Ethnic Food in France
Though France is renowned for its traditional cuisine, it also offers a variety of foods from all over the world. The country has grown increasingly diverse over the years, attracting immigrants from all around, and many have brought delicacies from their home countries with them. Paris now not only features French delights like crêpes and steak-frites, but also Syrian bakeries, Vietnamese cafes, and Portuguese rotisseries.
In fact, a critical part of enjoying French cuisine is experiencing its international aspects. A class on only French baking or pastry won't tell you about how immigrants from their former empire have brought their native cuisines to the streets of Paris and beyond. Therefore, any foodie looking to fully experience French cuisine must also try meals from Morocco, Lebanon, and Cambodia.
What is Ethnic Food?
This term is a bit hard to define, but in general, it should refer to cuisine outside of a region's native culinary traditions. In the United States, for example, Western European fare rarely falls into this category because US culinary tradition is heavily influenced by that region, but food from Asia does because Asian cuisine usually features different cooking styles, tools, and ingredients. On the other hand, in China, a hamburger from the US would fall under this definition for the same reason.
Keep in mind that this term doesn't mean "cheap". Though Paris has plenty of inexpensive international street eats, you can also find loads of fine dining options among this category. La Cueva del Diablo on rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, for example, is an Argentinian restaurant that cooks its meat with a special coal imported from South American forests; if you expect to get a dish here for the same price as a street crêpe, then you've probably lost your mind!
What International Eats Will I Find?
In major cities, you'll find all kinds of cuisine in this international culinary hub. Frankly, it's borderline impossible to list all of the different countries represented in this diverse landscape.
However, due to colonial ties or mass immigration, certain types of cuisine are more common - and thus more likely to be found outside of hubs like Paris or Nice. The list below thus features some of the most prominent and gastronomically influential countries.
Vietnam was a French colony from 1887 until 1954, and consequently, a large Vietnamese community resides in France. During the colonial period, both cultures heavily influenced each other's cuisines as evidenced by dishes like the Vietnamese banh mi, a sandwich that uses a rice flour version of the classic baguette. You can also find distinctly Vietnamese fare, such as pho, in many eateries as well.
Japanese expatriates have frequently journeyed to France since the 1870s to study and enjoy its culture. Today, many persons of Japanese descent live here, and many Japanese expats stay for extended periods of time. These long-established Japanese communities have brought classic establishments like sushi bars and noodle houses into the French culinary landscape, and many famous chefs, such as Sadaharu Aoki, seamlessly blend the two cultures' fine cooking and baking traditions.
Like Vietnam, Senegal is another former colony whose culture and cuisine has heavily influenced France. Many Senegalese immigrants have brought delicacies like Thiebou Yapp, cooked beef or lamb, vegetables, seasonings, and rice, and yassa, chicken marinated with spices and simmered in a pan with mustard, garlic, onion, and lemon juice to create a sauce served with plain rice.
Though France occupied Lebanon from WWI until the late 1950s, many Lebanese persons immigrated in 1975 as a result of civil war, expanding the small community that already existed within the country. These immigrants brought with them classic staples like hummus and pita as well as baba ghanouj, a dip made from char-grilled eggplant. Today, many Lebanese eateries from street stalls to fine dining establishments dot the streets of Paris and beyond.
People of Moroccan descent comprise a substantial subset of the French population as a result of mass immigration after the colonial period. Like many other North African countries, Morocco's cuisine blends elements from Arabic, Mediterranean, Berber, and other nearby cultures. Classic Moroccan tagines cook meats or vegetables in a clay pot, and Fassi B'stilla is a special pie that includes ingredients from pigeon to cinnamon.
Touring International Cuisine in Paris
Though you can find some fantastic international eats everywhere, the international city of Paris is the best place to tour the many colors of modern cuisine. If you want to spend a day experiencing the best international foods that Paris has to offer, these arrondissements and sub-districts are some of the many stops you should make along your route.
