Eating on the Cheap in Paris

by Jessica on May 4, 2009

by Jessica | May 4th, 2009  

cheapeats1After airfare and lodging, one of your biggest daily expenses in Paris could easily be meals. This is a city well-known for its high-end cuisine, so you could blow a whole pile of cash before you even realized it just by dining out in some of the city’s famous restaurants. If you’re traveling on a budget, however, you’ll need to pay more attention to the price of things and eat more cheaply.

But “eating cheap in Paris” doesn’t mean you’ll be eating poorly – or at least it doesn’t have to. Yes, there are examples of bad cheap food all over Paris, as there is in any big city, but there are also plenty of places where you’ll find excellent food that won’t break the bank. You just need to know where to look, and what to look for.

>> For a look at what meals will cost you, here’s an article about figuring out your food budget for Paris.

Where to Find Cheap Eats in Paris

Generally speaking, the more tourists there are milling around a given area, the higher the prices will be on food in that area. Vendors know that most tourists aren’t going to venture too far from the main path, so they can charge what they like. Finding cheap – but good – food in Paris sometimes means ducking down odd streets, taking wrong turns, and more or less following the locals to where they eat.

In The Marais, as noted below, you’ll find great falafel stands – this may be a reasonably touristy area, but it’s also the traditional Jewish quarter, so this is where the falafel stands are. There are several stands in this neighborhood, all of which sell basically the same thing, so if you’re not completely famished you can browse to compare prices.

Again, although the Latin Quarter can be rather touristy, you’ll find lots of crepe stands in this area because of the heavy student population. Also, because crepes are a great late-night snack when you’re between dance clubs, and because there are so many clubs in and around the Latin Quarter, it stands to reason that there would also be lots of creperies in the Latin Quarter.

What Cheap Eats Are in Paris

cheapeats2As is often the case in big cities with many different ethnic populations, some of the best cheap eats in Paris aren’t French food. Couscous is a popular late-night snack for many Parisians, but it’s a filling meal in the day, too. You’re looking for the word “couscoussieres” on a sign, or an indication that it’s a Lebanese or Moroccan restaurant.

There are Asian restaurants throughout Paris, but for seriously cheap eats – that’s also seriously quick – you can’t beat the Asian fast food delis. Food is sold by weight in these spots, and while it can be eaten on-site it’s often take-out food. This isn’t exactly gourmet Asian fare, but it’s fast, it’s filling, and it’s cheap – and it’s not half-bad, either.

Falafel is another popular cheap meal in Paris – pita sandwiches stuffed with chickpea-falafel and all the fixings. For these, you’ll have to head to The Marais, the Jewish quarter in Paris. The falafel stands also often sell kebobs, which is another inexpensive snack or light meal.

Not all cheap eats in Paris are foreign, however, as the endless supply of creperies in Paris will tell you. Crepe stands offer up some of the best fast and cheap food in Paris, and they’re so versatile that the same base can give you your main meal as well as dessert. Most crepe stands will also have a case full of pre-made sandwiches, too, which are also great for a budget meal.

>> More about finding the best crepes in Paris

Another popular snack in Paris is the croque monsieur, a grilled cheese and ham sandwich where the cheese is usually on the outside. For a little added protein you can try a croque madame, which is the same thing only with an egg on top! They can be messy to eat, but they’re tasty.

In colder weather, be on the lookout for carts selling roasted chestnuts – it’s not a meal, but it’s a lovely warm snack and because it’s seasonal it feels like a treat when you do get them.

