France … the land of 35 hour workweeks, 2 hour lunches and Michelin 5 Star restaurants. With the focus so heavily on food, you would expect the French would have come a long way in the realm of vegan dining, but alas, this is not the case. While the rest of Europe has embraced the vegan diet as the US has (my first book, Vegan in 30 Days, has been published in both Hungarian and Polish, but not French!), the French staunchly refuse to embrace the vegan diet, just as they won’t embrace the English language! But this stubbornness is, of course, one of the things we love about the French. Decades from now, when the Russians are speaking English and the Chinese are eating hot dogs, the French will be sitting in their cafes, eating Coq Au Vin, drinking wine at lunch … and speaking French.
If you’re planning a trip to France, take heed: While I guarantee you will struggle a bit to place a vegan order that is 1. understood, and 2. arrives without dairy tucked into it, there are some amazing respites for us vegans, and a few tips to get you something to eat most anywhere.
The first thing to note is that any café or bistrot (and there are millions) can make you a delicious salad. All salads come with French dressing (not the orange kind that Kraft makes, but real French dressing), and it’s great to know that, while the dressing looks like a creamy vinaigrette, it is actually only Dijon mustard that gives it the creamy appearance – French dressing is vegan! Thank God for small miracles. But you still need to beware – even if you ask for “no fromage (cheese)” and “no oeuf (egg)”, they will likely still get it wrong. And even though they claim to understand “vegetalien” (French for “vegan”), they will still be totally perplexed that you are not happy when your order arrives with cheese and egg. So, if you’re tired of playing the “Je suis vegetalien” game, go to a vegan (or vegan-friendly) restaurant instead. Here are two to know…
If you are in Avignon, don’t fret … just when you’re about to eat another dinner of baguette and grapes from Carrefours, you’ll stumble across Les 5 Sens. A true gourmet French restaurant, they just happen to have a 4 course vegetarian meal on the menu, which they will make vegan if you tell them – in no uncertain terms – that you are vegan, vegetalien, no fromage, no lait, no crème and no oeuf. Truly a gourmet delight, you will be treated to a tiny appetizer that will make you worry about the upcoming portion sizes, a medium bowl of soup, and then a hearty entrée, all followed by dessert, which is always France’s coup de tat. All four courses are delicious, and you may find yourself a little embarrassed that you’re done with all four of your courses before the French at the table next to yours have made it half way through their soup.
If you’re in Paris, there are several vegetarian restaurants that serve vegan dishes, and a small handful of 100% vegan restaurants too. But before you settle for that old stand-by, Loving Hut, hold your horses, and head over to the Bastille to the Gentle Gourmet. Everything on the menu is vegan and truly unbelievable, and the owners are delightful. From “faux gras” to Seitan l’orange, to Dijon Tofu, you’ll have to go with other people so you can try several things. The vegan Caesar salad was so good I had to go back the next day and get it again, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be serving the Chocolat Bavarian while you are there. If you are in town on a Sunday, do not miss the Gentle Gourmet’s brunch. You will need reservations, it is that good!
Between work and pleasure, I travel a lot, and all in all, I’d say France is the hardest place I’ve ever tried to eat as a vegan. However, it’s still worth going if you know a few places to eat beforehand, and a few tips to make it through your trip. Quite frankly, there are so many great things to see and do that you just might forget to eat!