How to lunch like a Parisian
Nothing evokes typical Paris quite like lunch in a brasserie or an impeccably curated picnic by the banks of the Seine. Suzy Ashford looks at the capital’s lunching traditions and provides three recipes
Lunch in France is sacrosanct, a fundamental part of the French art de vivre, or ‘art of living’ – cue the accordions!
Even Parisian workers, despite the frenzied demands of modern life, typically spend more than 45 minutes eating lunch each day – a stark contrast to other countries, where lunch tends to get demoted to a quick take-out sandwich eaten at a desk in front of a screen (quelle horreur!).
If not eaten at home, lunch in Paris might be taken in a simple cafe: think entrances shaded with slanted awnings of crimson or emerald and sidewalks lined with inviting rows of Art Deco tables and rattan chairs.
Or it could be eaten at a bistro, the bastion of French lunch (usually open from 11am to 3pm), where waiters glide across black-and-white tiles, past walls adorned with vintage posters, to serve customers engrossed in conversations about everything and nothing; these inspiring establishments were a second home for literary heavyweights like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
Brasseries are more lavish, both in setting and fare, with ornate interiors, lofty ceilings, dashingly set tables, leather-backed chairs, mirrored walls and often a pastel fresco of creeping vines or ethereal-looking women surrounded by bursts of flowers.
As breakfast in Paris is light – usually a flaky golden pastry and some fruit and yoghurt – lunch is taken early, typically between noon and 2pm (allowing for plenty of digestion before the ritualistic apéro hour, around 5.30pm).
A typical French lunch consists of a starter (l’entrée), such as a salad, soup, some terrine or pâté, followed by a main course (le plat principal) of meat or fish, and then a cheese course or dessert – a formula that comes in varying degrees of simplicity or extravagance depending on the setting and day.
This style of eating gets the tick from dietitians and proponents of sensible eating habits, but function does not drive its form: the French are known for taking pleasure in eating, rather than regarding food as fuel.
Parisians adore a picnic, and accordingly Paris is a picnic-friendly city. There are plenty of welcoming grassy knolls in parks, wooden benches in historical city squares, ledges by the banks of canals and steps along the river Seine upon which to sit and take your repast.
For visitors, it’s a great way to sightsee and explore the gastronomic wonderland of Paris at the same time: you can flirt with the romantic surroundings of the City of Love while dining on a spread foraged at a local market or, with some planning, some casse-croûtes (small dishes) made at home.
Paris has hundreds of weekly food markets that entice you to eat fresh, locally and well.
The colourful stands tended to by cheerful vendors are stacked with seasonal bounty: in spring find globe artichokes, bunches of rhubarb and sunny apricots; in summer, white asparagus, glossy
eggplant (aubergines) and juicy blueberries; in autumn, wild mushrooms galore, plump grapes and oysters; and in winter, fennel bulbs, bright citrus and crisp pears.
Lunch in Paris presents a selection of classic Parisian lunch dishes inspired by five diverse, enchanting areas of the city. Faites attention! After perusing this collection of recipes and images, you may find yourself booking a ticket to Paris on impulse. As Audrey Hepburn said: ‘Paris is always a good idea.’
A picnic in Place des Vosges
As you take a seat on a wooden bench or the plush lawn at Place des Vosges (pictured below), let your eyes wander.
They’ll follow the peaceful symmetry of the magnificent seventeenth-century redbrick buildings that line the park; they’ll fall on the meticulously manicured gardens, sprouting fountains and converging earthen paths; and they’ll take in the activities of everyday life: groups of friends picnicking, children playing, pigeons dawdling, a local reading a book or napping in the shade of a lush chestnut tree.
As day transitions into night, this view becomes bathed in the glow of a Parisian dusk.
Lamb & potato pies
Ingredients, serves 4
- 500g boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat, and cut into 2cm cubes
- sea salt flakes
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 brown onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 rosemary sprig, finely chopped
- 125ml dry white wine
- 500ml chicken stock
- melted butter, for brushing
- 6 potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
1. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium–high heat. Cooking in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, brown the lamb well, for 8–10 minutes each batch, adding more oil if necessary. Remove the lamb from the pan.
2. Reduce the heat to medium–low, add the onion to the pan and cook for 10 minutes, or until softened and golden, stirring to scrape up any brown bits on the base of the pan. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two.
3. Return the lamb to the pan. Stir in the rosemary and wine, then cook for a few minutes, until the wine has evaporated.
4. Stir in the stock, then cover and simmer for 1–1¼ hours, or until the meat is tender and the liquid has reduced and thickened. At this point you can continue on to make the pies, or chill the mixture overnight in the fridge; the next day, skim off any fat from the top of the lamb mixture.
5. When you’re ready to bake the pies, preheat the oven to 150°C.
6. Brush four 300 ml (10 fl oz) ramekins with melted butter. Line the base of each ramekin with potato slices, then spoon in the lamb mixture. Top with the remaining potato slices, arranging the slices to overlap and cover the filling. Cut out circles of baking paper to fit the ramekins. Brush the paper rounds with melted butter, place buttered side down on the ramekins, then press gently onto the top of the pies.
7. Place the ramekins on a baking tray, then into the oven. Bake for 1 hour.
Goat’s cheese & tomato galettes
Ingredients, serves four
- 2 sheets (about 370g) frozen butter puff pastry
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 350g mixed vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
- 1 red onion, cut into thin wedges
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 25g fresh sourdough breadcrumbs
- 200g soft goat’s cheese
- sea salt flakes
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 handfuls of rocket leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Allow the pastry to partially thaw, then place on the baking trays. Without cutting all the way through, use a small sharp knife to cut a border about 1cm in from the edge of the pastry. Prick the centre area of each pastry sheet lightly with a fork.
3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the tomatoes, onion and sugar and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 3-4 minutes, or until the tomatoes are shiny and the skins begin to split. Drain on paper towel.
4. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the pastry sheets, staying inside the border. Top with the tomato mixture, crumble the goat’s cheese over and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed, well browned and cooked through.
5. Remove from the oven and cool the galettes on wire racks. Serve topped with the rocket. The galettes are best enjoyed the same day.
Calvados, Peychaud’s AND apple punch
Peychaud’s is a kind of cocktail bitters similar to Angostura bitters, but with more pronounced flavours of anise and mint.
In this party-ready punch, the fresh combination of flavours brings to mind the French countryside, with ginger, herbs and spice lifting the sweet-sour apple base.
It’s so good you’ll have to watch your intake lest you tombez dans les pommes (‘fall in the apples’), or pass out from over‑imbibing!
Ingredients, serves 4-6
- 1 red apple, cored and thinly sliced into rings
- handful of mint leaves or sprigs
- 2 tablespoons Peychaud’s Bitters
- 60ml lemon juice
- 100ml Calvados (or brandy)
- 500ml apple cider
- 350ml dry ginger ale, or to taste
1. Fill a large jug one-third full with ice cubes. Add the apple slices, mint, Peychaud’s, lemon juice and Calvados, stirring gently to combine.
2. Pour in the cider slowly, so it doesn’t bubble up and spill over the top.
Add ginger ale to taste, then serve.
Alternatively, this punch can be made in a punch bowl and served with a ladle.