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The Problem with French Food

One of the most exciting things about visiting France for the very first time was definitely the opportunity to sample French cuisine. So iconic, so renowned and so tasty, we added France to Eat The World without any first hand experience. Aioli, ratatouille, bouillabaisse- so many elegant dishes I can barely pronounce…

Alas, this is not a post about what to eat in France. Trust me, I wish it was. I like nothing better than stuffing my self with local dishes, taking drool-worthy photos and bragging to you guys. This is not that post though, because there is a major problem with french food- I can’t afford any of it!

Orangina counts as a local food, right?

At least not in Provence, where we spent a little over a week traveling the Riviera on a tight budget. Here a cheap lunch (a sandwich and a drink) will set you back ten euros and a sit down meal will most likely be 30 Euros a head. This was staggering compared to what we’d been paying in Spain and would pay in Italy. This was particularly true in Marseille, France’s second largest city, where we spent 3 nights.

So here’s the rundown of my first hand experience with french food:

France on a Budget

Sandwiches, kebabs and pizza. None particularly french but all immensely popular and affordable, and thus our primarily meals while in the country. It was frustrating and it felt ungrateful- like sitting inside on a sunny day or sleeping through a symphony. We might as well pop into McDonalds and be done with it.

That’s why, when we first walked into a French supermarket my eyes nearly popped out of my head. If I couldn’t eat gourmet meals at least I could TRY some of the foods that make France famous. Crusty french bread, a huge array of cheeses, chocolates and bottles of wine for 3 Euros.

Lucky for us our cozy hostel in Marseille, Vertigo Viex-Port, had not one but two lovely kitchens. Clearly everyone else at the hostel had already figured out the secret as I observed lovingly prepared steaks, fig and goat cheese salads and more. Self-catering was the way to go, clearly.

Reasonable Splurges

Still, I only have so much willpower: I can only eat so many ham and brie sandwiches while strolling past sumptuous restaurants before I have to give in. I mean, how can you go to France and not sample any traditional french cooking?

So, just a handful of times, we braced ourselves and ate at a restaurant. On the suggestion of the friendly front desk employees we tried a tiny local restaurant up the street from our hostel specializing in Provencal dishes. For 20 euros each (not too painful) I got a steak, a slice of quiche, a baked potato and crusty bread. Dessert was yogurt drenched in honey. All of it so simple and so breath-takingly amazing. We devoured it like starving people.

Then there was the all organic garden restaurant down by the harbor (another hostel recommendation). A bit costlier but a hearty and immensely filling meal of yellow polenta, cabbage and rich stewed beef.

It was worth biting the bullet for a delicious meal, but at the end of the week I felt, well disappointed. Trying local dishes is such an important part of travel for me, it’s why I thought of Eat The World, and it really pained me that it was so cost prohibitive to do so.

Is there a less expensive way to sample real french food? Or is that simply the reality of travel in France? I would love to hear some reader input.

Special Thanks to Vertigo Vieux-Port hostel and HostelWorld for hosting us.

27 Responses to The Problem with French Food

  1. Ashley of Ashley Abroad October 16, 2012 at 10:03 AM #

    I actually recently wrote a post about this – there are so many things in France that you can eat that aren’t expensive! Macarons- about 1 or 2 euros, Chevre chaud salad- about 8 euros, Brittany-style crepe- 6 to 8 euros… actually everything on the list is less than 10 euros come to think of it!

    http://ashleyabroad.com/what-to-eat-in-france/

    • Steph October 21, 2012 at 7:36 PM #

      I definitely love the macarons and crepes!

    • DanYC December 4, 2012 at 8:50 PM #

      Problem is, you’ll still be starving after eating a crepe and a macaron, and you just spent nearly 10 Euros (at the time I went, ~$15 CAD). That’s my problem with France.

  2. Kieu October 16, 2012 at 10:37 AM #

    When I studied there, all we can afford was farmer’s market and cheap gyros which isn’t French at all. I too braved the restaurants a few times to experience the food culture but it pains me every time how much dinner can cost. I found lunch pre fix menus to be a great work around this. Friendly on the wallet and still deliciously French. 😀

  3. Michelle October 16, 2012 at 4:54 PM #

    I felt the same when I was in Paris some time ago, that’s why I created a “splurge-fund” specifically for food the next time I returned, haha. I had dinner at La Procope once, which is supposedly the oldest cafe in Paris, they had amazing seafood and while it wasn’t cheap, it really was much less expensive than I had expected (€20 – €25).

  4. Lindsey October 16, 2012 at 11:05 PM #

    Ugh, I hated this when I was in France. Expensive meals in Paris I expected, but the prices in other regions were shocking as well. That said, the food I did eat in restaurants was divine!

  5. Naomi October 17, 2012 at 2:14 AM #

    I agree, sometimes when you’re travelling on a really tight budget, you of course want to splurge occasionally and try something new – but it’s such a bummer when the splurge winds up a disappointment. I guess, in places where it’s so expensive to eat out, the best way to try local food would be to go through local families!! 😉

  6. Christine October 17, 2012 at 8:08 AM #

    Oh my gosh some of my FAVORITE French food is street food and cheap food! I adore French food, but I don’t love stuffy restaurants and heavy meat. I also definitely prefer Nicoise and Provencal dishes, which are easier to find–Nicoise salads, pan bagnat sandwiches, petits farcis. In Paris, I live on croque monsiers (ham and cheese grilled sandwiches–a good one is the BEST!), crepes with ham and cheese and egg, quiche lorraines, omelettes. None of that is expensive–it’s all classic bistro or street food, and it’s delicious! And my favorite thing to do in Paris is picnic or pick up things at the market: a rotisserie chicken that smells as good as it tastes and the potatoes that they cook in the juice, fresh veg for a salad, cherries and apples and figs. Yum. Now I’m hungry.

