If you followed me on Instagram (aeh59) while I was in Paris, you would be excused if you thought the only thing I did was eat. Of course, I did quite a bit more than eat but it is, after all, Paris, where food is an art just as much as the museums. And just like the museums, it should be celebrated and appreciated and remembered. Thus, many food shots on Instagram. (I found it much less intrusive to use the camera on my iPhone to snap a quick picture than it is to haul out my dSLR camera and the phone photos were quick to upload to Instagram)
I love the cafe culture in Paris. There are cafes on every corner, spilling out onto the sidewalks, furnished with tiny round tables and classic cafe chairs (each cafe having their own unique chair pattern and color). Outdoor seating is the norm in almost all weather – awnings to protect from the sun, plastic curtains to shield from the rain, giant heaters suspended from the ceiling to ward off the cold. There is indoor seating as well, of course, but outdoors is preferred (also, you can still smoke at the outdoor seats!)
In the mornings the cafes are open for petit dejenur (breakfast). Breakfast for Parisians is a cup of espresso, drunk while standing at the bar but many cafes in the tourist areas also offer a full or “American” breakfast – ham, eggs, juice, coffee, croissants. Delicious.
The cafes really start to come to life at lunch, filling up with business people, shoppers and tourists. There is a bit of a lull in the afternoon (although it is perfectly acceptable to spend hours at a cafe nursing a cup of coffee; there is no pressure to leave) and then in the early evening things pick up again. Office workers meet up with friends for a drink, lingering over conversation. Parisians eat late (well, late for someone who grew up in a farm culture!) and finish with coffee.
There is no tipping required – you simply pay your bill and bid your waiter bon nuit. In my experience, the waiters were almost always thoughtful, attentive and friendly and truly seemed to care that you had a good experience. The food at the cafes is simple and traditional and, in my opinion delicious. Lots of fresh ingredients, in-season vegetables and fruits, always accompanied by bread which was likely delivered from the neighborhood bakery in the past couple of hours (more than once I’ve been in a cafe when one of the workers would come rushing in with a delivery of fresh bread)
I ate a lot of salads and quiches and omletes, lots of fish and ham, lots of cheese and bread. Prices are very reasonable and portions are generous. And as good as the food is – and it’s very good – the best part may be the people watching. It’s a not-to-be-missed Parisian experience as rich as any museum.