vegan French vacation

Voyages Véganes: Exploring French Cuisine While on Vacation

For the discerning vegan traveler, navigating France’s gastronomic landscape may seem daunting. After all, the country is renowned for its buttery pastries, an extraordinary array of cheeses and iconic meat-based dishes such as the boeuf bourguignon. Add to that a love of offal and charcuterie-laden apéros, and it’s clear why vegans may be left wondering what’s in it for them. Fear not, however. Despite the fact that less than 1% of the population is végane (or ‘végétalien/ne’), with a little planning, you’ll discover that the country offers plenty to keep the taste buds tantalized—sans produits d’origine animale.

Eating Out

One of the delights of visiting France (or any country, for that matter) is savoring its food traditions and regional specialties. While it’s true that as vegans we can’t just drop into the village brasserie and order the menu du jour, the number of vegan restaurants is growing, and many chefs are adding vegan dishes to their repertoire or willing to think out-of-the-box to accommodate us. 
A good place to start is the Happy Cow website and app, which lists vegan eateries (with reviews) in more than 180 countries. Bear in mind that you’re more likely to find extensive options in larger cities, with Paris, of course, trumping the list. In fact, you’ll find more than 80 exclusively vegan addresses to satisfy your cravings in the French capital, whether that be for flaky, golden viennoiserie, traditional French desserts, or a well-orchestrated three-course menu paired with a fine selection of wines. At VG Pâtisserie, for example (the city’s first vegan pâtisserie fine, located on Boulevard Voltaire), you can indulge in classics such as the flan parisienmacaronsmadeleinestartelettes au citron and more. A great place for traditional pastries or sandwiches made with artisanal baguettes is Land&Monkeys. You’ll find five addresses across the city, not to mention a vegan version of the legendary jambon beurre (or sandwich parisien) on the menu! 
But even if your trip is taking you outside the major cities and into la France profonde, Happy Cow’s map will point you in the right direction, especially if you expand your search by also clicking on ‘veg-options,’ which will include restaurants that aren’t exclusively vegan. Last spring when we visited Thury-Harcourt, a small town in Normandy, I was delighted to discover some excellent dining options in nearby Caen. Among them, Monsieur Louis, brimming with French elegance and situated in the middle of the historic Place Saint-Sauveur. Though they only had one vegan starter and main on the menu, they were happy to provide a beautiful dessert to complete our three-course feast. Remember that most fine dining restaurants will provide vegan options, as long as you mention this when booking.

When it comes to sampling authentic French specialties that are vegan by default, you’ll definitely have an easier time when vacationing in the southeast of the country, where not only will you find an abundance of sun-drenched fruits and vegetables, but also a style of cooking that is lighter, cleaner and favors olive oil over butter. Classics like ratatouille, vegetable tians, pissaladière (without the anchovies) and socca (chickpea pancake) are vegan, and restaurants in this part of the country will include vegetable-based dishes like soups, pies and salads on their menu or have options that can easily be veganized with a few simple tweaks. Just make sure to check if the basis of the dish (for example, a stock or pie crust) is made without animal products.

Finally, don’t overlook the influence of foreign cuisines in France. Many ethnic restaurants, such as Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian, offer a variety of vegan dishes that are both delicious and satisfying. Italian restaurants (and not to forget the pizza vans found on village squares!) are also a great option, as many dishes can easily be veganized.

Embrace Your Inner Chef

While dining out is an essential part of any trip to France, don’t forget that if you have access to a kitchen at your vacation address, you can create your own delicious meal, whether you’re keen on veganizing the classics or simply letting the abundance of the local markets (a must-visit!) inspire you. I highly recommend picking up a copy of the weekly food magazine, Gourmand (usually available by the checkout at most supermarkets). Though it does not feature vegan recipes, it highlights seasonal produce, regional dishes, culinary trends and innovative cooking techniques, providing valuable insights that can be adapted and applied to vegan cooking. Plus, flipping through its pages (even if your French isn’t that great) might just spark some creative ideas for your next plant-based masterpiece. 

Speaking of supermarkets, those in France (especially hypermarchés or Grand Frais stores) are a true paradise for foodies and carry everything you’ll need—from legumes to grains and baking essentials to fresh produce—but if you’re looking for meat and cheese replacements, your best bet is to find a Biocoop near you. This popular chain of organic grocery stores offers a wide selection of vegan products that prove that France is also keeping up with the times. One to look out for is the vegan ‘steak tartare’ from the brand Soy. With some chopped shallots, capers, mustard, crisp bread, a side of frites and a bottle of Merlot, you can easily recreate the indulgent experience of a traditional French bistro meal without sacrificing flavor or authenticity. And what about the ubiquitous French fromage? Back in the 16th century, Renaissance humanist François Rabelais was already evangelizing about the importance of cheese when he referred to it as part of the ‘holy trinity’ of the French table, together with wine and bread. Does that mean that vegans are doomed to bidding adieu to this wonderful French tradition? Allow me to reassure you that the intense happiness of a divine cheese board is definitely not a thing of the past. There are plenty of plant-based cheeses with just as much taste and complexity as the real deal. Don’t believe me? Check out the brands TyK AffinageLes Nouveaux Affineurs and Jay & JoyBonnes vacances!

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