8 Great Vegetarian restaurants in Paris

This is another one of those lists that got stuck in my inbox for a while.

When we were living in Paris, we had a disproportionately large number of Vegetarians visit. We were always happy to see our friends, but it was sometimes a little tricky for them to find good eats. The French are not known to have a strong culture of vegetarianism (some of the things I’ve seen them do to vegetables has been downright shocking).

If you’re pescatarian, or at least ovo-lacto, you’ll always be able to find an option. If you find your diet a little more restrictive, then perhaps some of these options might help.

  • Crepes and Falafal were a staple for our veg friends. For Falafal, either L’as du falafal (a tourist staple) in the Marais, or Maoz (our preference) near St Germain. Crepes are pretty common everywhere, but my favourite place is a street facing vendor near Opera Bastille, on the corner of Rue de la Roquette called Le Bastille.
  • Krishna Bhavan in the 10th is a good bet for Indian food.
  • For Chinese, I’d recommend Tien Hiang. I think that it’s a Buddhist restaurant; they do tasty faux-meat if you’re traveling with a carnivore. There are two locations — the one at 14 Rue Bichat, 75010 is a tad sketchy. I’d go to the one at 170 Rue Du Faubourg, Saint Denis instead.
  • I’ve heard great things about Le Grenier de Notre Dame from a few different folk. They were one of the earliest Vegetarian / Macrobiotic restaurants in Paris, and have a good range of food.
  • There’s an organic pizza place on at #8 Rue Cadet, called Green Pizz, that has really good pizza, and plenty of veg options.
  • La Paradise du Fruit is a chain that should be pretty easy to find. They are a themed restaurant, and everything must contain a fruit of some kind. This lends itself well to vegetarian offerings. In addition to the tasty food, they have killer ice cream sundaes. Feel free to bring your carnivores; this is the only place on the list that has hunk-of-meat options.
  • And finally, the best way to eat Vegetarian in Paris: The markets! We spent a lot of nights enjoying delicious produce from the local markets. There’s never a shortage of tasty cheese, baguette, fruit, pistachios and wine.

There are more options on Happy Cow. These are just the ones that I can personally recommend.

Mostly Moved

On Saturday, we managed to move just about everything from Apartment A to Apartment B – with a quick pass by two intermediary apartments to relieve them of their furniture.

All in all, things worked quite well. We had two friends, and two hired hands helping us out. This is the first time that I’ve hired someone to help me move, and my back would definitely do it again; although, I’d be a little more careful with our timing… a tight timeline led to a little bit of carelessness with some pieces. For the most part we should be able to buff out the problems, and a little bit of glue or drycleaning should resolve the remaining issues.

In any case, we are just about moved. As our appliances won’t arrive until closer June, we’ve opted to continue living in the old apartment for the next few week or so, after which we will make the switch to the new place. During that first week of June, we may be a little incomunicado, depending upon how long it takes to reconnect our internet and phone lines.

Also, if anyone needs the new address, just shoot me an email.

Baby stuff… stuff and more stuff.

This weekend we went to a bi-annual ‘Bring and Buy’ swap meet organized by the English Speaking Mothers group in France.

As we entered the sale room, it was clear that we were in for absolute CHAOS!!

The place was bustling with new and expecting moms, and the parents of toddlers desperately trying to free up space in their teeny parisian apartments. Above the din of screaming children you could hear hundreds of mothers haggling for the best priced booties, prams and nounou’s. Clothes and books and blankies were flying everywhere, and this was at a slow period.

I don’t think I was ready for this.

But, after some careful dodging and negotiation, we did manage to make a pretty decent haul for the prices. In total, we picked up a feeding pillow, a Baby Bjorn carrier, a Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag, a book on baby’s first year, half a dozen (maybe more) organic cotton onesies, a cashmere sweater, 11 packages of curry, and a copy of Charlie Wilson’s War. Total cost: 70 euro. Not bad.

But the the best thing we got was a lesson in just how much stuff you can accumulate in a very short period of time. We were talking with one of the vendors who was quite relieved to be going home with only a small pile – 5ft by 18in by 2 ft – of clothes. That’s right – 15 cubic feet of clothing is a small pile. It seems she came at the beginning of the day with three times that much.

“Wow! That’s a lot of stuff… And how many children do you have?”
“Oh, just the two, a boy and a girl.”

Looking around again we quickly got the sense that children are a great incentive for an un-be-leeve-able amount of useless shopping. We’ve managed to keep our consumerism relatively in check over the last few years, and the thought of owning our combined weight in baby clothes is just terrifying.

