While the rest of the population hails France as being the ultimate foodie destination, vegans are often left bereft at the thought of yet another bare baguette. In a country where eating cheese is almost a religion, meat is seen as an essential element of any meal, and the yoghurt aisle of your local supermarket is so long it could double up as a small town landing strip – being a vegan in France can seem like an uphill battle.
My husband and I made the decision to adopt a plant-based diet around 6 months before we moved to France.
Just as veganism was hitting the mainstream in New Zealand, France, on the other hand, still had its head firmly stuck in the sand.
I’d experienced a taste of being a vegetarian in France during previous travels, and it didn’t leave me full of hope. Between being served a plate of plain pasta at a Michelin-starred restaurant, to finding lardons (ham) in my salade végétarienne – I knew I was going to be up for a challenge if I wanted to not just survive, but enjoy living in France as a vegan.
Attitudes to Veganism in France
While the large majority of French are very firmly in the meat and cheese eating camp, in the 2 and a bit years we’ve been living in France, I’ve seen the sands slowly start to shift. Naturally, Paris has been more progressive than the rest of the country when it comes to vegan eateries and attitudes. And it is starting to filter through to the rest of the country.
A nationwide vegan movement has started to gain momentum, but not always with the right consequences.
As with everything the French do, they do it with a healthy dose of passion. But lately, an unhealthy trend has seen animal activists getting a bit heavy-handed with their message in Paris, where butcheries are increasingly vandalised and butchers threatened.
While I see the benefit of peaceful protests and cube of truth demonstrations, I don’t believe violence is an effective way of getting a message – that is ultimately about peace for all – across to the masses. And it adds to the unfair attitude towards vegans that we’re all a bunch of hot-headed fanatics.
But I digress.
For the large part, the worst you’ll get if you tell someone in France that you’re a vegan is a blank stare, a look of confusion, or an attitude of indifference. Oftentimes, people are genuinely interested as they can’t fathom how one survives without eating animal products, or indeed, why you’d want to!
Tips on Surviving in France as a Vegan
General attitudes aside, it’s entirely possible to survive France as a vegan – even outside of the big cities! Whether you’re heading to France for a holiday and worried about how you’ll fare, or you’re thinking about making the move more permanent, here are my insider tips for being a vegan in France – and why you needn’t worry!
Eating out as a Vegan in France
The biggest fear many vegans travelling to France have is how they’ll manage when it comes to eating out. And it’s a valid concern. Not only do you have to deal with un-vegan friendly menus, but you somehow have to get your desires for an animal-free meal across in another language. It’s enough to make many a vegan tremble in their faux-leather boots.
But with a few tricks up your sleeve, eating out in France as a vegan doesn’t have to mean side salads and fries!
How to find vegan-friendly eateries in France
Although rare, especially in rural areas, vegan cafes and restaurants do exist in France. They’re becoming more popular in larger cities, and with a little help, it’s not hard to sniff them out. Try these methods for starters:
- Happy Cow. If you’re a travelling vegan, do yourself a favour and download the Happy Cow app now. I use it everywhere in the world for finding vegan-friendly eateries. You can search by location, or enable geotracking and let the app find your nearest options for vegan eats!
- Ask on local vegan Facebook groups. Why not ask the locals? Suss out any national, or local vegan Facebook groups and ask people for their recommendations on places to eat around the country. Look up “English speaking vegans in France” or “Veggies and vegans in France” for English-speaking local vegans. Or if you speak French, type “vegans” and the name of the city you’re travelling to in the search bar to see if there are any local groups to join.
- Google it. This seems obvious, if you’re unfamiliar with French you may not think of simply typing ‘vegan food in..’ in English in your search bar. But more often than not, it’ll bring back some worthy results.
- Try Tripadvisor. Did you know there is an option to filter restaurants by whether they have a vegan option on TripAdvisor? Neither did I until recently, but it’s a fab way to find restaurants in any city.
- Turn to other cuisines. There aren’t a lot of accidentally-vegan dishes in French cuisine (as seen below), so sometimes the easiest option is to turn to other nationality’s offerings instead. Italian, Turkish, Asian and African dishes are all naturally a little more vegan-friendly.
