Vegan food I ate in Paris, and some rambling on my feelings about the city

After a weekend in Amsterdam, we left Brad and April and boarded a train for Paris.

Man, the Seine was muddy while we were there!

For most of my life, there have been three things I’ve wanted to do in Paris:

1) Order and drink grapefruit juice.
2) See the catacombs.
3) Visit Shakespeare & Company bookstore.

If #1 seems odd, consider the translation of “grapefruit juice” and tell me it’s not the greatest phrase in the world, in any language: le jus de pamplemousse. Don’t think that my rather unassuming list means I haven’t been yearning to visit Paris; in fact, I took several years of French in high school and college and have always been fascinated by the Parisian art and literary scenes from the turn of the 20th century. I didn’t have a huge list of things I wanted to do because I’m not into most traditionally touristy things and what I’ve always wanted to do was simply be in Paris.

Well, I took hundreds of pictures while being in Paris, far too many for a single post. I’ve been trying to decide how to divide them up and I think I’m going to do three posts on Paris: 1) food + attractions, 2) animals, 3) art/photography. They will each probably be ridiculously long. The first may well be the longest, so let’s get on with it.

My very first impression of Paris was highly favorable – despite getting lost trying to get from the metro to our hotel. In fact, although I think Mark wanted to murder me if I walked up and down the block one more time, that was part of my good impression, because not one but two different people stopped to ask me if I needed directions. And people say the French are rude! They are not; they are kind! The second individual didn’t speak English and I have to email my French tutor to tell her our lesson on directions helped because I was able to follow her French well enough to finally find the hotel!

We were starving once we settled in, so I consulted the Vegan in Paris e-book I had purchased before the trip for a vegan-friendly restaurant in our arrondissement and found that Tien Hiang (14, rue Bichat; 10th arrondissement; Goncourt or République metro) was a mere 3 blocks away.

I ordered the “chicken” in spicy sauce:

Mark ordered the sweet & sour “fish”:

Both were soooo good! If we lived in Paris, we’d be at this place all the time! In fact, we returned later for our last lunch in the city and I ordered the caramelized “chicken” clay pot:

… and Mark ordered the stuffed tofu clay pot:

Again, absolutely delicious! It can get a little loud in the restaurant when it’s crowded, but I can’t tell you how happy I was despite the din at 10:30 on Monday night when we strolled in for dinner…especially when the food was scrumptious.

Malheursement, my SECOND impression of Paris was NOT favorable. In fact, there were tears and an “I hate Paris!”. How can that be? Who in the hell hates Paris? Well, here is the best foreign travel advice I can give you: check for any public/national/bank holidays in your destination country BEFORE your trip – ideally when planning it. ESPECIALLY if you are a) vegan, b) prone to headaches and illness when your blood sugar drops, and/or c) not staying in an apartment with a kitchen.

Tuesday, May 8 was our first full day in Paris and little did I know it was VE (Victory in Europe) Day, a public holiday celebrating Europe’s exit from WWII. The first bad surprise was arriving at the Catacombs to find a handwritten note on the door stating they were closed for the day. Lord I wish they had explained further! Had I only known what was going on, we could have avoided a breakdown. Instead, we walked around looking for other things to do and eventually got hungry, which led to a very long and terrible succession of walking into restaurants and finding them closed. The weird thing is many of them were unlocked and occupied by the proprietor, but fermé nonetheless. The ones that were open had no vegan food. The hungrier I got, the more personally I began taking these rejections. You might think I am stupid for not suspecting earlier that there was some other explanation than “Paris hates me”, but you must understand that I’ve heard that it is not all that unusual for French businesses to randomly close for the day. I had just never thought the trend was that widespread. And also, once my blood sugar dips to a certain level, I can’t think straight and it’s a horrible downward spiral. Finally we gave up on dinner and I found a literally life-saving baguette (I was ready to throw myself under an autobus) and began to feel a bit better…until Mark discovered thon (tuna) in the packaged salads we’d bought in the 8 à Huit…which was listed in the ingredients, which I’d read at least 10 times and managed to miss (again, I can’t think, at least in French, when hungry). Breakdown ensued. It wasn’t until the next day when properly fed that I started wondering if the prior day had been a holiday. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE. (Interestingly, we managed to hit a different public holiday – Ascension Day – our first full day back in the Netherlands, but it was far less traumatic as we knew about it in advance AND were staying in an apartment with a kitchen.)

After the miracle baguette had worked to calm me down a bit, I was determined to salvage something from the day and decided there was no way Paris would be able to prevent me from looking at the Eiffel Tower. So that’s what we did, and I felt a million times better afterwards. Je t’aime, la Tour Eiffel.

After that horrible day and once I figured out the explanation for my sorrows, my opinion of Paris again swung way back to the favorable side. We were very well-fed for the rest of our stay there and had a great time.

I don’t know the name of the Moroccan place we found in the Latin Quarter one lunchtime, which is a shame because the service was great. They gave us free kir, and even gave us a third one when we spilled one. But the BEST part was when we saw a cat stroll by the door and I did my customary shrieking of “kitty!” and the waiter went and retrieved the cat and handed him to us to cuddle while we waited for our food. Now THAT is the kind of service I like! Possibly not the type of service some people appreciate, but we thought it was the greatest thing ever. The veggie couscous we ordered was tasty too!

I didn’t have enough hands to take a picture of my WAY overloaded falafel – I couldn’t put it down once I loaded it up – but another meal near the Latin Quarter was at Maoz, and it was awesome. I put sauerkraut on my falafel! And beets! It was fantastic. I also put so much other stuff on it I had a hard time finding the falafels when I went to eat it!

