Pumpkin at French marketAs a vegetarian in France, eating out can be difficult, to say the least. There must be vegetarian French people, but where are they? Perhaps they stay at home to eat. On many occasions I have been assured of a vegetarian meal, yet it appears complete with lardons, fish or seafood. That raises the question – what is a vegetarian? The concept means different things to different people, but generally most people would agree that it excludes meat, poultry, fish and seafood, but includes cheese, milk and eggs. I cause more problems because I do not like goat’s cheese and I can only eat eggs well-cooked. Some people muddy the waters by saying that they are vegetarian, but then they eat fish. Vegans eat no animal products at all, including honey.

I have bought French vegetarian recipe books which include meat ingredients or chicken stock without apology. I once bought a book claiming to give details of French vegetarian restaurants – how could I not buy it? It was, as I discovered, a work of fiction. I went out of my way to visit some of those restaurants listed and they were bemused to have been included and clearly didn’t serve vegetarian food.

Where can the vegetarian eat out? Italian, Indian, Chinese and pizza restaurants can usually accommodate the non-meat eater without special notice. In a Chinese restaurant I say I am a Buddhist and they understand that. For a special meal in a French restaurant with a meat-eating friend, advance discussion with the chef is essential. There are usually salads available, but you will need to negotiate what to omit. Eggs are often undercooked – either in omelettes or cracked on top of a pizza, so beware. I am not expecting to have a fully balanced meal, as I am happy just to sit and eat with friends for the social aspect.

I have found in recent years that it is certainly becoming easier to buy ingredients such as tofu, tempeh and vegeburgers. Most large towns now have out of centre organic shops (biomarchés). Even some supermarkets occasionally stock ready meals, although portions are usually small. Ideally I would want to make all meals from scratch, but occasionally I just want to reach out for a ready meal. Although a warning – even with traditional standards such as macaroni cheese or vegetable gratin, you will usually find ham in the ingredients.

I go to events at our local salle des fêtes and take my own food, but share in the cheese and dessert. At least I feel that I am sharing in the occasion, although people probably think that I am a bit odd – and I am always offered fish.

I have had some memorable meals in other European countries. At the age of 14 I was vegan, so when I visited the Netherlands for a week, I lived mainly on apples and lost half a stone. In Austria (by this time vegetarian) I ate apple strudel, cake and potatoes. In Turkey I mainly ate tomatoes and fruit. In Finland I was offered potatoes and mushrooms. In Greece I overdid the vine leaves and even now, thirty years later, I still cannot eat them. In Germany I was presented with an odd mixture of hot and cold vegetables stirred together, with a fried egg and paprika on top! The only place I felt where I had a real choice was Italy.

We have an event at the salle des fêtes tomorrow – a pig roast. I’m off to cook my lentils, vegetables and rice now…

6 Responses to “How to be a vegetarian in France”

  1. Avatar

    donnamf1971@gmail.com

    As a vegetarian I have also had these problems living in France. I have been offered fish or chicken as most people don’t understand what being veggie means. I have normally avoided going to do’s at the salle as I thought bringing my own food would be frowned upon. I have also avoided les marches gourmandes for the same reason. Maybe I will try and go and take my own food next time. Restaurants are getting better, I have found a couple I can eat in locally and we live in a small rural area so that’s good.

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  2. Avatar

    hookie

    The boulangerie in our local village has started doing pizzas and kebabs on Friday and Saturday nights. Pretty radical for round here! I popped in last week to get a bagette and was very surprised to find that they were headlining on their chalk board, “Vegetarian” options for both. Another small town a few more miles away were advertising a vege. main course on their midday fixed price menu. Apart from these revelations I’ve really got to the point where I just won’t go out to restaurants as it isn’t a matter of looking for something I fancy, but looking for anything that I’m prepared to eat even if I don’t really fancy it at all and I’m fed up with omlettes!

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  3. Avatar

    everazephyr

    If you eat eggs, try asking for an omelette, even if it’s not on the menu. In my experience, French cooks are happy to demonstrate their ability to produce a perfect omelette (which does mean baveuse, i.e., “runny, not gooey”).

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  4. Hendrixfans

    Hendrixfans

    We’ve pretty much given up trying to eat out. The only one we’ve enjoyed was Chez Ciseen, but that was a special meal for an association. What we did appreciate was that the vegetarian options they provided were by defaut also vegan, which suits not only vegans but people with lactose/egg allergies. Do no French people suffer from those?
    I’ve never understood how people can say they are vegetarian when they eat fish!
    I think it’ll be a long time before vegetarians are catered for out side of cities/large towns, because the chasse and meat eating is so much a part of the culture in rural France.

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  5. Avatar

    nicole22

    Having stumbled across this article,it is of huge interest to me. This subject is what prompted me to start a business under the A.E scheme. I produce meat free foods. I am based in Brittany,but am in the process of setting up a postal system for those further afield.

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  6. Hendrixfans

    Hendrixfans

    Did you start your business wih meat-free foods? I wouldn’t have thought AE was the way to go though, as you can’t claim any expenses i.e. for raw materials, postage etc.
    We continue to make our (delicious, not boring!) vegan food from scratch at home, but I do also work regularly in England so bring back Asda packet mixes of burger and sausage mix. The chargrilled burger style mix is really good!

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