Specialty shops are what make Paris so special for food lovers. Artisans specialize in one thing and they do it well. As a result, Paris is brimming with specialty shops. Seemingly all of the artisans beautifully present their wares in the shop windows and in the bins and trays behind the counter. Each general type of specialty shop has its own name written across the top of the facade or on awnings – advertising the products of its special artisan.
These specialty shops are the places Parisians shop every day. In the mornings and after work, lines form out the doors at the good ones. Unlike us in the United States, many locals do not have a pantry or buy in bulk. So, they go shopping each day for food – freshly made, delicious, real food. Generally, what they purchase that day is what they eat that day.
Neighborhood shops make this system work. Each little neighborhood has its own butcher, baker, produce seller, pastry maker, cheese shop and some even have a milk store. Larger stores and supermarkets have provided locals with more one-stop shopping alternatives. But, the neighborhood specialty shops are still there. Surviving, and hopefully thriving.
Here are places that you will see on your visit to Paris. You may want to stop in on off hours because it can be stressful with lots of people in front of you. More in line behind you. All wanting to order and to pay and speaking in French – fast! Keep in mind that many will close at lunch time.
Boulangerie is a bakery. Boulanger is the baker. You will see both on the outside of these specialty shops for bread. The wall behind the counter of a boulangerie will be lined with baskets full of all shapes of breads. And, those baguettes, loaves and boules (round loaves) are made from a variety of grains. White, whole-grain, rustic, country-style, seeded and non-seeded, some with swirls and twirly parts sticking out that look like leaves. Along with flour and water and yeast breads, you can also find buttery breads such as croissants and brioche. Some boulangeries even offer sandwiches, quiches, open-faced sandwiches and the like.
Patisserie is a pastry shop and the word for the delightful creations inside. Patissier is the person who make the patisserie. Both names could be used on the sign outside of these specialty shops. Think cakes, desserts, sweets and fruit concoctions. But, that really does not describe the amazing wonders that await inside a Patisserie. Behind the protective glass there are so many colors, shapes and sizes. Each one more tempting than the next. Talk about eye candy!! One photo can definitely say a thousand words about the pleasures of patisserie. But, just wait for the flavors when you try some in real life.
Charcutier is the person who makes charcuterie. Charcuterie is the preserved pork and fowl products made by the charcutier. It is also the name of these specialty shops selling charcuterie. You will see signs for “charcuterie” or “charcutier.” Just know that when you go inside, you will find hams, bacon, sausages, terrines, rillettes, patés, confits and all kinds of other delicious goodies for picnics – or dinner. Buy some bread from the boulangerie to go along with your charcuterie, and you will be set.
Traiteurs offer freshly prepared foods that are taken away to eat. These specialty shops can be French – with products like a roasted potatoes, a duck leg and vegetarian dishes. Or, maybe salads, some cold meats and a box of appetizer bites. Maybe you prefer to eat Italian with pasta salads and meat balls. What about Mediterranean grape leaves and hummus? You will even see lots of Traiteurs offering Chinese stir-fry dishes and/or Japanese sushi. Also, you can see any combination of these at Traiteurs.
Boucherie is the butcher shop. And, you guessed it, the boucher is the butcher. Unless you have an apartment, you probably will not be buying meat to cook. However, salivating over what you could cook is worth a few minutes looking through the glass of these specialty shops. Notice the cuts of meat, whole birds with heads and feet, in winter whole deer hanging from the ceiling – all displayed for inspection.
The boucherie may also have roasting chickens out in front. You will see these lovelies turning behind glass-fronted rotisseries on the sidewalks. And, your nose will thank you for the treat once you get close. These are always a delight for a lunch back in the hotel room or to tote along on a picnic.
Fromage = cheese, so a fromagerie is a cheese shop. And, thank goodness for them. You can smell the pungent aromas from outside, but go in for a real nose full of earthy smells. The selection will amaze your eyes and your taste buds. Even without knowing much about cheese, you can point to one that looks good to you. Then, use your fingers to indicate how much you want – a little, a lot or something in between. The cheese monger will show you with the knife or wire cutter how much will be cut beforehand so you can approve. You can also find all kinds of cheese accompaniments at some of these specialty shops.
