One of the most exciting things about visiting France for the very first time was definitely the opportunity to sample French cuisine. So iconic, so renowned and so tasty, we added France to Eat The World without any first hand experience. Aioli, ratatouille, bouillabaisse- so many elegant dishes I can barely pronounce…
Alas, this is not a post about what to eat in France. Trust me, I wish it was. I like nothing better than stuffing my self with local dishes, taking drool-worthy photos and bragging to you guys. This is not that post though, because there is a major problem with french food- I can’t afford any of it!
At least not in Provence, where we spent a little over a week traveling the Riviera on a tight budget. Here a cheap lunch (a sandwich and a drink) will set you back ten euros and a sit down meal will most likely be 30 Euros a head. This was staggering compared to what we’d been paying in Spain and would pay in Italy. This was particularly true in Marseille, France’s second largest city, where we spent 3 nights.
So here’s the rundown of my first hand experience with french food:
France on a Budget
Sandwiches, kebabs and pizza. None particularly french but all immensely popular and affordable, and thus our primarily meals while in the country. It was frustrating and it felt ungrateful- like sitting inside on a sunny day or sleeping through a symphony. We might as well pop into McDonalds and be done with it.
That’s why, when we first walked into a French supermarket my eyes nearly popped out of my head. If I couldn’t eat gourmet meals at least I could TRY some of the foods that make France famous. Crusty french bread, a huge array of cheeses, chocolates and bottles of wine for 3 Euros.
Lucky for us our cozy hostel in Marseille, Vertigo Viex-Port, had not one but two lovely kitchens. Clearly everyone else at the hostel had already figured out the secret as I observed lovingly prepared steaks, fig and goat cheese salads and more. Self-catering was the way to go, clearly.
Still, I only have so much willpower: I can only eat so many ham and brie sandwiches while strolling past sumptuous restaurants before I have to give in. I mean, how can you go to France and not sample any traditional french cooking?
So, just a handful of times, we braced ourselves and ate at a restaurant. On the suggestion of the friendly front desk employees we tried a tiny local restaurant up the street from our hostel specializing in Provencal dishes. For 20 euros each (not too painful) I got a steak, a slice of quiche, a baked potato and crusty bread. Dessert was yogurt drenched in honey. All of it so simple and so breath-takingly amazing. We devoured it like starving people.
Then there was the all organic garden restaurant down by the harbor (another hostel recommendation). A bit costlier but a hearty and immensely filling meal of yellow polenta, cabbage and rich stewed beef.
It was worth biting the bullet for a delicious meal, but at the end of the week I felt, well disappointed. Trying local dishes is such an important part of travel for me, it’s why I thought of Eat The World, and it really pained me that it was so cost prohibitive to do so.
Is there a less expensive way to sample real french food? Or is that simply the reality of travel in France? I would love to hear some reader input.
Special Thanks to Vertigo Vieux-Port hostel and HostelWorld for hosting us.