I think, the best trick is to set up a good trickle-down system where you find a parent about 9-12 months out of your schedule, and you can pass things down the line as yours outgrows them. We’ve been really lucky on the receiving end of this system so far, having received a crib, a pram, a baby carrier, and a few other bigger ticket items. What we really need is the next person down the line. Two friends of ours just got married this past weekend, and were given a nice long speech by the officiant on the duty of newlyweds to further the development of the French nation via French babies. Maybe with that kind of encouragement we might have a hand-me-down channel in just enough time.

House Hunting in Paris – the good news.

We’ve been looking for a new place for a long time now, and we’re getting better at it. Certainly it helps having some external motivation by means of baby. I think that finding a place really just requires a more French oriented mindset than we had before. That is to say, approaching the problem with a longer view, more patience, better French languages skills and a little bit of flirtatious story telling thrown in for good measure.

So, what do you have to do to actually find an apartment in Paris?

  • Be patient. There are good apartments in Paris, but they appear rarely, and disappear quickly.
  • Be persistent. Look at the listings on various listing services every, single, day. Call when something appears as soon as possible, and don’t be shy about pressuring the agent on the other end.
  • Speak French. If you call and are obviously a foreigner you have a very high chance of being hung up on (this is true for most of the French service industry). Expats make great tenants, but they also make for frustrating conversations. Sarah has been calling the agency for every call, which is paying off in spades. Each time she calls her French is better, and she is way more confident.
  • Save up. It’s expensive, there’s no doubt about it. The French perform most large financial transactions by saving up for a long time, waiting for the right moment (and the perfect product) to come around, and then making a large one time outlay. The feeling is that it’s better to buy the right thing once, than to mess around with several bad options, and that it’s OK to save for when that right day comes.
  • Think about it as an investment – or a vacation. If you are looking for a place for a short time, like a years worth of school, then spend like it’s a vacation. Spend more on an awesome place, or spend less on a crummy place that you know you are going to leave soon anyhow. If you are sticking around, then look for a place as if you will live there for 10 years. Don’t settle for good enough; invest in something that will last.
  • Flirt a little. Maybe this means batting your eyelashes, or maybe it just means telling a joke, or a story, but no matter what, it’s critical that you make a connection. French people are taught from a young age to distrust strangers (a very broadly defined term), and you need to break that stranger barrier if you are going to have the landlords trust you enough that they will rent to you.
  • Bring your dossier. Flirting will get you only so far; you also have to prove that you’re not a deadbeat. This is where the dossier comes in. A good dossier includes photocopies of your identity cards (or passport photos), previous years income tax statements, last 3 pay stubs, utility bills, references, etc. Many people will also ask for a guarantor (which we don’t have) and bank details. It’s basically an invitation for identity theft, so it took us a little bit of getting used to before we could be this open with a total stranger. In retrospect, I’m sure that we lost some great apartments in the past because we had a substandard dossier.

I’m sure there other tips, but these have helped a bunch already. We started our hunt formally about a month ago, and we’ve already been to see three places (well, two, we forgot to bring the address to one of them, so we just had a sandwhich and went home), and put a bid in on one. That might not sound like a lot, but it feels like a big win for me.

To give you an idea on hit percentage, on the first day of searching, two friends and I hit the streets to visit a few agencies and see what they had. Six hours and more than 30 agencies later, I had one listing worth looking at. I offered to leave an information sheet with a few of the agencies, so that they would call me if something came up, but they just looked at my search terms and told me that it was impossible (French for difficult).

On the internet side, I’ve been searching, and Sarah’s been calling, each day for the last three weeks. We started out only looking on the two most popular sites (Seloger, and PAP), but since expanded our search to include a few others, most reliably La Foret and A Vendrer, A Louer. We’ve been burned a number of times by waiting too long (2 hours) to call. The best places go up and come down within 4 hours. By checking, and calling, a few times a day we are getting much further along in the process.

It’s a tough market, but we are making progress, and it’s just a matter of time before I get to write about “House Hunting in Paris – the Great news!”

House Hunting in Paris – the bad news.

Looking for a place to live in the City of Light is, like most things, just a little bit more difficult than in Canada. I should stress the ‘little bit more’ part of that. It’s not that anything is dramatically different, but there are several things that are just that teeny bit more painful than back home, and they start to add up. Here’s a few of the more obnoxious things.

