Guide to French Restaurant Menus – Deciphering Bite by Bite


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(c) 2006 Chris Card Fuller

In today’s earlier entry, I talked about the basic layout of ‘la carte’ or the menu.
Once you’ve had a chance to settle into your surroundings and you’ve ordered a ‘kir’ – or a beer if you happen to be in a brasserie, café, or café tabac, here are some suggestions for typical light fare if you’re having a meal during your exploration of the city.

First, a word about dining and site-seeing. Déjeuner, as opposed to ‘lunch’, is traditionally the big meal of the day. Sunday déjeuner can be a feast. As a Paris visitor, possibly jet-lagged, your eating
schedule will be totally out of sync for the first few days. Fortunately, there are plenty of brasseries and café tabacs which offer light fare ‘non-stop’. However, the luncheon menu is offered traditionally from 12 noon or 12 :30 pm to 2 pm. People don’t like to rush through their luncheon meal, but if you’re trying to squeeze twenty museums into a three-day visit (which I wouldn’t suggest) you’ll probably find the brasseries or café tabacs to be the place for light lunch (but not necessarily less expensive!).

If you have hunger pangs at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, you’re in luck. Paris has many Salons du thé. They’re the perfect places to have a light salad, quiche or a sweet with a hot cup of tea or chocolate. (There’s a great salon du thé behind the Louvre if you walk through the Cour Carré and cross the street, the salon du thé is catty-corner from the Louvre) Another favorite is A Priori Thé (mentioned in a previous entry).

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Likewise, dinner hours vary from American dinner or supper which tends to be earlier. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner before 7 pm. Parisians prefer to dine around 9 pm. Dining before 8 pm is unusual so you’re likely to be surrounded by other tourists if you get to the restaurant early. On the other hand, if you’re trying to book reservations, you might have better luck asking for a table around 7:30 rather than 8 pm or 9 pm.

Getting back to lunch and light mid-day or mid-afternoon snacks:

Some examples of typical ‘casse croute’ (snacks).
Croque Monsieur – grilled cheese with ham
Croque Madame – grilled cheese with ham and a sunny side egg to top it off.
Quiche Lorraine – bacon bit quiche or cheese pie, often accompanied with green salad.
Omelette – usually available in any brasserie or café.
Salads – fifteen or twenty years ago, ordering a salad as a main course was unheard of, but health conscious Parisians are doing this much more often so salads have evolved into main courses and the waiter no longer frowns if you don’t order a steak to follow up your salad.
Saucisses et frites– the French hot dog with fries
Galettes or Crepes (Pancakes) You can find crepe stands at busy street corners (especially around Montparnasse) and in the parks.
Shish-ke-bob/gyro stands in the Latin Quarter
Roasted chestnut stands on busy street corners (in fall and winter)
Asian eat-in, take out delis (traiteurs). These are springing up all over Paris. (Give me the choice between McDonalds, Quick, and one of these cookie cutter Asian delis and I’d go for the Asian choice simply because there’s usually green veggies, but just remember, eating at any of these places is refueling – it’s not eating out in Paris. Your choice.

Breakfast (see next entry)