You may think we never left the Latin Quarter by now, which is not true, although it did become our go-to location for finding safe food. While wandering around one day we found Le Grenier de Notre Dame, Paris’ “oldest vegetarian restaurant”, but it was before their opening time. We decided to return for our last night in Paris, though, for a romantic dinner. We were seated upstairs and the ambiance was nice:

I’d read somewhere the service was spotty in this place, but we didn’t have a problem at all. We were there quite early, though, before they got busy. I thought it was charming and enjoyed being there. The food was good, although I’m not sure I would say it was great. I felt like both of our dishes were things I could have made at home, which is what prevents me from saying it was great. (Or maybe I’m just a great cook!) I did enjoy the meal and would return. Vegan items were clearly marked on the menu.

Mark had the “assiette berbere” (assiette is plate), which from the name I thought would be a bit spicier, but it was pretty tasty if not exactly what I was expecting.

I had the cassoulet – probably the closest I got to traditional French cuisine at any point. It was served extremely hot and of course I loved the dish it came in. It was pretty tasty, although again, I think I could have made it at home pretty easily. Now you are probably going to think I’m crazy, but my favorite part about it was how the edges, where the tomato sauce had dried out a bit from baking, tasted like the edges in some frozen meals. I eat frozen meals fairly rarely these days, but my mom used to buy me a lot of them when I was in college and the best part was always the edges where the tomato sauce (if involved) got all dark and chewy. I don’t mean to insult Le Grenier by saying the best part of my meal was it tasted like a frozen meal…other than that tiny characteristic it had nothing in common with a frozen meal, I swear! The cassoulet included veggies, beans, tofu, and seitan. I also particularly liked the seitan.

This is getting very long. I think I’m going to break it up into four parts instead of three. I’ll write up a post on my #2 and #3 above, as well as a small pictorial musing on just “being” in Paris, in the next day or two, and for now just conclude with another reason you’ll think I’m crazy. (Yes, I did #1 as well and there is even a picture, but it’s not very attractive.) The catacombs and Shakespeare & Company and the Eiffel Tower were all they were cracked up to be and more (though that Seine was awfully muddy), but do you know what was thing that surprised me by being what made me fall hard for Paris? The métro. Not travelling on it, really, which was generally very crowded, but the idea of it. I have a slight obsession with underground tunnels (hence the catacomb obsession, see #2 above), and I LOVE that very unlike the DC metro system, EVERYTHING in Paris is near one, two, or three metro stops. But what I really, really, really love about the Paris métro – the surprising bit – are the signs. If I could marry a métro sign it would be this one (St Michel):

Or its twin (Blanche):

Anvers even has a marvelous map outside!

They don’t all have the art deco flowers, but the variety just makes me love them all the more. The industrial-looking Pigalle:

I forgot to record which one this is (if you know, please leave a comment!).

Goncourt has an extra-special place in my heart for being the one right by our hotel.

Seriously, when I think of Paris now, I think of those metro signs and I know that I love Paris because Paris loves beauty. Look at the typical DC metro sign (and they ALL look like this):

Now, which city do you think I belong in? Well, most of you don’t know me outside the blog, but I assure you, it’s the city with the metro signs that are works of art.

Oh, Paris. We had a rocky start but a beautiful finish. I love you and your lights and your metro signs.


  1. radioactivegan Said,

    May 21, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

    You’ve made me want to go to Paris, if just for the free kitty pets at dinner!

  2. Sarah Said,

    May 22, 2012 @ 12:21 am

    ah paris! I dream of moving there! It’s good to know that there are vegan friendly spots!

    I do have to say although the paris metro signs are GORGEOUS, I find myself very happy when I see that familiar M when I get lost around DC. And it means less tourists ask me for directions.

  3. Lisa Goldstein Kieda Said,

    May 22, 2012 @ 8:38 am

    It’s not just the holidays, but the strikes that might get ya! How wonderful that cat-cuddles are encouraged during dinner! Enjoy the rest of your time there. So much to see/do!

    Bon jour!

    Lisa G/K

  4. Jes Said,

    May 22, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

    Paris, I miss it so much! Stink stink stink about the holiday, but so glad that you were apparently able to make it back to the catacombs–can’t wait to read what you thought of them! And holy moley your food looks fantastic, and a kitty to cuddle while you wait? Best meal ever? Can’t wait to read more, I’m getting Paris-sick just reading this (in the best way, of course)!

  5. amy Said,

    May 22, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

    I want to go soo bad!!

    Also, I opened two links together, this one and

    The name of one of her dresses is “pamplemousse”… I’ve never heard that word before, I thought that was so bizarre I saw it in two different places at the same time! .. just had to share that 🙂

  6. Josiane Said,

    May 22, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

    Oh, yes… it can be very hard to find anything open in Paris during holidays – or even on Sundays – and that can be pretty frustrating at times, especially when blood sugar is getting low. I’m sorry the timing didn’t work well for you on that one, but I’m glad that Paris made up for it afterwards!
    I’m making a note to go eat at Tien Hiang next time I’m in La ville lumière; I didn’t know about that restaurant, and from what you said and shown, it sounds amazing.
    I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures in Paris!

  7. KTBuns Said,

    May 26, 2012 @ 10:19 pm

    Oh, how I can relate to that exasperation in finding NO vegan food around when you’re already starving and pissy! So glad to see that your trip improved and you got to sample some really outstanding-looking dishes.

    I also loved the artistic details in every bit of the city – something we don’t see much over here!


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