Hungry in France? Wait a minute! Isn’t France all about the food? Isn’t it known for its boulangeries, pâtisseries, cheese, bread, croissants, steak frites, Michelin-star dining? Don’t people go to France for the food? Yes, yes, and yes. There is wonderful food everywhere, as long as you play by the rules.
On one of our first trips to Paris, we woke up late in the morning on account of jet lag and the time difference. We went down to the hotel breakfast room and asked if we could get croissants or breakfast. The distinguished Madame attending the desk replied, “No! Now is not the time for eating. Now is the time for shopping!” Well, OK then. If we must. Shopping it is!
Another evening we found ourselves staring in the window of a restaurant at 5:00 p.m. wondering why it was not open. A kind tourist explained to us that restaurants do not open until 7:00-7:30 p.m. Starvation it is!
On further trips, it didn’t take us long to discover that if we didn’t establish a spot in time for lunch, we were probably going to go hungry. One time we were bicycling our way to a recommended bistrot for lunch only to get lost and not make it before 1:30 to be served. Disappointed and hungry, we decided to cycle to an épicerie (small grocery store) to get some nuts or something to hold us over until 7:30 p.m. only to find that it was closed from the hours of 2:00-4:00. No food now whatsoever, only alcohol or espresso. You can get that any time of the day at cafés. Thank goodness!
Now if you are hoping to eat at a restaurant for dinner and you don’t have a reservation, you better just pray you can get a seat and that there is no sign that says “complet” when you arrive or that the restaurant is not closed that particular day. Otherwise, you will truly understand the meaning of why French women don’t get fat. You can’t get any food!
All kidding aside, we finally have learned to play by the rules and things have run pretty smoothly in recent years. There still is the occasional arriving at a restaurant in the evening to find it is closed and rushing like crazy to the next village hoping that something will be open. By the way, we did make it back to the above mentioned bistrot that we got lost trying to find on bicycle that day, and it was great! We asked the owner what day of the week he was closed because we wanted to return. He responded, “I am always here. I’m never closed.” We went back another day with anticipation, and naturally he was closed.
Thus, some people have asked me, “Why do you keep going back? Why don’t you go somewhere else where you can eat whenever you want and there aren’t so many rules? Well, maybe they haven’t experienced the je ne sais quoi factor of France that makes one want to return, need to return, be willing to forgo food at times just for the extreme joy of being in such a delightful place.