The Essential Guide to France for Self Catering Vegans

If you are veggie, vegan or anywhere else on the scale of hard to cook for, you will know that travel can be a genuine source of anxiety when considering meal times. This is especially true of France. How will I know what the ingredients are? Will the waiter know what I mean by vegan? Will they have Tesco free-from chocolate buttons!?

Well, I can tell you now with near-certainty, that no, there will not be Tesco Free-from anything. However, there will be other options and ways of making eating in France a little easier. So, I have created this post to do just that! After several years of working in France and becoming vegan while living there, I know just how challenging it can be!

In the spirit of total honesty, I am not perfect (shocker, I know!). I absolutely make ‘mistakes’ in the form of not-so free-from food at times. I have an occasional, but burning, desire to inhale a tuna Subway. I will eat around certain foods that end up on my plate before I send it back to the kitchen. If you don’t believe me, you can read about one of my slip-ups here,where I spill all on a not-so insta-worthy travel experience!

*Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that any purchases made through these could pay me a small commission – at no extra cost to you!*

Vegan salad breakfast in Poland
Vegan breakfast in Poland – The day started out so well!

Breaking French tradition

So, first thing you need to know about France? They are traditionally a nation of serious MEAT EATERS. Up until recently, you would be hard-pressed to find a service station sandwich that didn’t include some kind of meat, let alone completely vegan. Just like most places though, things are changing. The difference in just the last two years is huge and it’s great to see more and more options appearing in shops, but cruelty-free choices aren’t as readily available as they are in the UK. Organic, or Bio, is huge in France though. I will explain later in the post how this is beneficial to veggies and vegans!

It is worth noting that most of my experiences have been in the South of France in a mixture places, from the bustling cities of Nice and Cannes to the historic towns and middle-of-nowhere villages of Provence. So, although there may be differences in regions, the information I have provided here should be accurate throughout France.

Travel days

First things first! If you are going to be visiting France then you will have to travel from somewhere, whether entering the country by plane, train, ferry or car, you will likely be arriving hungry! So, what are you going to eat?

I hate to say it, but preparation is key. Packed lunches, food prep, travel snacks. If you don’t want your first experience in France to be a hangry one, bring something with you. You can carry foods in your hand luggage as long as they aren’t liquid or paste and you would be surprised at how long a freezer bag or box can last in a car. Consider something that isn’t going to go soggy or dry up. Lunchbox of sandwiches, pots of cold pasta or pre-made salad are all great options.

If you forget your sarnies or you’re still hungry when you arrive, you are likely to be faced with very few options. you may find yourself with a pack of Oreos and a bag of crisps or, my personal favourite, baguette and avocado or hummus. Most fresh breads are fine for vegans in France, so I stopped asking a long time ago, and now make the assumption that if it is freshly baked, it’s good to go. Be warned though, while becoming increasingly more popular, hummus brands have a horrible habit of adding cheese to the recipe. Watch out for ‘fromage’ on the ingredients list! My favourite brand is Blini, pictured below.

The first shop 

Be armed with a list! The length of time you are staying and the kind of accommodation you have will have a huge impact on this next step. Are you in a hotel? An Airbnb? A tent? Do you have a kitchen? Freezer? Oven? Have a think about what you can reasonably make and how much you really need to buy. Panic-Buying will do nothing for your budget! If you are happy and able to cook from scratch your wallet will definitely be thanking you if you’re more partial to oven-ready beige foods (hey- no judgements here!) then you may get a shock at the checkout!

To know what you’re going to buy, you need at least a rough idea of you’re options, right? No matter where you are, you are likely to come across one of the following:

Common Supermarkets 

  • Carrefour – The Queen of French supermarkets. These come in various sizes but tend to stock veggie options in most stores. Dairy-free milk, butter and a selection of veggie burgers are almost guaranteed. Common brands are Soyasun and Alpro. Head to the bio section for more options of gluten, sugar and dairy-free. Larger stores have been known to stock everything from Swedish Glace ice-cream to fish-less fillets and popcorn ‘chicken’.

  • Proxi – Try not to do a full shop here if you can help it! You will be paying extra for convenience as these stores tend to be open when nowhere else is. Options are very limited, although I have noticed an improvement with those in more built-up areas. If you are somewhere more remote, be prepared to find nothing but watermelons and Pringles!
  • Casino – This a huge name and the shops come in all sizes and generally stock limited options. Keep an eye out for the bio sections which tend to have gluten-free options as well microwaveable quinoa meals, plain tofu and various milk.
  • GeantLike its name suggests (Giant in French) these supermarkets are generally BIG. Part of the Casino group, I tended to shop here most often, which could have something to do with the fact my local store stocked vegan Ben & Jerry’s!! I could usually find my favourite band of Hummus here, as-well-as Geant-own veggie ‘meats’. Various Falafels, breaded chicken, burgers and soy products can be found in the fridges, but a lot of them are made with egg (oeuf). Again, the Bio section is always worth checking out. They always have tofu and various microwaveable packets of quinoa, rice and bean-based meals. Not always kept in the fridges are the chickpea or bean burgers as well as egg-free mayo and cheese-free pesto!

