If we’ve learned anything from Emily (you know the one), it’s that there’s a gap between our expectations and reality in Paris. For some, it’s coping with the smell of urine on the streets. For others, it’s learning to avoid iPhone snatchers. For me—and likely you, if you’re reading this—it’s learning how to not murder our insides while visiting the land of bread, cheese, and more cheese.
After all, Paris isn’t exactly the place to wing it. I *highly recommend* coming up with even a semblance of a game plan, because really, is there anything worse than your stomach acting up while waiting to get into the Louvre? I think not.
I won’t lie, though: going out to eat in France can be challenging. Since moving here, I have fantasized about meals on my next trip outside the country because local options make me sad. But eating well is doable, especially in Paris. To help, I’ve selected some of my done-tried-and-loved cafes, patisseries, and restaurants with surplus options for the niche stomach— no sad one-option-per-menu places.
As Marie Antoinette once said, “Let them eat vegan, non-dairy, gluten-free cake.”
Petite Dejeuner? No, We Do Our Breakfasts Big
When traveling, I believe in front-loading your daily carbs. I don’t care that French people don’t really do breakfast beyond maybe a pastry and coffee. I don’t want you to feel dizzy speed walking 10,000 steps between the Louvre and an obscure vintage shop. In that vein, Café Mareva offers a brunch feast to start your day.
With inconspicuous signage, you’d have no idea this minimalist cafe has its gluten-and-lactose-free ethos until you’re cozy inside with a menu. And once you become familiar with that menu, love hearts will form in your eyes. For once, you don’t need to skim past the waffles and pancakes. They are all yours! The menu doesn’t list all ingredients, so you might need to prod staff if your belly’s more complex. But, let me tell you—that avocado waffle makes the most of its savory flavor profile. C’est parfait!
And if you really want a typical French start to your day, go to VG Pâtisserie for some vegan, organic and mostly gluten free products. I wouldn’t visit unless it fits around your plans (my undertone, in case you missed it: it was just ok). However, you could get a croissant to-go and weep by the graves of famous people at the nearby Père Lachaise Cemetery.
How Do You Lunch In France? Take Your Time
If you broke the French breakfast code with my recommendation above, you could balance the scales with a more local approach to lunch.
Until 2021, the French labor code prohibited workers from eating lunch in the workplace. Shoveling down a 9-euro salad at your desk is a faux pas. As a visitor to the city, whether you’re strolling down a street or already in a cafe, you will see an influx of workers around midday, settling in for a good yarn with a friend or coworker.
Taking a long-ish mid-day meal is the norm. You won’t be rushed to head on and free up your table once you have finished eating, either. I point this out because it’s a time block you need to build into a busy day of sightseeing.
Aujourd’hui Demain makes the ideal place to dedicate this affection to lunch. Again, it’s a little unassuming from the outside and not somewhere you’d stumble on. If you seek it out, you’ll find yourself in a buzzing, contemporary capsule of chatty young people, seemingly far from the awkward boomers and school-aged kids of tourist crowds (no hate, but it’s nice to rub shoulders with your demographic).
The brunch-style dishes are colorful and fibrous. Unlike most places in France, vegans don’t only exist but take center stage. With their mindfulness of dietary needs, many menu items are also gluten-free, with other allergens like soy and mustard listed, and several options no matter your belly curse. As a vegan establishment, all food is lactose-free (you can also stock up in the adjoining vegan grocer, clothing, and art store). And I can guarantee: it’s delicious and worth gauging while you gas-bag with your travel companion.
Where To Find Your Le Goûter (Afternoon Snack) Croissant
Once your lunch has digested, you can finally devour the jewel of French life: the croissant. And why not pair this with another quintessential cultural experience? Le goûter, the name of the snacktime that falls around 4pm.
Head to Copains for a rare gluten-free croissant in Paris, located in a busy shopping area in the 2nd arrondissement. This bakery looks like a gallery with its delicately lined pastries and viennoiseries on clean shelves labeled with fancy, feminine names. Their concept is creative, with an articulate passion for diverse diets tied in with the classicism and pride of French baking. Rarely do aesthetics and dietaries meet like this. It’s sexy, with cute tote bags to boot. But get in early—they sell out fast— and purchase a box of treats to enjoy over your time in Paris.
On a side note, you might have seen a flurry of TikToks of American tourists in Europe this summer exclaiming they could eat bread again without issue—and they’re not entirely wrong. France’s flour does contain lower levels of gluten proteins, especially the most refined kinds used in pastries, cakes, and brioche, compared to its US counterparts. If you are only slightly sensitive to gluten, you can try your luck in a regular boulangerie. But don’t hold me accountable (I guinea pigged this theory and can have half a pain au chocolat a fortnight without consequences).
As a solid backup, head to Yummy And Guiltfree. Despite the cringe name, you’ll find this Paris waffle joint praised by many.
Where To Wine And Dine Yourself In Paris At Night
Time to unwine-d, or pregame, at the scandy-cross-70s-styled La retraite. Come here if you have the resolve for a menu without clearly-outlined allergens. The place is small with table service. In other words, it’s easy to chat about your dietary requirements.
I have suggested it in this guide, even though not as accessible as the places above, as you deserve to enjoy a vibey Parisian dinner with good vino.
La retraite keeps to the simplicity of French cooking philosophies with some surprising cameos, like their use of sesame and chili suggesting Mexican and Asian influences. You can mix and match the small, freshly prepared plates, curated with legumes and charcuteries, according to your wants and needs.
With room to fit around 30, it’s best to book your seat in this nook. And you can settle in because this is a wine bar more than it’s a dinner spot (but two-in-one if you do it right). Lucky for you, French wine has minimal intervention in its creation, making it a bit softer on the stomach. To veer on the safe side, La retraite also offers some sulfite-free wines. Ah, getting wine drunk without your stomach crying. The bliss.
Some Final Words Of Advice
To talk about your food intolerances with a French speaker, say ‘ne mange’ or ‘sans’ with the food item, like ‘ne mange gluten’ (do not eat gluten) or ‘sans gluten’ (without gluten). To emphasize or reiterate, say, “Je suis allergique.”
Avoid tourist trap areas. As they aren’t desperate for your business, they won’t have much incentive to try to feed you. However, with the venues above, they really do care about your experience. I ate at all of them across one day, and while I did have a bit of a stomach ache at the end, it was worth every bite.
One more thing: the stress of wrangling with dietary politics all day can suck the fun from exploring Paris. Can I suggest a simple in-between? If it becomes overwhelming, take your time finding your “safe” foods at a supermarket, then picnic by the Seine. It’s a vibe, and you won’t miss out as long as you’re feeding yourself and enjoying Paris (I sound cliche AF, but it really is that fab).
Featured Image courtesy of Getty Images.