In Paris food is everything. In a country which prides itself on having one of the most sophisticated food cultures in the world, the French capital is unsurprisingly obsessed with ingredients, recipes, and the creations of master chefs. And that's great news for visitors. Everywhere you turn in Paris, food surprises emerge from the shopfronts and markets. In fact, navigating such a rich variety of culinary delights can be tough. But don't worry. At Accor Hotels, we're here to make your next vacation to Paris a gastronomic treat. So let's discover what the city has to offer.
You can't say the same of many places across the world, but it's fair to say that without Paris, food history would have panned out very differently. From the 17th century onwards, the Royal Court based in or near the city began to experiment with what soon came to be called "haute cuisine." Chefs employed by the King started introducing rich new sauces, as well as pastries like vol-au-vents.
However, the rise of Paris to food dominance really began in the 19th century after the French Revolution. Freed from guild restrictions, chefs fashioned reputations for themselves based upon their signature dishes. Superstars like Marie-Antoine Carême emerged, and their sauces acted like the songs of the Beatles, spreading their fame far and wide.
From the mid-19th century, this superstar elite was joined by a massive culture of everyday bistros and brasseries, which put their ideas into action. Based around neighborhood restaurants, the Paris food scene became the richest in the world. But it didn't stand still. As immigrants arrived in the city, their Chinese, Indian, North African, and Latin American recipes started to gain a foothold. Nowadays, this mix makes Paris a food city like no other.
If you were to ask for a typical Parisian meal, what would the chefs come up with? Well, we're obviously simplifying things a bit here, but there are some dishes that would probably best encapsulate the cuisine. One mainstay is duck confit - a rich stew of duck with pulses (usually lentils) and garlic-flavored potatoes. Another is simply steak frites (steak and french fries). Well, we say simple, but the quality of the meat and the crispness of the fries sets Paris' version apart from what you might be used to.
Aside from those favorites, expect plenty of meat dishes with a range of sauces, and regional French dishes like beef bourguignon or moules (mussels) mariniere. And, after all that, expect an out-of-this world cheese board. Of course, it's not all about sit-down dining, either. High-class Paris food venues stretch from high-class bistros to street food spots and sandwich bars, as well as innumerable chocolatiers - but we'll get to them later.
If you're hunting for somewhere exceptional to eat during your stay in Paris, our food experts have come up with a range of fantastic selections. For starters, you won't want to miss Le Lumière at the Sofitel Scribe Paris Opera, where head chef Sébastien Crison creates dazzling contemporary twists on classic French cuisine in the building that hosted the very first cinema screening in 1895.
Then there's Blossom at the Sofitel Paris le Faubourg, where Alexandre Auger rules the roost, and the whole place has a delightful garden theme. From simple seafood dishes like sole with pilau rice to classic steak frites with a bearnaise sauce, Blossom is the ideal place to find a typical Paris food menu.
Finally, have a look at l'Espirit du 12eme, which can be found at the Pullman Paris Centre near Bercy station. The special aspect of l'Espirit is its focus on wine, which is traditional industry in the Bercy neighborhood. From the amuse-bouche to begin, to the final morsel of dessert, everything is paired with the perfect vintage, creating an intoxicating (but not too intoxicating) dining experience.
In central Paris food of the highest quality isn't hard to come by, but that doesn't mean dining in the suburbs is out of the question. Actually, there are some stellar restaurants dotted around the outer districts, and they are often less frequented by tourists, so don't miss out. With the Métro and overground train connections, it's easy to reach parts of Paris like Saint Denis or Neuilly that others might bypass. For example, north-west Paris boasts venues like La Fontaine. Based in the ibis Nanterre la Defense, La Fontaine looks like a typical French bistro, with its unpretentious à la carte menu and tidy surroundings, but the food makes it stand out from the crowd.
And in Saint Denis, exceptional eats can be found at places like the Courtepaille Comptoir ibis Saint Denis Stade Ouest. Being located so close to the Stade du France, Courtepaille is the perfect place to book before watching a sporting event or concert. So don't limit yourself to the center of town. There's much more to Paris' food options than the few square miles surrounding Notre Dame.
However, the Paris food scene is much broader than its selection of restaurants. When you pay the city a visit, you'll find a huge array of retailers selling ingredients, prepared food, and cooking accessories (which often make great souvenirs), so be sure to set aside some time for gastronomic shopping.
