Cheap eats in Paris
'Eating out' -- on the street, that is -- is the way to go
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By CNN TravelGuide Editor Laurel ShannonSeptember 16, 1998
Web posted at: 12:26 p.m. EDT (1226 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- Paris is renowned for its fine dining. But the beauty of this city (one of many) is that one needn't drop the equivalent of a night's rent at the Ritz to eat well.
In fact, some of the greatest pleasures of eating in Paris are found on the street. In this pedestrian-driven city of unabashed people-watchers, grabbing a bite to-go is not just a convenience, but a pastime. And the caliber of food proves it.
The best address in town? Wherever your feet will take you.
Simple street fare
The simplest, most quintessentially French option is to stop at one of the ubiquitous sidewalk crêpe stands. Decide whether your tastes lean toward sel (salty) or sucre (sugary). For less than US$4, you can have a hefty crêpe au fromage et ouef (with cheese and egg) or skip lunch altogether and indulge in a rich banana and Nutella crêpe. The basic version, of course, is simply a crêpe au fromage -- be sure to specify if you'd like a dash of pepper (poivre).
Lunch shops and sidewalk stands also offer paninis -- long sandwiches on doughy rolls, pressed into a waffle iron-type grill and served up piping hot and flat. Fillings range from ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) or tuna (thon) to excellent vegetarian selections including chevre, tomato and green olive or falafel. Many of the same shops offer similar crudité -- that is, cold sandwiches on crusty baguettes. Crudité and paninis run about 20-25 Francs ($3.50-4.40).
Truly transcendent falafel
For a truly transcendent sandwich, do not miss L'As du Fallafel. Located in the Jewish Quarter (Marais) at 34 Rue de Rosiers, the crowded little shop creates pitas stuffed impossibly full with spicy falafel, rich hummus, red cabbage slaw, buttery chunks of lightly fried eggplant and, upon request, a splash of screaming red chile sauce (picante).
Like Seinfeld's infamous soup spot, you need to know the system before you go: enter the door and file right to place your order, then pay at the register. Hold on to your receipt, loop around to the left and present your ticket to get your order filled. A loaded vegetarian special runs 25F ($4.40), and for a few dollars extra, you can get a can of ice cold beer, an excellent accompaniment.
There are some cramped cafeteria tables inside -- where the service is remarkably decorous considering the din, and the walls are plastered with photos of famous patron Lenny Kravitz -- but most likely you'll end up loitering on the narrow street out front with other diners, singlemindedly devouring your food. If you're extremely coordinated, you can stroll and eat -- but you risk wearing your falafel.
Don't go on Saturday -- it's closed, as are most businesses in the quarter. And while other neighborhood joints serve authentic falafel, it falls flat in comparison.
An island of ice cream
Just blocks from the Jewish Quarter, in the shadow of Notre Dame, the ice cream shop Berthillon maintains a commanding presence on tiny Ile St-Louis. Almost every eating establishment on the island has hung out a shingle advertising that it carries the sublime treat. And in the summer, lines are de rigeur at the main shop (no. 31 Rue St-Louis-en-l'Ile).
At the sidewalk window or at the counter inside, you are faced with a list of luxurious flavors, including the high-octane creole (rum raisin), sweet, delicate marrons (chestnut) or pure, rich chocolat (chocolate, of course).
At 16-18F ($2.80-$3.15) for a double, the serving size may at first strike American eyes as dainty -- two golf-ball-sized scoops. But it's sumptuous stuff, and by the end, more than enough. Get one to go and try to battle back the calories as you consume them -- it's an exercise in futility, but you can take in some interesting architecture with your ice cream.
If you really must stop walking, and occasionally you must, settle into a good window seat at a café, where all the chairs and tables are lined up like a dinner theater -- with the bustling sidewalks as the stage. You will be charged extra for taking up a table (a salle), rather than sipping coffee at the counter (au comptoir). And be warned that even the most basic meals at a café or brasserie are likely to be expensive -- a companion and I paid upwards of $40 for two unremarkable niçoise salads, two small beers and an ice cream at one neighborhood eatery.
A cheaper, and ultimately more interesting option, is to treat yourself to a picnic in your hotel room. Walking back from a long day of sightseeing, stop in at the cheese shop, the produce stand, the bakery and the wine shop -- just like the Parisians do --- and create a truly French feast Chez Mattress. A more relaxed atmosphere is nowhere to be found.
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