International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

A Vegetarianís experience in Paris
from EVU News, Issue 4 / 1996

[photo: Erika]

After one late Friday phone call I learned, that the following Monday I was supposed to be in Paris for a few days on a business trip. Business trips are usually not very exciting, but this meant something special for me - just because the destination was Paris, a city which I have always dreamed of and never had a chance to see. I was very happy when walking a long way from the Boulevard Montmartre through Champs Elysée to the …toile Charles de Gaulle enjoying the lights and the spirit of the town and trying to take as much beauty of it with myself as possible. There was only one thing, which was continuously disturbing my pleasant stay in Paris, and that was: my own vegetarianism.

I was aware of the fact that I was arriving in a country, whose language I do not speak, inspite of that as an experienced traveller I did not expect any problems arising out of this disadvantage. I should have! To my surprise no menu in restaurants in Paris is written in any other language than French, which made my choice for vegetarian food extremely difficult, since even the waiters were not able to speak English at most of the places I visited. The only exeption was the waiter at the famous restaurant La Grand Café Capuccines, who understood a little English and was not too surprised by my request of a vegetarian meal, except for his surprise at the fact that I do not eat even fish or seafood. However, my French friend, who was helping me with the menu, informed me that it is highly unusual to eat vegetarian food in a restaurant like La Grand Café and not to try their superb French cuisine. Since it was my first meal in Paris, I came to the conclusion, that we had made a wrong choice of restaurant for my needs.

As it turned out later, it was not the problem of the restaurant, but the general French approach to vegetarians and vegetarian food. In a different restaurant serving Southern-French food the waitress found it extremely difficult to prepare me any vegetarian food, and I must say, that the boiled rice and vegetables she brought me was far from my expectations of the famous French cuisine (even vegetarian). Moreover, the owner - a lady in her sixties - warned my French friends, that "if this young lady continues to eat in such a strange way, she will die". Needless to say, I was the "young lady". Of course, it was a funny story for my business partners sitting with me at the table, and even I did not take it very seriously. However, her remark definitely confirmed my growing concern about French vegetarians and us, foreigners lost in some prejudiced restaurant. My French business partner explained to me that French people usually love to eat and enjoy their food very much, therefore they do not have too much understanding for those, who do not share the delicious French cuisine with them. Moreover, he said, a typical French person would find my desire for food without meat, fish and seafood very strange.

No wonder, that after these experiences I simply avoided visit to any restaurant, when I had no French person with me who could help me to convince the waiters, that even if I have maybe a strange request, but I am still their guest and I am hungry. I decided rather to buy a pizza on the street instead of collecting further "interesting" experiences. On my last day my colleague took me to the caffeteria of our business partner, which - of course - is not an expensive restaurant like those we visited before. I know, people tend to dislike cafeteria food but there I finally found my healthy vegetarian choice of fresh vegetables and fruit and many other interesting meals and the cafeteria food proved to be my best "gourmet" experience in Paris.

To my surprise, even the two "reliable points" of my trips - the hotel breakfast and the special vegetarian meal on the airplane - failed me this time. I was staying in a hotel for businessmen, but it was very difficult to make a healthy breakfast for myself from the choice of French bakery products made from the whitest possible flour and no cereals or fresh fruits at all. Not to mention some soy products. My last food-related surprise was when Air France served me on the plane back a piece of salmon included in my specially requested vegetarian meal!

I am trying to convince myself, that my food-related experience was just a series of coincidences. However, if not, I would like to ask all our French vegetarian friends to make an effort to educate their society about vegetarianism. Not because of me - but because of themselves!

Erika Csekes, Prazska 9, 81108 Bratislava, Slovakia.

If Erika Csekes would have been in possession of the "List of Vegetarian Restaurants in Paris" announced in the EVU News 3/96, she might have got a different impression of (culinary) Paris.