Tag Archives: vegetarian meals in France

A Vegetarian in Paris


In most parts of Europe, it’s a little tricky to be a vegetarian.  This display window in Amsterdam celebrates the joys of pork. My traveling life would be easier if I were a carnivore. I could grab a hot dog anywhere and never slow down.


But in some ways, it’s easier to be a vegetarian in Europe than in the town where I live most of the time. In my Colorado ski-and- ranching town, beef cattle on the hoof turn into beef steaks on the grill when they’re about 18 months old. In these parts, a ranch kid as young as eight commonly chooses and fattens a calf for market for over a year. The child feeds the animal grain and walks it in the fields to develop muscle tissue. In early fall, the child leads the resulting steer, weighing about 1200 pounds, into the show ring at the county fair. The steer wins a ribbon and basks in thunderous applause. Then the child bids a tearful farewell to the animal as it’s sold to the highest bidder.  Local restaurants post photos of the winning animals they’ve purchased. It’s the circle of life here.

I have the greatest respect for ranchers and their traditions. But I just don’t eat meat. When I first moved here, I politely declined a chicken casserole at a community event.  “I’ll just take some rice,” I said. The server gave me a blank look.  “I’m a vegetarian,” I explained.

“But this is chicken!”

“I know,” I said, as people behind me in line fidgeted.  “I don’t eat meat.”

The server was completely mystified.  “But this is chicken!”  She was still shaking her head in disbelief as I walked away with my plate of plain rice.


Obviously I am not much of a foodie, unless being a connoisseur of omelets counts. In Paris, every cafe serves an omelet and no one raises an eyebrow. The humblest establishment can whip up an excellent omelet quickly, and it almost always can be ordered with vegetables.

Ethnic restaurants, Indian or Asian, do have vegetarian items on their menus. But they also tend to have unfamiliar sauces and spices.  I’m reluctant to risk indigestion on a trip. I’m pretty cautious even though the menus are enticing.

So aside from omelets, my fallback, especially in France, is the ever-delicious crepe. In France in particular, entree crepes are made with a substantial buckwheat batter.  They’re called “galettes.” Actually, I’d cheerfully eat galettes or crepes every day if I could.

Crepe with Greens

Crepe with Greens

Crepe with Ratatouille

Crepe with Ratatouille

Of course all these light, healthy meals leave plenty of room for my favorite:

Crepe with Chocolate and Caramel

Crepe with Chocolate and Caramel

In the United States, there was once a chain of restaurants called the Magic Pan which served only crepes.  You could walk in and find all crepes, all the time!  Too bad they’re gone. It’s just one more reason to travel to France every chance I get!


A Meal Lost in the Translation


The photo above shows what happens when I think I understand the language, but I really don’t.  My high-school and college French goes only so far.  In larger cities, most establishments that deal with tourists have someone who can speak English.  In smaller towns in France, it almost seems a point of pride with the locals that they only speak French.

It is not easy to be a vegetarian in Europe, and the language barrier does not make it any easier. One day last fall in the Alsatian town of Colmar, just on the border between Germany and France, I tried to order a vegetarian version of the local favorite: tarte flambee.  It’s more or less a pizza, with little or no tomato sauce. I read the entire menu and questioned the waitress as best I could.  I settled on a tarte  which I thought would be covered with Muenster cheese.  The tarte arrived and I sat staring at it in shock.  It was covered with what looked like about half a pound of shaved ham–very fine ham, but I don’t eat ham.

When I called the waitress back, the entire small restaurant fell silent. Forks hung in midair as locals stared in disbelief at the woman who didn’t want any meat. “Madame,” the waitress exclaimed, “C’est Muenster!”  Meekly, I pushed all the “Muenster-Ham” toward the center and ate around the edges.

All over Europe, it seems that more and more people speak English. I think it is a school requirement in some countries. France seems to be the exception. Granted, the French have a proud cultural heritage they want to protect. I also suspect they don’t want to speak English because they figure that English-speaking visitors will correct their pronunciation or grammar. They are certainly quick enough to correct my French.

I am far from fluent, but I pride myself on getting by. One of my proudest moments as a tourist was the time a French-speaking person in Paris asked me for directions and seemed to understand my answer. At least he went off in direction I pointed.  I just have to make sure I never give anyone menu advice.

Join me next time for more adventures exploring art, history and daily life in Europe!