to read the comments here more carefully. I do not think anyone said that they have an aversion to tourists. Rather, when visiting other countries it is nice not to be surrounded by people from your own culture.

                            1. re: panaroma

                              All the tourists are from one (i.e. your) culture? That is surprising to me since a place like Paris attracts a good number of American, European, and Asian tourists, just to name a few.

                              "Aversion" doesn't have to be used to convey the sense of the word - and in this case, it's pretty clear.

                              1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                                It isn't an aversion to all tourists but I am afraid a lot are just like the stereotypes and I don't care for their company. So for me it is better to avoid both the tourist traps and the obvious "destination" restaurants (which all cities have - and which many locals avoid for regular meals).

                                I think Meg's advice is spot on; when we lived in Paris we generally aimed for the second sitting after 9:00 and even after 10:00 and the balance of local to tourist is markedly changed, and many of the English speakers are residents not visitors (trust me you can tell when you live somewhere).

                                Also look for local reviews, only a sub-set of places hit the NYT or other big travel publications, whilst the local reviewers are more broad based (I assume the NYT doesn't have a weekly Paris column). I have a lot of good friends who eat well and travel a lot, but surprisingly their research is usually based on hip magazines, (upmarket) newspaper articles and guide books, and so they end up in the mainstream places and rarely get to explore the the best cities have to offer.

                                1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                                  In fact, many of those nice people speaking French in Parisian restos are tourists themselves.

                                  Dining in restaurants in Paris is expensive. Locals do so less and less these days...

                                  1. re: Busk

                                    Quite true. Which I believe does account for the growing number of foreigners in Paris restaurants. A couple of years ago, there used to be more of me and many of my friends...
                                    I think you will find more and more Parisians at Crêperies (NOT the Breizh Café), Asian places, Vietnamese sandwich shops, Turkish kebabs, local couscous, corner cafés for croque-monsieur, African joints for poulet braisé... At least that is where you are likely to find me now.

                                    1. re: Busk

                                      When posters here say that "Locals don't eat at Paris restaurants anymore", I chuckle and am reminded of Baseball player Yogi Berra's famous one liner:

                                      "Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore, it's too crowded!" Lol.

                              2. I had a fantastic dinner last night at La Regalade (the original). When we arrived at the restaurant at 11 pm the restaurant was packed and I didn't hear one single word in English. It's quite out of the way, so the lack of central location is a bonus if you're hoping to escape the tourists.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: schtroumpfette

                                  "I didn't hear one single word in English" but how much Japanese?

                                  I used to find it interesting that different restaurants obviously had slightly different guidebook demographics. La Regalade and Le Comptoir seemed to attract lots of Japanese I assume because there must have been articles in their equivalent of the NYT food section. In the same way I always thought of "La Fontaine de Mars" as one that was almost exclusively US. And is the terrace at Les Deux Magots still very Russian?

                                  I wonder if others have noticed that different restaurants are more favoured by different nationalities. Any thoughts?

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    I haven't thought of it recently, but a few decades ago I found that we were in the right spot when a few, often single, Japanese were in the dining room. At that time, they were tourists who put a lot of research into their travels in terms of the right restaurants, correct hotels and, moreover, the culture of the host country.

                                    1. re: mangeur

                                      Mangeur, you might just have shed light on an hilarious pattern.
                                      I am Asian but not Japanese. In the ferme-auberges that I like to patronize in the fins fonds of France, more than one chef have come out to the dining room and made a bee-line to our table to ask ME how I had found their place.
                                      Because of some over-over-overlapping connections, a month after I ate at a(n excellent) ferme-auberge (Ferme-auberge Calvel in Bougayrou, Lacave) in a tiny village outside Souillac, the ambassador of a biggggg country in Asia also showed up there.
                                      O btw, a ferme-auberge is one place where you would not near English spoken.

                                    2. re: PhilD

                                      "I used to find it interesting that different restaurants obviously had slightly different guidebook demographics"
                                      I passed a resto N of ND de Lorette at about 5:30 PM and at that hour it was completely full of persons I would identify as Asian; I tried to inveigle one of them to show me the Zurban-sized guide he was using but all I could decifer were the names, the congi that described and rated the places were a mystery to me. There clearly are books that give different spins - the hotel next to me attracts French-speaking Africans and Scandanavians. Go figure, I haven't yet.