How to veganify popular French foods
Here are a few french staples that are accidentally vegan, and some that can be made vegan with a few small tweaks.
- The humble baguette. Yep, this French food staple is vegan. Thank goodness.
- Croissants. While you may not find vegan croissants in the boulangerie, many supermarkets stock accidentally vegan versions of this popular pastry. Just look for the ones made with ‘huile de tournesol’ (sunflower oil) and avoid the avec beurre versions.
- Sorbet. You’ll be thankful for this one come summer! Most ice cream stands have a large selection of sorbet which has been a godsend for my ice cream loving son (and his ice cream loving parents!).
- Ratatouille. This dish from the South of France is one of the rare dishes that is entirely vegan – entirely by accident! So you can chow down on this classic dish as much as you like.
- Pizza. Ok, so pizza should really be under the Italian section, but as far as I can tell (if the number of pizza vans/shops in every village are anything to go by) the French adore their pizzas. Simply ask for a vegetarian pizza “sans fromage” and you’ve got yourself a vegan pizza! Another nifty bonus is that when you order pizza in France, it almost always comes with a sachet, or bottle if you’re eating in, of sauce piquante – a chilli infused oil that makes even the plainest of pizzas taste amazing, and combats any cheese-deficit dryness.
- Salad. This one won’t win any awards for originality, but at a push, a salad can do just fine for lunch. Ask for a salade végétarienne (sans fromage, sans oeufs) – with the dressing on the side if you’re unsure of its ingredients. Then drizzle some olive oil over the top, et voila, you have yourself a vegan meal.
Types of restaurants where you’re more likely to find vegan menu items (intentionally or not)
In time, we’ve learned there are certain types of restaurants that are better to bypass. And likewise, there are those in which we know we’ll find a vegan option or two. The latter normally involves looking past traditional French cuisine, and instead to other global foodie influences.
- Japanese. Sushi is a staple for us when eating out. Luckily, our son loves it, so it’s always his first pick of where to eat anyway. Just be aware – the French do have a weird habit of adding mayonnaise and sometimes even cheese to their vegetarian sushi – so it’s best to clarify before ordering.
- Indian. The Indian restaurants we’ve been to in France haven’t been amazing – they tend to tone down the flavours a lot to cater to the French palate. So if you like your curry spicy, you need to ask for it hot! Also, check that they don’t use ghee in the dish you’re ordering.
- Moroccan. A vegetable tagine makes for a delicious vegan meal if you can find a Moroccan restaurant on your travels.
- Italian. Apart from the obvious choice of pizza (minus the cheese), many Italian restaurants will also serve a simple tomato-based pasta, or try my favourite – spaghetti aglio e olio!
- Turkish. Kebab shops can be found in most French towns of a reasonable size. Order a falafel kebab – just watch that the falafel isn’t made with egg.
- Ethiopian. Ethiopian food is generally very vegan-friendly, and amazing! But a little harder to come by in France unless you’re in a city.
- Vietnamese. Vietnamese food is typically heavy on the meat, but there are several dishes that lend themselves well to the vegan diet. Try a papaya salad, spring rolls, or a classic spicy tofu chilli dish.
- Thai. Our local Thai restaurant doesn’t have a single vegetarian menu item, let alone vegan. But I have found amazing vegan Thai food on menus around the country – so just do you research before you go.
– Ordering Coffee in France
For all you coffee addicts out there – sorry, but you’re going to have to get used to taking your coffee black! I’m yet to find a ‘regular’ French cafe with any cow milk alternatives on the menu. Like I said above, vegan-friendly cafes do exist, but if you’re outside of the main centres you’ll be out of luck.
I was a bit of a coffee aficionado before moving to France, so as you can guess, the first thing I do when I step foot in another country (sometimes, if I’m lucky, before I even leave the airport!) is order a large almond latte!*
*And as a responsible vegan, I always make sure to have my KeepCup on hand.