- Rue Sainte-Anne
This street in Paris's Little Tokyo draws Japanese expats, Parisians, and tourists alike with its array of eateries, bakeries, and stores specializing in Japanese goods. From noodle shops like Udon Bistro Kunitoraya to fancy fusion joints like Chez Miki, rue Sainte-Anne is an excellent stop for Japanese fare of all kinds.
- La Goutte d'Or
Often referred to as "Little Africa," this vibrant neighborhood is filled with West Africans, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans, and Parisians living together in a fabulous cultural melting pot. Markets cater to West African and Carribean tastes, making for a worthwhile venture, and restaurants like Le Dibi da Chez Aida feature African fare such as Senegalese thieboudienne, a fish vegetable stew served on a bed of tomato rice.
- The 13th Arrondissement
The 13th Arrondissement is the place to find fantastic Asian fare in Paris. Many Chinese and Cambodian refugees settled here during the 1970s, so you can find everything from the authentic dim sum to modern fusion here. This arrondissement also has loads of delicious Vietnamese eats. Try a bowl of pho at Pho Bida Vietnam or a classic banh mi at Thieng Hang. This neighborhood also features the food truck heaven that is Avenue de France. Try generous portions of Thai salads and noodles at Tooq Tooq or African-inspired home cooking at New Soul Food.
- Le Marais
Encompassing parts of the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements, this trendy neighborhood is home to both Jewish and Chinese communities. In the Jewish district on rue des Rosiers, you can find arguably the best falafel in the entire city at L'As Du Fallafel. However, in addition to Israeli eats, you can also find classic Jewish delis and stores selling kosher goods. Le Marais is also home to a large Chinese community, many of whom immigrated during World War One. Today, you can find many Chinese joints surrounding Place de la Republique.
- The 11th Arrondissement
The 11th Arrondissement is far outside of tourist zones and is primarily comprised of working-class native Parisians and immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. This hip, up-and-coming neighborhood not only features trendy bistros and cocktail bars, but also a rainbow of diverse eats to match its melting pot of residents. Try Mexican-style tacos at Cafe Chilango, or head to Mokonuts to grab a Middle Eastern lunch.
- Rue de Faubourg
Though it's a bit of a trek outside of the main city, this culturally diverse street features authentic eats from all over Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in both street stalls and sit-down eateries. You can get a fantastic curry at Passage Brady, a sandwich at the Daily Syrien, or roam the streets and eat all of the street goodies you can carry. An afternoon grazing through rue de Fauborg is well worth the trip.
- Marche couvert Saint-Quentin
This distinctly international market features eats from all around the globe. Eat feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew, at Alegria Brasil or lemon chicken a La Marrakech, a Moroccan joint. Oh Africa features Senegalese cuisine, and Chez Silviana, a Portuguese rotisserie, sells regional produce and takeout. It's also a covered market, so you can enjoy it no matter when you visit.
Located in the 19th and 20th arrondissements, Belleville is Paris's "hipster" district that's full of independent boutiques, eateries, and other small businesses. It's also cultural melting pot thanks to influences from immigrants from around the globe. Rue de Belleville is filled to the brim with Chinese and Vietnamese eateries. If you stop by there, check out Lao Siam, whose menu features Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian cuisine. You can also find a handful of other countries represented here, such as Mukura's delicious take on Colombian food.
Finding the Best International Eats
With so many fantastic options, choosing where to enjoy a kebab or falafel can be a difficult task. Here are some tips to find the best international eateries that France has to offer.
Watch the Locals
As with anywhere you travel, the locals know where the best food is. If you see a place that's crowded with locals, then odds are it's a good one.
Venture off the Beaten Path
Aside from chains and maybe some Japanese fine dining, you're not going to find many international joints along major tourist routes. Head to local corners or cultural enclaves to find that authentic baklava.
Find Markets and Festivals
Markets and festivals will bring together the best of best, so you can wander through one and taste delightful eats from all over the planet. If you find a good one, be sure to arrive with an empty stomach!
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