>> Learn more about Paris’ famous foods, because some of them are notoriously cheap and will help you eat well without spending a fortune

Tips for Stretching Your Food Budget in Paris

    cheapeats3
  • Many hotels charge extra for a continental breakfast. If your hotel does, and it’s more than €6-7, then you’re probably better off buying your own breakfast away from the hotel. You can get a typically French breakfast of a pastry, a coffee, and an orange juice for as little as €5-6 (train stations often have breakfast specials that include all these things for a low price). If you’re still hungry after that, an open-air food market will give you a chance to buy fresh fruits, cheeses, cured meats, and bread to snack on until lunchtime.
  • Whether you stop into a bar for breakfast of a pastry and coffee or you pop in for a caffeine pick-me-up midday, you’ll pay less if you stand at the bar rather than sit at a table to eat and drink.
  • As mentioned above, making a meal of the goodies you’ll find at a food market in Paris is an excellent way to eat well without spending much. If you’re renting an apartment in Paris or staying in a hostel with a guest kitchen, you can do some cooking – but even if you’re kitchen-less, you can make a lovely picnic of fruits, cheeses, meats, bread, and wine or water. (Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz has written extensively about the food markets in Paris; the archives of those posts are here.)
  • To splurge without splurging, eat your big meal of the day – at that chic-looking bistro you desperately want to try – at lunch rather than dinner. Many places will offer the same or similar menus at lunch and dinner, only the lunch prices are lower and the portion sizes a bit smaller.
  • Consider the fixed price menu, or “prix fixe,” wherever you see one. These often include a starter, main course, and a dessert or cheese plate. They can be regional or local specialties, making them all the more appealing, and they can be a real bargain.
  • A “prix fixe” menu isn’t the same thing as a “tourist menu,” however – and in fact, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from any restaurant that brags about its English-language or multi-language menus. These places can (and do) often charge higher prices than they would otherwise be able to get away with because of the convenience for tourists of having a menu they can read. Bring a good phrasebook and skip the multi-language menus.
  • French wine may be famous, but that doesn’t mean you have to order a special bottle to look like you know what you’re doing. Unlike in many places, ordering a container of the house wine in Paris is a really good option – it’s cheaper than the bottle with the fancy label, and more often than not it’s really exceptional.
  • Travelers are sometimes wary about drinking the water, but in Paris you should have no such worries. You can order bottled water if you like, but you can save money by just ordering a carafe of tap water instead. Just make sure you order a carafe specifically – if you just order water, the waiter will almost certainly bring you bottled water.

>> Chez Pim lists a few of her favorite places to eat well on a budget in Paris, and she ought to know.

>> David Lebovitz highlights some of his favorite tips for saving money when eating in Paris, too, though that post isn’t all about food.

>> Two French-only websites which are also helpful for finding restaurants by arrondissement and price are Resto a Paris and Ou Bouffer (the latter has a tempting-looking English flag in the corner, making you think it’s also in English, but clicking on that takes you to a site about London restaurants instead!).

photographs, top to bottom, by: Fatty Tuna, batigolix, kkfea

{ 3 comments }

krudska October 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm
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Paris is an expensive city but these recommended places are considerably cheap and best priced.

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dee December 18, 2009 at 8:27 am
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Some useful tips here. Plus, any shop that has a glass case of food in the front window will have relatively cheap sandwiches, salads, or other fare. Lots of Chinese and other ethnic places of this sort have deli counter style dishes to take away or eat in, at good prices. Falafel is a Middle Eastern dish, not a Jewish dish, and you can also find it not just in the Marais but also on the Left Bank and in almost any neighborhood with an immigrant population — look for “falafel shops” or for Middle Eastern or Lebanese restaurants. Couscous is a North African dish, usually available in Moroccan places but not in Lebanese places. The best quick filler-up remains a ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) crepe from a crepe stand, which you can find in any part of town frequented by tourists. The very best bargain is a quick trip through the local supermarket, where you can get cheese, bread, wine, fruit, and anything else you’d want for a great picnic meal.

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Steve February 8, 2010 at 2:55 pm
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Here’s a tip that I recently blogged about on my website: If you go to the art galleries surrounding the Place des Vosges and chit-chat with the proprietors, you will most likely find yourself getting an invite to one of their art openings. With that comes – Voila! – plenty of free champagne, food, and an instant social circle.

Try it!

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