  • It’s a hot market. Most listings are just up for a few days so you have to act fast.
  • It’s expensive. When you move into a new place, you typically pay something between three and five and a half times the monthly rent in fees and charges. Add to this the cost of new furniture and appliances (even if you have your own, you’ll almost always need to buy one new piece to fit the new space), movers (another months rent), and change-of-account fees for the utility company.
  • Most of the apartments are privately owned. This, combined with the fact that people don’t move often (see above on cost) mean that you are usually dealing with an inexperienced owner. Someone who has had maybe 6 tenants, ever. To their benefit, most of the hard work is contracted out to an professional agency, so this helps a bit.
  • There’s no central listing service. Real estate listings are entirely privatized; if you want good coverage, you have to watch multiple places.
  • Landlords are very, very risk averse with new tenants. There are a lot of laws in France designed to protect tenants from bad landlords. Probably too many laws. A friend-of-a-friend offered me a place when we first moved here in 2008, “Just as soon as I can evict my tenants. They’ve stopped paying rent.” That apartment hit the market in October last year.
  • There’s a shortage of apartments of a certain size. Most of the apartments in Paris are either small studios for week-day commuters and students, or they are lavish luxury apartments for people with much larger salaries than me. 
  • There’s a shortage of apartments of a certain quality. At least 50% of all of the listings I see, or places I look at, have some major flaw. A lot of it has to do with the fact that these buildings are very old. A friend of ours lives in an apartment built around 1740. The building code was less strict back then.
  • You are limited in how much you can pay. By law, you are not allowed to pay more than one third of your net earnings for your housing. Having that hard cap on your upper rent limit is a little annoying; a few euro more might brighten the apartment landscape a lot. On the other side, from experience, I wouldn’t really want to pay much more than this amount.

We’ve gone apartment hunting a couple times since arriving. Once assisted, and three times since then on our own. It’s a pain, that’s all there is to it. We are also discovering that there’s a reason that most of my colleagues don’t live in Paris. There are a lot of commuters in Paris, most coming from the outlying communities where it’s quieter, cheaper, newer, and bigger. Although, also further from Paris. A few people have started recommending these places to us, but really, we moved to France to live in Paris. If I wanted to commute to work, I’d move to Central London and buy a Eurostar pass.

It’s a bo(y/mb)!

This past Monday we went for the second official, fourth actual, sonogram. This is ‘gender’ one, where we get to find out which colour of booties to buy.

I arrived a touch earlier than my wife, and had to push my way past a few agitated security guards and a middle aged couple in order to get into the main office. For some reason they kept pointing at the ground and yelling. Bunch of tourists.

Sarah’s decided that our Doctor’s habit of maintaining a 60 minutes lag is best addressed with a corresponding  half hour check-in delay. Had I known this in advance, I think I would have been appropriately delayed as well; instead I got to enjoy the peace and quiet of the waiting room until Sarah called around 3:20 to tell me she couldn’t come in. The door and, soon after, the street, had been barred from access by the Police.

I wanted to see this for myself, so I poked my head out the front door and found myself looking right at a couple of stressed out officers standing where the security guards had been a few minutes earlier. They didn’t have a lot of patience for anyone attempting to come into, or out of, the door. A portly Parisian policeman ushered me back to where I’d come from and made some reference about an issue of paramount security. I asked if I could leave, and he shook his head, and then let everyone else in the building know that the office would be closed indefinitely, and we were not permitted to exit or enter the building for an indeterminate amount of time. Then he said a bunch of stuff in rapid French and left through the front door.

“Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” I asked the receptionist.

“Je ne sais pas.Un problème de sécurité tres important. Une bombe peut-être…” She replied calmly.

“A bomb!?!”

“Peut-être.” She shrugged – of course she would shrug – and got back to work.

OK. Great. I’m stuck in a building, there is potentially a bomb buried underneath the front door and my pregnant wife is trying to get in. Super.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, Sarah had been directed into the next available door on the street, which the policeman had told her was the alternate entrance to the Doctor’s office. She gave me another call and asked what was up. I told her: “It seems there is a bomb in front of the door. There might be a back door on the other side of the building.”

“A bomb?! Should we be concerned?”

“I dunno. I asked the lady. She shrugged.” I really hate it when they shrug. “Where are you?”

“I think the Portuguese embassy. They can’t help me. I’m going to see if there’s another door.”

Anyhow, long story short, Sarah made it into the building around 3:50, just in time for our 3:00 appointment. The appointment was slightly longer than usual, on account of the Doctor leaving us every few minutes to watch the bomb squad, who were working just 2 meters outside of his window, but it was eventful.

After measuring the head, the legs, the arms, the legs again, and so on, he broke the news that ‘C’est un garcon.’ I don’t know how he could tell, the only sure fire sign that I’m aware of having never been visible on the screen. But he was very confident.

So, if you find yourself looking for booties or bonnets, better stick with blue. It’s going to be a boy.

For our next trick: coming up with a list of names!

Kicked out.

Tonight marks the first time that I’ve ever been thrown out of a taxi. I wasn’t even drunk/high/stabbing someone in the backseat. What started out as a question led to our cab driver pulling over and making the jerking-thumb motion — universal symbol for GTFO — that would leave us standing on the side of the road.

