How to Eat in Paris on the Cheap

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Every world traveler eventually comes to know Paris -- the City of Light -- with its many and varied charms, and none linger longer in memory than the delights of the Parisian table. The city is renowned for excellent food and drink, and the stars awarded its myriad restaurants constitute a whole new galaxy. But you can skip the expensive dining establishments and still get genuine French food if you follow some tips on how to eat divinely in Paris on the cheap.

Open Stall Food Markets

Open stall food markets are a European custom that quickly grows on you. The first time you pass by mountains of fruit piled on tables or a zillion different kinds of fromage, from brie to camembert, you may find it quaint. But you quickly learn that the meal you put together yourself from the markets -- starting with a baguette and a bottle of red wine -- can be among the finest French food you'll ever eat. Pick the freshest fruit in season, a cheese you've never tried before, six kinds of olives, a solid Bordeaux wine and a small piece of fine chocolate, then head to the Jardin de Luxembourg or the grassy stretch of the Isle de Saint Louis by the River Seine for a picnic.

Here are a few of the best marchés, or food markets, to try:

  • Look for Marché Bastille's food stalls on Boulevard Richard Lenoir twice weekly. The presentations are beautiful and most of the products -- including cheeses -- are local. 
  • Lovely, cobbled Rue Mouffetard is still the narrow, crowded market street beloved by writer Ernest Hemingway. You'll find that the marché there offers excellent charcuterie -- meat products -- and seafood, along with the usual market fare.
  • Marché Saint-Martin is a small, covered market packed with stalls offering top-quality products. Look for specialty beers, cheeses and chocolates.

The Biggest Chinatown in Europe

If you're ready to look beyond croissants and salade de chevre chaud -- salad with warm goat's cheese -- to find exceptional dining for very few euros in Paris, head to the city's incredible Chinatown in the 13th arrondissement. Though this neighborhood may be called Chinatown, it actually serves up an eclectic mix of cuisines, including food from former French colonies like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. You can get take-away banh mi sandwiches filled with colorful and delicious vegetables and succulent meats for just a few euros. Or opt for steamed dumplings or Vietnam noodle dishes if you are willing to wait in line.

Crepes and Galettes

No trip to Paris is culinarily complete without a crêpe from a street stand. Half the fun is watching the expert crêpière at work, pouring the batter onto the griddle, then smoothing it out with a twist of the spatula, flipping it when it's ready and piling on your selection of sweet or savory fillings, which could be anything from Nutella and bananas to cheese and mushrooms. A crepe made from buckwheat flour is called a galette. It has more substance, so it holds a complete meal like a slice of ham, gruyère cheese and a fried egg. Neither type of crepe will cost you more than a few euros.

Warning

  • To stay within a limited food budget in Paris, avoid:

    • Restaurants, especially near Boulevard Saint Michel, where waiters run into the street to try to bully you into eating there;
    • Any place where the menu is written in English;
    • Cafes within a few blocks of the city's major monuments; and
    • Chain establishments you recognize from home.

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