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Eating light at lunch in France

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  • ent3c Jul 12, 2014 05:45 AM
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As I have gotten on in years a little I have found that my appetite is not what it used to be. And when I am in France, of course, I am eating many wonderful meals, both large and rich. I find that at lunch I often find myself wanting something light-- a small salad or sandwich-- but that it can be very difficult to actually obtain that in your typical café.

One often reads here that a good thing about French restaurants compared to the US is that they don't overdo it on the portion size, but I find that is not actually so true. Your typical salade composée on a cafe menu is enormous: eggs, ham, chevre, beans, potatoes. I recently ordered a sandwich and was served half of a baguette with ham and cheese, salad on the side. The good ones are wonderful of course, but that's not my point here. I can't eat it all, and I want to have an appetite at dinner!

I have tried many approaches. Attempts to partager get mystified stares from the waiter. Sometimes it works to just order an entrée, an oeuf mayonnaise or a soupe, but not always. Today I ordered an assiette du charcuterie as an entrée, and was served one that seemed suspiciously large for 7.5 euros. When the bill came I had been charged twice that for a main course, even though there was no assiette de charcuterie on the main course menu. My French is pretty good and I should have taken it up with the waiter-- a French person would have-- but I was tired and let it go.

Perhaps it is all just a consequence of being a tourist. Are all the French people who tuck into a nice confit de canard with sauteed potatoes and dessert for lunch just having a light dinner at home, rather than trying to work up an appetite for another big meal at 9:00? I don't often eat out twice on the same day at home, but if I do I can figure out how to have something small at lunchtime, or take half of it home. Or have I just forgotten what it is like to have a real appetite in your thirties?

Anyway, this isn't a complaint, there are worse problems than having too much good food to eat. I just mention it for what it's worth.

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  1. "Are all the French people who tuck into a nice confit de canard with sauteed potatoes and dessert for lunch just having a light dinner at home"

    I often even skip dinner.
    Going out is going out. One often ends up eating more.
    And i have been urging every visitor to have only one major dine-out meal a day. But they say they are young and can handle it, or that they are only in Paris for 11 hour 37 minutes, and must eat 6 stars total.

    "rather than trying to work up an appetite for another big meal at 9:00? I don't often eat out twice on the same day at home, but if I do I can figure out how to have something small at lunchtime"

    I don't know know where you are from. Many cultures are snack-oriented, a factor that is taken into account by the restaurants.
    In restaurants you are expected to have ha meal-meal.
    Ceci dit, a salade composé is not a salad that one has in the side. It is supposed to be a main dish.

    I who go to the US often enough disagree that the portions in France are big. A meal is served on a plate here. In the US it is served on a platter.

    And btw, if you truly like food, you should dalways stay in an apartment with a kitchen instead of staying in an hotel, whether you are in France or Spain or Italy. Imagine being blindfolded during half of your visit to the Louvre. Missing the markets here is missing half of your enjoyment.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parigi

      Agree - people who live in France don't eat two large meals a day, do if having a big lunch a light snack for dinner is fine.

      As a tourist the challenge is two fold, first the FOMO means you want to cram in as many great meals as you can - resulting in food fatigue by day three or four .

      Second, if you want to sit down at lunchtime then restaurants expect you to have a meal not a snack. Filled baguettes are take-away items to eat at your desk or in the park (or in the garden at work - we had a nice on at our office in Neuilly).

      And another observation: is one of the difference that the French eat a very light breakfast and a fuller lunch, whilst Americans need to start the day with a big feast including eggs etc. So three big meals not just two?

      And finally, if the OP thinks this is a challenge in France try being a tourist in the US and eating out three times a day...it put France into context.

    2. I think it's a function of where you stop for lunch. We also enjoy our main meal at night and always find a light lunch from the many casual options available. Granted these aren't the same caliber as our dinner places but they fill the void: a few dim sum or spring roll; falafel; shawarma; a salad at a sit-down bakery like Paul or Eric Kayser. Or we buy a small amount of salad at deli and take it back to our hotel. (We love everything at tiny Epicerie Oliver Pitou on rue des St. Peres,) http://chrisoscope.com/2007/12/05/lep...
      At better places, i sometimes get away with ordering the cheese plate which usually comes with a salad garnish.

      And I've finally outgrown the "clean your plate" mantra. When it is too much, I just leave it.

      1. I'm on in years as well but I can put away 2 or 3 courses at lunch and like Parigi eat almost no dinner.
        When I have to go back to the States I tend to gain weight I later shed in Paris.