Sometimes known as a BOF (beurre (butter), oeufs (eggs) and fromage (cheese)), these deliciously fatty specialty shops are absolutely over the top. Full of crazy-rich concoctions and pure milk products, they are definitely a dear Parisian institution. If you are lucky enough to see the word above a shop window, stop in and patronize this scarcity.
Fresh produce is sold at marchés (markets). You will notice a marché when you see the pyramids of oranges and apples and baskets of luscious currants and apricots – or whatever is in season. DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING. Just look at the sign with “Ne Touchez Pas” written on it. That means, “don’t touch.” You risk a swift scolding if you pick up any produce.
Follow the French etiquette. Ask the attendant and point to what you are interested in. The attendant will pick it up and give it to you to inspect. Then, after you are satisfied, the attendant will present your produce to the person who will ring you up when you are ready to leave. Don’t rush it. Enjoy the theater of shopping like a local.
In Paris you can find bottles and bottles of wine at wine stores. WHAT??? Yes, you can! The name of the proprietor may be the largest writing on the facade or the awning. But, also look for the words “Vins” (wine), “Champagnes” (same word in English!) and even “Spiriteux” or “Alcools” (both mean spirits). Plus, you may see wine displayed in the window (a sure give away). All pretty easy to understand. And, they all mean that the joint sells alcohol. In bottles and ready to be purchased, placed in your satchel and taken on a picnic or back to your room.
Food-to-Go/Eat on the Street
Find a park bench to sit on to enjoy your street food. Snacks and light meals are easier on a park bench. They are not as messy, plus it is way more enjoyable than walking and eating and bumping into people and spilling your drink….
Near Place Saint-Michel, you will find all kinds of street food. Pizzas are piled high in the windows for you to choose the one you want. Then the cook throws it in an oven to heat it and hands it to you to eat while piping hot. Grab a bottle of water or soft drink at the same time. If you are looking at the fountain with St. Michael slaying the dragon, to the left you will find narrow medieval streets lined with restaurants. Nearly all of these restaurants have windows selling food to go.
You can find fresh roasted lamb or chicken shawarma, served in a pita with yogurt sauce and salad or french fries. All wrapped up in a tidy little foil package and ready to take to your park bench. You can also find a variety of other foods, including hamburgers, hot dogs, crêpes as well as a lot of Mediterranean dishes like couscous, kebabs, etc…. I think only tourists go here, but hey, that is what we are. It is inexpensive fare that I always enjoy and one of the few places to get a feel for Paris before Haussmann.
At tourist landmarks, truck/cart vendors offer a variety of foods. Only if you are about to fall out from hunger would I recommend eating from here. There are many better opportunities. And, you will probably be disappointed. Unless it is a crêpe or ice cream or candy bar, don’t do it.
Satisfy your craving with a crêpe. All types of savory and sweet crêpes – a meal or a snack, or both. Nothing says you can’t have a ham and cheese, then a Nutella for dessert!!!
These would hardly qualify as a specialty shop for Parisians, but everyone needs a mini market from time to time. They may not be any wider than a narrow door, but they have cold bottled water, a piece of fruit, maybe flowers for your room, or sell packs of cookies – if you really need a pick me up. Their awnings and signs will describe them in various ways, including “Alimentation” or “Marché” or in English words we know, like “Superette.” Many of these are open on Sundays – read, practical life saver!
While walking around Paris you are bound to run into street markets. They are held weekly in the same locations. Each market has a different theme. If you happen to run into food market, many will have vendors from all of these specialty shops who set up a complete storefront. Very impressive for a pop up. (Maybe these were original pop ups???) Street markets are definitely fun for food lovers – and for non food radicals alike.
Rather do all your shopping in one place?
Le Grand Épicerie de Paris or the Food Halls of Printemps
The displays are more beautiful than you can imagine. And prices to match that beauty. But, if you want a one-stop, eye-popping shop for bread, pastry, desserts, charcuterie and a little international food mixed in, visit one of the department stores. The websites ooze money. Le Grand Épicerie de Paris, next door to Le Bon Marché. How about a chocolate sandwich on break at Printemps?
Monoprix and Franprix
Budget-friendly markets with produce, bottled water (and other beverages), packaged cookies, heat and eat meals, frozen foods and pretty much everything else that can sustain you. You can even shop for souvenirs at the same time!