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Apr 9, 2011 06:51 AM

Advice for eating in Paris w/ a Vegan at non-vegan restaurants

i am a carnivore who will be traveling to Paris with my vegan girlfriend. We are going to try one or two places mentioned here and elsewhere for vegans. My bigger concern is how to go to non-vegan (or vegan focused restaurants) with a Vegan and not get kicked out or offend people. I am not going to Paris without trying real non-vegan Paris food!

How should we approach this? Ideally, we'd like to be able to ask for slight modifications (e.g. salad without cheese, like we do in NYC), but I'm afraid they will not accommodate that request or get upset at us. She is fine just having bread occasionally and eating before we go out, but I'm concerned they won't serve us if she just eats bread or drinks wine. I was thinking I could maybe have her order an appetizer and myself and entre, and I'd eat both, to get around this.

Any suggestions for how to approach this? Is it okay to ask for salad without the cheese? Can we even go as far as to ask for something vegan? Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Also any great places that serve both good vegan / non-vegan would also be appreciated.

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  1. "Pourrions-nous avoir une salade verte toute simple ?" (Could we have a simple green salad?) will work wonders.
    "Mon amie est végétarienne, pourrions-nous avoir seulement des légumes/ de la salade/ du riz/ des pommes de terre", etc. - same.

    Salad is not usually served with cheese except on some cheese plates (when you don't order from the plateau de fromages) or with crottin de Chavignol chaud/salade de crottin chaud which is a first course. And of course when the salad is a whole dish (generally ordered by working people at lunchtime), it will have cheese, ham, bacon, chicken, salmon, etc. depending on the type. It is not rare that cafés serving those "salades composées" have a vegetarian version.

    The word "vegan" let alone the French "végétalien" are not part of the French restaurant vocabulary at all. Stick to végétarien if you want to be understood.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Ptipois

      Thanks for the french (that should come in handy!).

      Is it pretty safe to say that anywhere and not offend people, or are there certain types of restaurants that might get upset and not serve us? I suppose we could always ask that before we are seated?

      1. re: wolff009

        Does this actually happen? I don't get to eat out as much as I'd like when I'm on the continent because I eat at home more often than anything. And I don't have special requests. But I wonder-- is this an actual phenomenon or part of a stereotype of "the snooty French waiter" who somehow enacts a hostile superiority on the diners? When I do go out to eat, people are either brusque "je vous ecoutes" or kind/effective but never have I encountered someone who would throw me out for asking for something.

        1. re: Lizard

          That seems to be a common fantasy among visitors (the waiter who throws people out just for asking), but it is only a fantasy.
          Anyone doing that in a restaurant or café would be considered mental institution material by the French customers as well.

          1. re: Ptipois

            "Anyone doing that in a restaurant or café would be considered mental institution material"

            Perfect cellmate for he who fantasizes the Eiffel Tower blowing up because he imagined he had a bad dining experience.

    2. "My bigger concern is how to go to non-vegan (or vegan focused restaurants) with a Vegan and not get kicked out or offend people. I am not going to Paris without trying real non-vegan Paris food!"

      You are so right. But the better restaurants in Paris are, duh, market-driven and keep a deliberately short menu. Plus, a sauce is more often than not made of a meat-based or carcass-based broth, something that you won't read in a menu.
      Is it ok if I urge you not to have high expectations that a vegan would be properly accommodated in those restos?

      And wherever you are in the world, the tragic truth is that a vegan and non-vegan dining together will always mean that the non-vegan must accept being the one to accommodate the vegan, not the other way around. If you want to enjoy "real non-vegan Paris food", and you absolutely should!, is it acceptable for you to dine separately for at least one or two meals?

      The only good vegetarian - and not vegan - restaurants I know of are an Indian restaurant, Krishna Bhavan, and a Chinese, Tien Hiang. Which further shows that cuisine végétalienne is so not in the mores that even the word is ugly, shudder.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        I don't understand why a vegan and omnivore would have to eat their meals separately, unless the vegan is so offended by animal products that she can't even be in the same room with them, in which case she will be hard-pressed to find any restaurant outside of California or Washington that will be acceptable. I assume she's ok with other people's choices, since she's dating an omnivore to begin with, so they should be able to be together for meals, meat or not.

        Other than that, it might go over better if the vegan claims to be allergic to animal products rather than claiming it as a dietary choice. This might meet with better sympathy and willingness to accommodate her than claiming a special diet choice or even religious principles. Even then, she's probably going to have to relax a little and realize that things are going to sneak in here and there unless she simply cooks for herself at every meal.