If you're on the hunt for some fresh produce or food to take home, you'll probably want to hit the city's vibrant markets. Located in the 12th arrondissement, the Marché d'Aligre is a highlight, with affordable fresh fruit, as well as a range of craft and book stalls. As an added bonus, the market saw action in the French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871, as a base for revolutionaries, so there's some history to explore as well. Another magnet for foodies is the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the trendy Marais district, which is an excellent place to track down falafel and kosher food, as well as cheeses, sushi, and African cuisine. When exotic tastes call out to you, it's definitely the place to be.
While the Paris food markets are enthralling, they aren't the best place to get a handle on what Paris' cuisine means for local people. To fully understand the magic of Parisian cuisine, you'll have to duck into a few of the city's small food retailers. When you do, you'll find yourself in a kind of culinary wonderland.
Bakeries (boulangeries) and patisseries are a great place to start. At places like Pierre Hermé in Rennes-Sevres, you'll come across exquisite ganache cakes, truffles, and nougat sweets, while Rachel's in Le Marais is cheesecake central. And, if you want to experience the best croissants in town (and who doesn't?), then Des Gâteaux et du Pain on the boulevard Pasteur is a must-visit.
Then there are charcutieres, where you can stock up on cured meats to stuff into your picnic baguettes. Obviously there's plenty of debate about where to head, but leading charcutiers include L'Avant Comptoir on carrefour de l'Odéon, which doubles up as a wine bar, and Au Vieux Comptoir on rue des Lavandières Sainte-Opportune, just off the Rue de Rivoli.
Finally, there's cheese. As you're probably aware cheese has a special place on the Paris food scene, and few cities have as many incredible cheese stores (or fromageries). One of the best is the Fromagerie Laurent Dubois on the boulevard Saint-Germain, where choices stretch from routine but sublime camemberts, to lesser-known gems like livarot. Just remember to eat them fairly quickly, as French cheese can become fairly 'aromatic' after a day or two.
When you've picked up a bag full of delights from Paris food vendors, you'll have to decide what to do with your haul. Taking it all back to the hotel room isn't exactly the ideal option, and it's not even close to the most enjoyable, with so many brilliant places to enjoy a picnic in central Paris. So, buy a few baguettes, get hold of a plastic knife and a classic French red and white checkered cloth, and start hunting down the perfect Parisian picnic spot.
Naturally, there are some cliched spots that spring to mind, like the foot of the Eiffel Tower, or the Île de la Cité, but these places will be crammed with fellow tourists. You'll need somewhere that's still central, just a little bit more secluded. One of our favorites is the Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement, which has some wonderful pre-Revolution architecture and is easily accessible via the Metro. Another place to try is the Canal Saint Martin, just north of Le Marais. Made famous by the hit movie Amélie, it's full of picturesque metal bridges and quays where you can settle down with your charcuterie and cheese, and let Parisian life go by in the background. It's a magical place to be.
Then again, if you're flitting between sights during a vacation in Paris, food might need to be eaten on the fly. In that case, checking out the city's lively street food scene is a must. For something traditionally French and completely satisfying, head to one of the capital's trusty sandwich bars. Le Petit Cler near the Eiffel Tower is renowned as the best place to pick up a cheesy croque monsieur, but it's closely followed by Le Petit Vendôme on Rue des Capucines, where the selection of fillings goes on and on.
If falafel is your thing, heading to Le Marais is the option to go for. In particular, L'As du Falafel on Rue des Rosiers is globally acclaimed for its rich, tahini-drenched flavor (and don't take our word for it. Lenny Kravitz is the place's biggest fan). When you need nothing more than a succulent, filling burger, the Marché Saint-Honoré is the only place to head. Located near Pyramides Metro, it's where you'll find hip US-influenced burger joints like Cantine California or Big Fernand. A burger from there will keep you going through any exploration of the Louvre.
We've touched upon this already, but another great aspect of modern Paris' food culture is its diversity. Sometimes people get the idea that French cuisine is conservative and exclusive, but a trip around the Paris food map will dispel any ideas like that. The French capital is a true world city, with exceptional eats from every continent.
If you want to enjoy the finest Chinese food available, the 9th arrondissement is full of options. For Indian food, the Rue Saint-Martin is probably the place to look, hosting highlights like MG Road. And you'll even find West African diners like Le Petit Dakar or Godjo, which give native French cuisine a run for its money.
And the Paris food elite has also embraced this diversity. For example, Le Genie Sous Les Etoiles at the ibis Paris Bastille Opera has a kitchen team from across the world, allowing it to mingle chicken curries and California-style burgers with exceptional French dishes like duck roasted in honey and thyme.