This evening we were saying good bye to a good friend who is heading to New York on Thursday. We caught the metro halfway home, but missed the last train that would have gotten us the rest of the way. Fortunately for us, we bumped into a girl from Fargo that was equally out of luck and heading in the same direction as we were, so we opted to split a cab.

A few minutes later we found ourselves 5 euros and 50% closer to home. We were also at Lauren’s stop. “6 euro” the driver told us, “Minimum charge.”

I’m pretty sure that’s the only english phrase that he could perfectly parrot to his annoyed customers.

A few minutes of arguing got us nowhere, and we agreed to just pay the 6 euro. We were going another km anyway, and would probably finish the night at 10 euro total, so it didn’t really matter.

However, this is when he RESETS the meter! Seriously, do they not know how to split a cab?

Anyhow — our protests were not well received (or maybe just mispronounced?) and we ended up thumbing another car down before actually getting to where we wanted to be.

Sa m’enerve.

Pandanggo Sa Ilaw and Filipino Christmas Dinner

Sarah and I were lucky enough to be invited to a Filipino Christmas party this past weekend, and oh my goodness the mountains of food were absolutely incredible. While I know very little about the Philippines in general, I’m certain that this is a place that never let’s you leave the table hungry.

Aside from the food, we got two glimpses into some more cultural events through traditional dances and games that went on throughout the afternoon. The most impressive dance by far was the Pandanggo Sa Ilaw — in which each dancer balances a candle in each hand and on top of their head. I’d heard about this dance from a co-worker (she does this in her spare time), but had never actually seen it done before.

After the dinner was done, the adults had set up a pinata-like game for the kids. Someone had created a kind of chandelier out of bamboo, and tied pieces of candy to it using small pieces of string. The chandelier was connected to a rope, which in turn was connected to a Filipino woman standing on a chair on the other side of the room.

The way the game ran, the lady would slowly let the chandelier drop from the ceiling and then pull it back to just above the reach of the pirana-children below.

When the chandelier first dropped, it was like the raptor feeding scene in Jurassic park. The kids went wild, and all grabbed candy with both hands at once. The lady in the corner struggled to regain control of the chandelier as it shook violently from side to side, but eventually it rose above the masses, and the lady let the kids have a quick break to unwrap their goodies before starting a second time. She also used this time to get a much firmer grip on the rope.

The second time, she was a little more cautious, but her opponents were a little wiser in their approach.  Instead of grabbing for the candy, they all jumped up and grabbed the chandelier itself. The combined weight of the kids managed to send the chandelier crashing to the ground – and the Filipino woman soaring through the air.

The kids, now covered in candy, had no idea that they had just introduced the other woman to the miracle of human flight. The woman, however, was not to be deterred. She dusted herself off, hung another chandelier from the roof, and kicked open a window so that she could dangle outside to give herself extra leverage. That was the last that we saw of that game, but I have no doubt that she gave the kids a good run for their money on the second round. That, or she was launched clear over the building and into the Seine.

Photowalking in Paris

On Saturday, Myron and I attempted to go on a Photowalk through Pierre La Chaise, while our wives spent the day looking at purses. Unfortunately, we got lost (read: found adventure) distracted, and hungry along the way. We eventually did find the cemetery we were looking for, but by the time we got there, the night watchman was just finishing closing the gates for the night.

I have some of the better pictures posted on my picassa site (Note, this is a different site than the one we normally use…). Normally, I would come home and edit these a little bit before posting them, but I thought that it would be more to the spirit of the event to leave them au naturale.

Most of these shots were with the macro lens. My favorite one is definitely the one of the white flowers on the black background near the end.

Fête de la Musique

Each year on June 21st the city of Paris has a giant party. The ‘Fête de la Musique’ is a celebration of music, and is an absolutely amazing event to experience if you’re a fan of live music.

The original idea was pitched back in 1976 as a way to encourage amateur musicians to get out and play, and to celebrate musicality in general. When we were out last weekend, it wasn’t so much amateur individuals as it was amateur groups. We did catch one guy by himself with a drum kit, and another lone tap dancer, but for the most part it was smallish groups that I would expect would play at local bars.

The amazing thing though is that there was one of these groups on every corner! Didn’t like listening to french covers of Stone Temple Pilots? Cross the street and listen to a French guy that looks like Aragorn performing Gansta’s Paradise.

We started in sort of a party district in the downtown core near St Germain and wandered around from 7pm to juts past midnight. The bulk of the shows were set to start at around 8, so things were slow to start. During the peak hours (9-10) there were people elbow to elbow throughout the streets, and everyone was dancing.

My highlight, though, was seeing a guy that looks like my Brother in Law jamming on the Electric Ukelele.