The last time I was in France, as an awkward exchange student, it was a bit of a disaster— but Paris won me back over this past weekend. Lovely vegetarian restaurants, an excellent gluten-free bakery— and catching up with a friend and talking about art in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
The cloudy, rainy weather on my first was just a good excuse to check out the Rodin Museum and the Cluny Museum (and the lovely unicorn tapestries, pictured.)
For dinner, I found myself at Loving Hut, a wonderful vegan chain which never disappoints in its interesting and tasty vegan food. Bonus: in addition to the noodle and tempeh dish I had, the menu had vegan cheese! Intrigued, ordered the vegan plate for takeaway.
The next day, met up with an old friend, who was now studying art in Paris, and we wandered around the Louvre together. While the art museum is almost too crowded to enjoy properly, luckily, it’s big enough that you can get away from the crowds. Hint: avoid the Mona Lisa, which is surrounded by a mob armed with selfie sticks.
Afterward, I got dinner at Le Grenier De Notre Dame, a lovely vegetarian place by Notre Dame. They have a great atmosphere, and both vegan and gf options. I loved my plate, with so many different flavors: fresh salad with a spicy horseradish dressing, sweet potatoes and adzuki beans, savory tofu and excellently prepared eggplant. The chilled cream dessert was delicately sweet and set off by tart slices of apple, and reminded me of the flans I had on my first visit to France.
On my last day, I stopped by the gluten-free bakery Noglu. Tucked into the the pretty walkway Passage des Panoramas, you must visit this bakery if you’re gluten-free. They have an array of delictitable pastries, sandwiches, and bread.
The veggie sandwich came on bread with a wonderful flavor, and a rich tasting with satisyingly chewy crust.
The little fruit tart was amazing: ripe fruit piled on a creamy vanilla center in a wonderfully crunchy crust. (Picture at beginning of post!) I bought a loaf of bread for later, and was really happy with the soft brioche I had. (There’s also a restaurant across from the bakery, and they serve great gluten-free beer.)
The vegan cheese was a good discovery as well. The different cheeses, all made in Paris, were soft and delicate, yet very complex, each with a unique flavor, and just wonderful on bread. My favorites were the herby ones, as well as the white cheese.
There’s many other great looking places, which I didn’t have time to check out. But check the hours before you go! Many restaurants are often only open for lunch and dinner, closing between 2 and 6 pm. (I found this out the hard way.)
I definitely had luck now than with my first experience with France and French cuisine. When I was all of 10, I was an exchange student in France—armed with a shaky grasp of some French phrases and a sense of adventure. However, I soon discovered that my French friend spoke NO English, and wouldn’t respond to my rudimentary French. Undaunted, I tried to chat with her cute old brother, only to experience that baffling, slightly withering French stare. Cowed, I talked to my French mother, who spoke English quite well.
But she wasn’t prepared for an American who, when given her first ever crepe, dribbled melted Nutella not just all over her shoes and pants, but halfway across the floor of a mall. She wasn’t prepared for an American who made faces when she ate pâté. In my defense, I really did try to like French cuisine. I even ate the funny stale bread that they called breakfast. But everyone has their breaking point.
Mine was when she served squid for dinner. I bravely ate two bites of the skinny, oddly chewy white things, then politely asked in French, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” (What is this?) She replied she didn’t know. Suspicious, I asked, “Poisson?” (Fish?)
She refused to answer. And so I refused to finish my dinner.
I spent the remainder of my exchange trip there asking for peanut butter when served with something weird or I just didn’t feel like eating. And four years later, I became a vegetarian.
While being an exchange student in France didn’t cause me to fall in love with all things French, I did fall in love with traveling and trying new things. I’ve also learned a sense of patience and a sense of humor. Like on my first night in Paris, I attempted to order food in a smokey cafe, without a phrase book, no English menu, and a waiter who spoke not a word of English. I was pretty sure I was getting a salad and french fries (salade and pommes frites!) But then the waiter brought out a plate… of a salad topped with cut up french fries.
I ate it anyway, and it was delicious.