  • Intermarché – One of the cheaper versions with a good selection of fruits and veg and a basic selection of bio products, including the usual milks and chickpea burgers.
  • Leader Price – Cheap and cheerful but only recently selling non-dairy milk. Good for a quick shop that doesn’t cost a lot! Tins, snacks and breads are all good from here.
  • Lidl – Just like at home, a cheap option but stock will vary from what you see in the UK. In the city you are likely to find vegan pizzas in the freezer section, further out and you will struggle to even find butter. Obviously ideal for tins or other staple foods but fruit and veg tend to be poor quality and lacking in variation.
  • Grand Frais – A personal favourite – Very affordable for fruits and veggies that look fresh and last well. Loads of choice, I have seen things in this shop I couldn’t name if it didn’t have a label on it! They supply paper bags as well as plastic and usually have a stack of boxes and crates to carry your shopping home in. Everything is weighed at the till so you might find it difficult to track what you’re spending as you shop. Don’t forget to check out the fridges as they often stock meat- free-meats as well as soya yoghurts and plant milks.

  • ‘The road side shack or market’- Ok, you got me! Not an official supermarket, but there are ALOT of them! Especially if you are in more rural France. Prices vary hugely but you get the satisfaction of knowing you have put money in the pocket of local business and the food is likely to be grown locally and free from GMO’s. If you can, try to get your fresh produce from one of these, if you’re staying for a while, get to know the people running it, they will likely put things by for you when they re-stock and may even give you tips on the area you wouldn’t get from a guide book or google.

Learning the lingo

Obviously, the biggest challenge is not understanding the language. So here are some main words to remember:

  • Lait – Milk
  • Beurre – Butter
  • Fromage – Cheese
  • Oeuf – Egg
  • Viande – Meat
  • Sans – Without
  • Avec – With
  • Vegetalè/vegetal – Direct translates to vegetable but often used to describe something completely plant-based
  • Végétarien/Végétalien – Vegetarian/Vegan
  • Bio – Organic
  • Blé – Wheat
  • Farine – Flour
  • Noix/Noisette/Cajous/Cacahuète – Walnut/Hazelnut/Cashew/Peanut
  • Soja – Soya
  • Graisse animale – Animal fat
  • Produits laitiers – Dairy products
  • Frites – chips
  • Merci – Thank you
  • Non – No
  • Oui – Yes
  • S’il vous plaît – Please 

Bio (organic) shops – worth the price?

In short? Yes. Although you may not want to do your entire shop here, there are certainly some products you won’t want to miss if you’re after some home comforts.

Eating out

I’m sorry to say, you may struggle here. An absolute must is the Happy Cow app – Yes, it may cost you around £4 to download but it really will help. It gives you a rundown of all the closest Vegan/Vegetarian shops and eateries close to your location or any place that you search.

Otherwise, it helps to google or ask around. TripAdvisor and local or ex-pat Facebook groups can be really helpful. It also helps to look at other cuisines.

Turkish kebab shops – Often have falafels which can be served with salad in pitta bread.

Chinese or Thai – Many have buffets where you can choose vegetable and tofu options.

Indian takeaways – So many great sides, you don’t even need the mains! Popadoms, onion bhajis, samosas, Dahl, Bombay potatoes and various veggies and rice.

Don’t forget, even if you are totally unprepared and end up in a really meat and cheese orientated restaurant – you can almost always rely on frites and a vegetarian pizza – sans fromage!

Eating with Omnivores

If you are travelling with others, there is a good chance not everyone is going to be happy giving up meat and dairy. I know from experience that this can be tricky at times! Make sure to discuss this with them first and remain flexible. Our favourite place to get a vegan burger while we were living in Fréjus was actually a steak place! And if all else fails – BBQ! Depending on where you are staying/how you are travelling, you may be able to take one with you or buy locally and there are never-ending options for everyone. Be sure to stock up on tin foil to cook the meatless options separately and grab some skewers for veggie kebabs!

So there you have it! The Essential Guide to France for Self-catering Vegans! I hope you’ve found it useful! Bon Voyage!

Are you veggie or vegan? Or do you travel with a ‘fussy eater’? I’d love to hear about your experiences!