I have a vegetarian friend who refuses to set foot in France on the basis that there would be nothing for her to eat. Her meat-eating husband asked me last Christmas to do a bit of menu-gazing to see whether her prejudices were ill-founded.
Vegetarians and vegans are certainly a tiny minority in France and generally not well catered for. When I was in Paris in April our hotel pointed me in the direction of a specialist vegetarian restaurant but to be honest it was more of a café with a hippy-feel and whilst OK for lunch would not be suitable for a special night out.
The favourite fall-back for vegetarians is often the Indian restaurant which can usually be relied upon to produce tasty veggie dishes, but these are few and far between, even in Paris. There are more Chinese than Indian restaurants in France and vegetarians are well-catered for on most of their menus.
Alternatively there are numerous Italian restaurants both in Paris and outside with a range of vegetarian pizza and pasta dishes. However, to go to France and eat nothing but Chinese or Italian food is not a great idea, so I decided to continue my detective work last week in South West France.
I looked at dozens of menus from Michelin-starred restaurants down to the humble bistro but was hard pushed to find much variety for vegetarians. I thought I had struck lucky when I came across a vegetable risotto but on questioning the waiter it turned out that the rice had been cooked in chicken stock, which would not have pleased my veggie friend. One mid-range restaurant had a vegetable crumble as a starter and was prepared to serve a larger portion as a main course. Another bistro served "assiette de crudités" (raw vegetables with dressing) as a starter but this would not have been terribly satisfying as a main course.
Of course, in a country which claims to have over five hundred different varieties of cheese, this is always an option, but it wouldn't do much for the waistline or the cholesterol levels. Again I concluded that vegetarians were for most of the time going to have to make do with salads, pizza and pasta. If of course you are a pseudo-veggie who eats fish then you would have absolutely no difficulty finding a different dish each night.
Perhaps the best idea for vegetarians is to self-cater and do their own cooking. The shops and markets are full of lovely fresh vegetables (albeit only seasonal ones), quite unlike the regularly-shaped but tasteless ones that we put up with in the UK. Beans and pulses are readily available in supermarkets although I did not see tofu on my travels.
Finally a couple of vital phrases for the vegetarian in France:
- Je suis un vegetarien/enne - I am a vegetarian
- Je ne mange pas de viande – I do not eat meat