The Problem with French Food

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!

Orangina counts as a local food, right?

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.

Reasonable Splurges

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.

27 thoughts on “The Problem with French Food”

  1. This is one of the main reasons I haven’t gone to France yet – I don’t want to go until I can afford to enjoy everything I want to there! The meals you did go for look absolutely amazing though…I would kill for some simple, delicious food right now!

  2. France is like any other country and unsuspecting tourists will have the same treatment as anywhere else. We will take your money ๐Ÿ™‚

    Seing your pictures you actually ended up in high-end “nouvelle cuisine” restaurants for tourists where ridiculous presentation wins over real food.

    Hints: This is no cabbage, this is Fenouil. The quiche is ridiculous, I loled at it. Steak and potatoes is no French cuisine, this is what we serve children when we are too lazy to actually do some cooking.

    You obviously were in a touristy area, next time get off the beaten path if you want some real French cuisine (same rule as anywhere else).

    1. Ditto. These are typical examples of scam-restaurants targetting naive and trusting, maybe too hungry and hurried, customers…

      And Claude: in English you don’t say “fenouil” but “fennel”, to begin with ๐Ÿ˜‰ (yes, I used a dictionnary, thank you very much)

    2. Wow, sounds like you got robbed. I loved France because – by comparison to Australia – the food was cheap, fresh and delicious.

      Claude is right in his comments about the food too.

      Personally, I ate at cafes and restaurants almost daily with the lunch specials usually coming in at under 12 euros. A sandwich is usually less than 6 euros. Just need to get away from the main streets!

      1. My point is that 12 Euros IS expensive for lunch (not compared of Australia of course). Sandwiches are cheap of course, but one get’s tired of those after awhile…

  3. Oh my gosh some of my FAVORITE French food is street food and cheap food! I adore French food, but I don’t love stuffy restaurants and heavy meat. I also definitely prefer Nicoise and Provencal dishes, which are easier to find–Nicoise salads, pan bagnat sandwiches, petits farcis. In Paris, I live on croque monsiers (ham and cheese grilled sandwiches–a good one is the BEST!), crepes with ham and cheese and egg, quiche lorraines, omelettes. None of that is expensive–it’s all classic bistro or street food, and it’s delicious! And my favorite thing to do in Paris is picnic or pick up things at the market: a rotisserie chicken that smells as good as it tastes and the potatoes that they cook in the juice, fresh veg for a salad, cherries and apples and figs. Yum. Now I’m hungry.

  4. I agree, sometimes when you’re travelling on a really tight budget, you of course want to splurge occasionally and try something new – but it’s such a bummer when the splurge winds up a disappointment. I guess, in places where it’s so expensive to eat out, the best way to try local food would be to go through local families!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Ugh, I hated this when I was in France. Expensive meals in Paris I expected, but the prices in other regions were shocking as well. That said, the food I did eat in restaurants was divine!

  6. I felt the same when I was in Paris some time ago, that’s why I created a “splurge-fund” specifically for food the next time I returned, haha. I had dinner at La Procope once, which is supposedly the oldest cafe in Paris, they had amazing seafood and while it wasn’t cheap, it really was much less expensive than I had expected (โ‚ฌ20 – โ‚ฌ25).

  7. When I studied there, all we can afford was farmer’s market and cheap gyros which isn’t French at all. I too braved the restaurants a few times to experience the food culture but it pains me every time how much dinner can cost. I found lunch pre fix menus to be a great work around this. Friendly on the wallet and still deliciously French. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Problem is, you’ll still be starving after eating a crepe and a macaron, and you just spent nearly 10 Euros (at the time I went, ~$15 CAD). That’s my problem with France.

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