        1. re: meltygarden

          I did not question why a vegan is a vegan. What I meant was that a vegan is not likely to get a lot of choice, if any, in a resto in France. In order to eat together, a carnivore will have to eat in a vegetarian resto with a vege or vegan dining companion. The other way around would be risky.
          I repeat: I was not expressing a lack of sympathy for vegans, even though I am a very happy carnivore, whoa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha (evil laugh as I anticipate my first bite into the carré d'agneau hubby poo is preparing right now).

          1. re: Parigi

            Oh, I see what you mean. You were talking about eating in vegetarian restaurants together to begin with. I was thinking of the vegetarian eating at omnivore restaurants but trying to order "safe" things there. Okay, gotcha. :) (also omnivore here...but with friends who range from opportunivore to vegan to crazy-allergic-to-everything.)

            1. re: meltygarden

              I dig your rage. You should read some posters who say they are vegetarian but eat chicken and beef. Yes opportunivore, or, as I put it once, hetero except for Wednesday and Thursday night.

        2. re: Parigi

          Ha, thanks Parigi. This is what I feared. I'm used to compromising in NYC (and do almost always), but that is much easier to do obviously than it is in Paris. I am planning on compromising on breakfast / lunch and doing only vegan friendly places, but I'd at least like to go to 2-3 restaurants for dinner where I can have a real french meal, and would like us to be able to sit together. She's fine eating bread and a simple salad for a couple meals (or even just bread and wine and grabbing a snack before). I don't expect them to go out of their way to serve her, for all the reasons you alluded to.

          I guess my question is, if we go out to some of the better restaurants mentioned here (1 star Michelin or perhaps a notch below), will they serve us if that's all she orders, or will they get pissed if she doesn't order anything other than that? We want to be respectful of the culture but not sure what the appropriate behavior is in our situation.

          Thanks again,

          1. re: wolff009

            You mean she is just going to watch you eat?
            I am at a loss of words.
            OK, I have never seen this in a resto (but does not mean it does not exist).
            Uh, wouldn't it be simpler and more enjoyable for all, if you dine separately? I personally wouldn't be able stand an other person watching me eat as though I were the Last Empress.

            1. re: wolff009

              The French really love food, all kinds of food, and most restaurants simply don't get why a person would limit an entire category of food or, in the case of a vegan, several categories of food. Most likely, you'll meet with puzzlement, especially if you are polite and explain sheepishly that your friend doesn't eat meat, fish, milk or eggs. They might simply ask what she does eat, and some may tell you straight out that they can't serve you. Others may assume, in a typically French way, that it's because your friend has never had good meat or seafood and try to tempt her with their delicious cooking. So be prepared for this.

              My teenage daughter is going on a school trip to France during Holy Week, and had a bit of a dilemma because she gave up meat for Lent. In the end, she decided that if she cannot keep her fast without causing a fuss, she'll just eat the meat because harmony and kindness to others are higher values to her than her individual fast. I don't know if your friend's principles will allow her to compromise for a brief period like that--in any case, it's her business--but I just thought I'd throw that out there. I do understand the difference between a temporary fast for religious reasons and a lifestyle choice.

              One place you should not miss is L'As du Falafel (the Ace of Falafel). It's delicious and will be suitable for a vegan. I also recommend that you post on the Rick Steves and Fodor's websites. You'll get some good feedback, but it won't have the chow focus.

            2. re: Parigi

              An addition to Parigi's addresses: Saaravana Bhavan is a South Indian vegetarian restaurant, and very good. Mind the ghee and paneer though.

              Green Garden on rue Nationale is an interesting Chinese vegetarian restaurant which specializes in "mock" non-veg dishes in which the meat, fish or poultry is replaced with soy protein. Almost identical to the original.

              Personally I don't like that kind of cooking, for when I want to eat vegetarian food, I do not need meat substitutes, I just eat vegetables (hence my love of Indian veg cooking because it doesn't try to "replace" anything). But I know some people who like that place a lot.

            3. If you have a list of of restaurants where you'd like to eat, phone them before you leave home and explain the situation. (I would be very specific -- "no meat, seafood, dairy, or honey.") See if they can accommodate you, and if so, make a reservation. France is not on a different planet; they have vegans there, just not as many as here in the U.S. With advance notice, I imagine there are many good restaurants that would cater to your friend's needs.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pikawicca

                This might come in handy, but Arnaud Daguin's snacks at Théâtre de la Gaîté Lyrique (boulevard de Sébastopol) will be 100% vegan. Not sure if they're already available though.