  7. Claude October 18, 2012 at 7:36 AM #

    France is like any other country and unsuspecting tourists will have the same treatment as anywhere else. We will take your money 🙂

    Seing your pictures you actually ended up in high-end “nouvelle cuisine” restaurants for tourists where ridiculous presentation wins over real food.

    Hints: This is no cabbage, this is Fenouil. The quiche is ridiculous, I loled at it. Steak and potatoes is no French cuisine, this is what we serve children when we are too lazy to actually do some cooking.

    You obviously were in a touristy area, next time get off the beaten path if you want some real French cuisine (same rule as anywhere else).

    • mlle-cassis October 18, 2012 at 9:04 AM #

      Ditto. These are typical examples of scam-restaurants targetting naive and trusting, maybe too hungry and hurried, customers…

      And Claude: in English you don’t say “fenouil” but “fennel”, to begin with 😉 (yes, I used a dictionnary, thank you very much)

    • Steph October 21, 2012 at 7:35 PM #

      Sigh. I would love to live in a country where steak is merely lazy people food.

    • Zoe October 25, 2012 at 1:12 AM #

      Wow, sounds like you got robbed. I loved France because – by comparison to Australia – the food was cheap, fresh and delicious.

      Claude is right in his comments about the food too.

      Personally, I ate at cafes and restaurants almost daily with the lunch specials usually coming in at under 12 euros. A sandwich is usually less than 6 euros. Just need to get away from the main streets!

      • Steph October 25, 2012 at 10:48 AM #

        My point is that 12 Euros IS expensive for lunch (not compared of Australia of course). Sandwiches are cheap of course, but one get’s tired of those after awhile…

  8. mlle-cassis October 18, 2012 at 9:06 AM #

    Also, note that everything costs double at minimum in Paris.

  9. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown October 18, 2012 at 10:38 AM #

    This is one of the main reasons I haven’t gone to France yet – I don’t want to go until I can afford to enjoy everything I want to there! The meals you did go for look absolutely amazing though…I would kill for some simple, delicious food right now!

  10. Julie - the fairy trails October 19, 2012 at 11:58 AM #

    At least you got your money’s worth! That steak dinner is like 3-in-1. I thought the whole french philosophy was everything in moderation!? 🙂

  11. Coco Marie October 20, 2012 at 9:45 AM #

    Having lived in Paris for over 2 years now, I feel your pain. Yes, it is very expensive however there are definitely ways to enjoy French cuisine without breaking the bank. I have had the opportunity to have fancy meals and cheap ones but both can be great! My suggestion would be to hit up a boulangerie, fromagerie, and a charcuterie and make your own meal. Add it with a bottle of (good wine for cheap is an easy find in France) and you have a perfect meal!

    • Steph October 21, 2012 at 7:41 PM #

      mmm, wine and cheese is the best meal.

  12. Meg from LandingStanding October 21, 2012 at 5:45 AM #

    For us, French food was just so darn expensive when we were in Paris – And that was the reality. We used my points and stayed at the Hyatt in Paris, so we were able to save money on accommodations so we could splurge on meals. Otherwise, we would have been screwed. When we stayed in Normandy, we got an apartment and cooked all our meals – Luckily, we shopped at the local markets, so I felt like we were getting some of the French food culture!

    • Steph October 21, 2012 at 7:39 PM #

      Smart idea to plan it into your budget. Next time I’ll try not to be so poor 🙁

  13. Rachel October 28, 2012 at 1:17 PM #

    You can eat massive lunches in bars/restaurants in rural areas for about €12. I agree that it’s not cheap but it’s less expensive to eat out at lunchtime rather than dinnertime. Self catering is the cheapest way to go if possible. When I was in Paris I mainly ate croissants! Staying away from the tourist areas is a must for budgeting.

  14. Natasha November 6, 2012 at 5:44 AM #

    Whilst I did have an 8 course expensive though amazing degustation meal in Paris, I did enjoy going to the food markets and having prix fixe dinners! The cheapest place to eat breakfast is definitely just getting a croissant and coffee from a bakery.

  15. Amy November 25, 2012 at 3:02 PM #

    Your “friendly front desk staff’ were scamming you. I’m sure the food was tasty, but it wasn’t French cuisine, and €20 for that pathetic amount of quiche and a steak and potato is ridiculous. I had hotels who take advantage of tourists who genuinely want to learn about the local culture, be that recommending rip off restaurants or booking scamming taxi drivers.

    Next time you’re in France, go for a ‘menu’- normally three courses for an insanely cheap price. When I lived in Bordeaux in 2008, at our favourite place we paid €12,50 for a three course meal including steak and it was traditional French food.

  16. ob June 24, 2013 at 9:16 AM #

    Of course the food is expensive. You’re not paying for food, you’re paying for 3 day weekends, guaranteed employment and a failed economic philosophy.

    Delicious isn’t it?

    • Steph June 24, 2013 at 3:07 PM #

      I’m indifferent to the French economy and social systems. I only care about food.

  17. Damon and Jo August 6, 2014 at 3:08 PM #

    France on a budget:

    €0.60: Demi-baguette
    €2.50: Camembert
    €2: Rosé wine

  18. Maxime September 18, 2014 at 8:12 AM #

    Pour l’economie et le gout, visitez les marchés alimentaires de plein air de France

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