What all of the blogs and forums say about Paris is absolutely true. It is one of the most expensive cities in the world, particularly for those of us like me with a husband with a stomach that is like a bottomless pit and a teenage brother traveling with us that seems to need nourishment every 30 minutes or so to continue on without complaint.
What is a budget traveler to do? Read on for Strategies for Budget Dining in Paris.
How Much do Meals in Paris Cost?
A basic, sit down lunch in a simple restaurant in Paris (sandwich, drink, pastry) seemed to average around $10. A value meal at the McDo (what the french affectionately call the Mcdonald’s) ran around $8.
The dinner that we ate at a basic sidewalk cafe (like the ones that you always see in the movies, located in a non-touristy area) cost approximately $25 each for three courses (I had french onion soup, coq au vin and creme brulee, and it was worth every penny). Sit down dinners at nicer restaurants or in more touristy areas would of course cost more.
So, what is a budget traveler trying to feed two male bottomless pits to do?
One of the great blessings in Paris (and indeed the whole of France) is the cheap, abundant goodness of fresh baguettes, cheese and wine.
A baguette from any boulangerie (bakery) in Paris should average around $1.20. Bottles of decent french table wine in the grocery store (which always seems to be the cheapest place to buy alcohol) ran around $5-$7. Keep in mind that the cheap wine in France is equivalent to a $15-$20 bottle of wine here in the US…the quality is much higher.
We bought a HUGE wheel of Brie cheese at the store for about $3 (this amount of Brie at home would have cost at least twice that much.) Cheese all over France seemed to be about 1/3 the cost of what we pay at home at the discount warehouse store, so come prepared to include many great, fresh varieties of cheese into your daily diet. Put the three together, and you have some cheap, filling calories and a great picnic to eat in one of France’s beautiful parks.
As an alternative to eating at the McDo, I left the men and headed across the street to the neighborhood boulangerie. There, I got a 6 inch baguette sandwich with meat and cheese for about $4, which with some fruit filled me up for the rest of the afternoon until dinner. This type of sandwich seemed to be abundant in boulangeries all over Paris.
Street food is generally cheap everywhere in the world, and the same is true in Paris, particularly in the Latin Quarter, just across the Seine river from Notre Dame. This neighborhood contained a lot of ethnic restaurants that had inexpensive options for food.
We dined more than once on kebab (pita sandwiches with roasted chicken or lamb, lettuce, onion and a delicious garlic sauce) and fries for about $5 each (enough to fill up even the men in the group.) The fries and kebabs, while filling, did get old relatively quickly because of their high grease content.
Breakfast in Paris; A Special Dilemma:
Managing a hearty, man sized breakfast seemed to be a harder task in Paris. There are restaurants in touristy areas that advertise “American” breakfast..usually for about $10/person, which is generally out of our budget.
Pastries and espresso were cheap and abundant (usually about $3 or less for a pastry and shot of espresso, and about $1 for a pastry) so we went with this and rounded it out with some fruit and yogurt from the market. Chocolate croissants, while not particular nutritionally sound, do have a lot of calories to keep you going while you walk around Paris. Not an ideal situation for hungry men, but workable.
My husband came up with another slick idea for keeping his stomach topped off in Paris. He brought protein powder from home and carried a couple packets with us during the day.
Because he generally starts getting hungry before the rest of us, he would buy a small carton of milk from the market and mix up a protein shake to help meet his nutritional needs until we were ready to stop and eat. Many protein powders also have some extra nutrients to help balance out your travel diet.
One could also bring with them a box of protein bars when you come over from your own country and eat one in the afternoon when hunger hits (the plus side of this is that it will leave more room in your suitcase for souvenirs on your return trip!)
Make a dining splurge in Paris :
My final bit of advice is to scrimp and save so that when this happens, you can afford to eat at a decent restaurant and enjoy some great french food. Towards the end of the trip, we did eat dinner at a moderately priced Paris cafe for about $25 each for a three course meal, and it was WONDERFUL.
What has your experience been eating is Paris? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share about where to find filling, affordable food?