On my last trip to Paris, my main meal of the day was lunch. I would spend most of the budget on food, sometimes spending up to €30 on a meal – the main course, dessert and sometimes with a pint of beer. I would have lunch in cafe in Paris depending on where I am when I get hungry.
I would also have breakfast in the morning right before I leave the hotel – around 9am. I would often get hungry for lunch between 12:00pm – 12:30pm. While touring Paris, I would look for a cafe in the area with their menus posted at the door and check it out. They do this to entice potential customer showing them what they have to offer so they would come in. If I see something I like, I will go in. If not, I move on. Fortunately, there are thousands of cafes in Paris, some within yards of one another. So there are plenty to choose from.
But when I was visiting these cafes, I noticed one thing constant. Most if not all of the cafes I have visited would have the same items on their menus. There were some differences but there were certain items that I saw in almost all of the cafes I visited. Some I was able to try and enjoy. Here’s a short list. Just a short note – some of these items you can make at home.
Confit de Canard – or to most of us, we call it duck confit. I had this amazingly decadent dish at a cafe at the 13th arrondisement. My duck confit was accompanied by a very large serving of mashed potatoes. From the photo, it may look a bit fatty but chefs will tell you that’s its where most of the flavor comes from.
Steak a Cheval – or steak and eggs, but in France, the steak is not a big slice of beef. The meat is minced or chopped (not grounded) and formed into a patty and fried in a pan. I liked this so much, I ordered it twice in two different cafes – one at the 6th arrondisement and the other at the 8th arrondisement.
Soupe a l’Oignon gratinee – or at least that’s what is said on the menu. This French Onion Soup is possibly the simplest dish you can make at home from this list. This I had at a cafe I found at the Jardin de Tuiluries on my first day in Paris. It was a chilly day then and I wanted something warm. The soup was accompanied by sliced baguette. It was a perfect light lunch.
Omelet – or it is spelled “omelette”? All you need are eggs and some filling like ham and Ementhal cheese (Swiss Cheese) and you have a light meal. I often see this listed in the “light meal” section of the menu. Here’s a confession – I love omelets and I had this twice – the first in a cafe in Lille and the other in a cafe by Pont l’Alma in Paris. The later is the fluffier of the two and I had it accompanied by Viennese coffee.
Crepe – an item you’ll find at its own section of every cafe menu. My particular favorite is the one with Nutella however, you can have it in different ways according to the selection in the menu. I had it at a cafe by Notre Dame as an afternoon snack and at a cafe at Jardin de Tuiluries as dessert.
Creme Brulee – an item from the dessert menu at the same cafe at the 6th arrondisement. I saw this item in almost all the cafes I have been in Paris. This is also a simple thing to make at home. There are many recipes you can get online for these.
Other items I found that unfortunately I was not able to try were Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy-style beef stew) and Tartare de boeuf (Steak Tartare). But since you’re in Paris, why not try some dessert, too. For dessert, they also have chocolate mousse and lemon tarte.
I had an incredible time during my trip to Paris. The day I left, I was certain that I will go back there again. Eating in cafes in Paris did not just allow me to try and learn about French cuisine but it gave me an idea of Parisian life. The fascination of Parisians and their people-watching. During my cafe lunches, I was able to do some people-watching taking in every bite slowly and savoring it’s flavors.