Eating Cheaply in Paris: Yes, It's Possible!

When my older sister first went to Paris a couple of decades ago, she came back with horrifying stories of how expensive it was to eat in what is now one of my favorite cities.  She talked of eating gas station pizza slices—even while her husband was on a business trip and could afford to expense a part of their meal!  Extravagantly expensive—and not very good—Chinese food was something she found difficult to stomach (in all senses), especially since she lived in Los Angeles, a haven for cheap and excellent Asian food.

Since Will went through Paris as a college student eating mostly bread and water, with the occasional splurge for cheese, we were prepared for how expensive the city would be even on our first trip there together.  In June, on our latest visit to Paris, we had the added unfair comparison of having come straight from walking in rural Spain.  After 5 weeks on the Camino, we could depend on a cup of café con leche to cost us the fairly narrow range from 90 cents to 1.30 euro.

Then, we flew to Paris.  While we waited to check into our short-term rental apartment—better deal than hotels—we walked down to the nearest café.  Talk about sticker shock!  A cup of café crème was 4.40.  Will settled on beer instead for the same price.  When we were staying in the more expensive Rue Cler area years ago, we had coffee out at least once every day.  During this our most recent two-week stay in the north Marais neighborhood—a trendy and hip but not necessarily the most expensive Paris district!—we ended up ordering coffee only twice more.  Once for 3.80 and once for 5.20 (yes, euros!, yes, per small cup!).

So, yes, we realize Paris is very expensive.  But we also found ways to circumvent this beautiful city’s attempt to bankrupt us.  Enter city markets!  We were staying half a block away from the oldest food market in Paris, Le Marché des Enfants Rouges.  (The market first started in 1615, and in case you’re wondering why the market is named after “red children,” it’s got something to do with area orphanages historically dressing kids in red.)  Its proximity was great, and we did enjoy the lamb tagine with almonds and prunes, but the market was still quite expensive.  Think about a very bustling and upscale Whole Foods, except make it three times more expensive because it’s in Paris.  As you can see by the picture above, everything is beautifully presented and in a pristine and picture-perfect “French market” setting—perhaps because it really is…

Later in our trip, we took the metro over to the area near the Eiffel Tower and went to the twice-weekly HUGE market there.  So much stuff, so many different stands just lined up on both sides for blocks!  Possibly because there were so many vendors, prices were cheaper as well.  We bought a dressy blouse for me, some t-shirts for family members, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats, desserts!

Then, and this is the best part, you bring all that stuff back to your place—hopefully one that has a table and chairs and cutlery—and spread it out and feast to your heart’s content.  What a great way to spend a Sunday in Paris!


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