– Eating Vegan on the Road
One thing to be aware of when travelling in France as a vegan is that if you’re driving long distance, you’re going to want to take some vegan eats with you! The service stations on the motorway seem to be slower than average with catering for a range of diets and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than crisps and a packet of Oreos to nibble on.
Another thing to note is the standard eating times. Outside of very touristic areas, you’ll struggle to find anyone serving lunch past 2.30pm and anyone serving dinner before 7pm! And most supermarkets are also closed on Sundays, so stock up on Saturday just in case.
Shopping as a Vegan in France
If you’re staying in France for a while, or you’ve booked self-catering holiday accommodation, you’ll be able to take advantage of the amazing farmers’ markets and bio (organic) shops throughout the country.
It’s very much part of the French way of life to visit the farmers’ markets throughout the week to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies. Every village (of a certain size) has a weekly market, and they alternate days so you won’t have to venture far to find a market on any day of the week.
If you’re in a larger town or city, you’ll find they often have daily markets. It’s the best place to buy seasonal produce, as well as other goodies like bakery goods, deli items, and occasionally bulk grains.
French supermarkets don’t generally have a huge range of vegan goods. But they are the cheapest place to buy vegan milk, yoghurts, dark chocolate, hummus (watch out for added milk or cheese!) bulk nuts and grains, and staples like pasta and noodles. Most supermarkets will have a decent sized organic section too, and the allergens aisle is often stocked with vegan-friendly finds.
While I have found things like tofu and mock meats in the supermarket, the ones I’ve tried leave a lot to be desired! You’re better off heading to your nearest organic shop to find ready-made vegan goods.
The organic movement is huge in France, so you’ll find organic shops (magazin bio) easily. All the stores I’ve tried have had a good selection of tofu and seitan products, plus they’re generally just amazing for nuts, grains, milk, parmesan-free pesto, vegan treats, even raw cakes!
Oh – and they’re the only place I’ve found sriracha sauce in France!
France has some great online vegan stores. My favourite, The Vegan Shop, sells the most incredible artisan nut-cheeses that taste just like the real deal.
Some other online shops include:
- Boutique Vegan – A mega vegan store where you’ll find anything and everything! Based in Germany, but ships to France.
- Un Monde Vegan – Well stocked online shop as well as two real-world stores in Paris and Lyon.
- Naturalia – Their online store isn’t strictly vegan, but they do have a good range. They’ve also recently opened their fourth vegan supermarket in Paris!
- Graine de Vegan – French online vegan shop that’s well stocked with all the essentials – everything from baking goods, to baby products.
- Veggie Shop 24 – An online shop based in Bavaria that ships throughout Europe.
Vegan Fashion in France
This is where I admit that I haven’t made a massive effort to seek out vegan clothing and shoe manufacturers in France. The French website Vegan Pratique has you covered here though, with their thorough list of vegan-friendly clothing and accessories shops.
My favourite international vegan accessories brand, Matt & Nat not only make beautiful wallets, handbags and shoes, they also do their bit for the environment by using eco-friendly fabrics. Plus their linings are made from recycled plastic bottles – how cool is that?
Shop my favourite Matt & Nat looks here
Raising Kids Vegan in France
Bringing your vegan kids to France for a holiday is one thing, but what’s it like living here with little vegans? Although there’s plenty of evidence to support veganism as a healthy diet for growing kids, French medical practitioners, in general, aren’t open to the idea.
You’ll also have a hard time in public schools, where lunches are catered, and always contain meat and/or dairy. The only options for vegan parents with school-aged children is to either pick your kids up and take them home for lunch every day or get a medical certificate to allow your child to take a packed lunch.
Private, or semi-private schools sometimes allow a bit more flexibility. Some, such as the first French school our son attended, don’t cater lunch at all, so every child had to bring their own. And some offer a bit more flexibility around catered menus. Steiner schools routinely offer vegetarian lunches as standard and can often be accommodating to the vegan diet.
Being a vegan in France can present challenges, and often some frustrations, but it’s absolutely doable! I hope this guide has given you some ideas for thinking outside of the box when it comes to visiting France as a vegan. One thing is for sure, when you do find amazing vegan food in France, you’ll appreciate it all the more!
Happy travelling x
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