I remember the days when I used to travel with microwaveable tomato soup, apple sauce and single-serve packets of Rice Crispies. I try to repress that moment when surrounded by friends in a nice bistro in Nice, my eldest son declared at a thousand decibels, that he “will NOT eat the risotto because it tastes like ca-ca!” (I believe that may have been the truffles on my plate affecting his delicate olfactory system).
But then it all changed. Four years ago in Avignon, I rejoiced when he ordered a meal from the adult’s menu, and sighed and salivated, swearing it was the best chicken he had tasted in his life. I relished a moment on our last trip to Paris, when son the younger refused to eat in a service continu cafe near the Eiffel tower because he suspected it was a “tourist trap”.
Kids dig culinary experiences just as much as adults do. There will be the occasional tiny gastro-freak who will dive head-first into molecular cuisine and escargots, but for the majority, it’s probably best to keep things simple. Show them that different cuisines can be delicious, and that experimentation pays off. Perhaps they will even learn a lesson about food that they can carry home with them.
I’m intending on doing a series on these, to help you get out of the fast-food fog as quickly and painlessly as possible. First stop, Paris.
What kids need to eat in Paris:
Crêpes – yes, the obvious choice. Most children will be more than satisfied with a nutella crepe from a street stall. It’s the best way to order one, because not only does it get cooked in front of them, but packaged in a squished cone, taking silly cutlery out of the equation. Once they have a handle on the sweet versions, launch them into the main meal – galettes, which are filled from everything from ham and cheese to herring roe and mustard (interesting to note – most galettes are made from buckwheat, and are gluten free).
Poulet at a fine dining restaurant – I know, ‘poulet‘ is simply ‘chicken’, however taking kids into a very special restaurant and letting them play at being lords and ladies is a must in Paris. The childrens’ menu, or menu d’enfants in France is very unlikely to hold chicken nuggets, pizza and hot dogs. More likely, your waiter will propose an adjusted dish of the standard menu. Perhaps something that sounds as simple as chicken and pasta, but arrives at the table as the most tender piece of boneless chicken your child has ever tasted, smothered in a creamy sauce that tastes of heaven, sitting on a nest of home made taglietelle. You will be fighting them for it.
Duck confit – Once you’ve got kids realizing the French really know how to cook a bird, it’s time to move up a notch. They will never love duck as a rare magret, smoked and wrapped around a prune, or even done up old school a l’orange. But cooked slowly in oil until the tender flesh falls off the bone, and served with fried potatoes is an entirely different matter. Once you’ve got them past this step, it’s onto duck liver pate – and you’d be surprised how many kids will love that (as long as you don’t tell them what it’s made out of).
Ice cream – It doesn’t get better than French. Make sure the kids try salted caramel (caramel au beurre salé), something floral like violet or lavender, and cassis sorbet. Next, we move onto vacherin glacé, a melange of meringue, ice cream, chantilly and fruit – basically, the world’s best ice cream cake. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad ice cream in Paris, but if you want to search out the superlative there is a list of my favorites below.
Gratin – It’s a fact that 95% of kids will eat almost anything if it’s covered in melted cheese. Start them off with gratin dauphinois (scalloped potatoes), then move through a croque monsieur (ham and cheese toastie) and onto soupe à l’oignon, or french onion soup (which has a giant crouton covered in Gruyere plane on top). Adventurous kids may move onto something truly risqué, like huitres gratinées (oysters with grilled cheese), or something with the dreaded champignon (mushroom) hiding within.
Food from le marché – The city is riddled with markets, which have the bonus of a cultural education along with a feed, and plenty of tasty options for young palates. Start with some fresh berries or marinated olives and a small piece of cheese – Comté or tomme for those who like it mild, chèvre for extra tanginess, and Brie de Meaux or Brillat-Savarin for those who like them creamy and don’t mind rind. Maybe a petit slice of saucisson to follow if they are not scared of a little mould. Main course will probably be paella scooped from a pan too big to fit in a Parisian elevator, or a piece of roast chicken with some baby potatoes that have been basking in the rotisserie drippings, or my favourite, a slab of porchetta (rolled roasted pork with herbs) in a soft bap. Dessert could be anything from peaches or berries from the fruiterer to mille feuille, macarons or tarte tatin from the bakery stall, to home-made chocolates and salted caramels from the confectioner.
Drinks – No, it’s not all about Champagne in the city of love, the kids can get their bubble on too. Diablo, or ‘devil’ is simply french for ‘make mine sweet and fizzy’. Try Diablo Menthe (mint) for the experimental, or stick to citron (lemon) or grenadine (red syrup) for the unadventurous. Orangina is a classic orange drink with fizz, a little lower on the sugar than Fanta. Cassis is the alternative to Ribena (and incidentally a dash tastes pretty good in a fresh white wine too) And don’t forget the ‘chocolat chaud‘ – pronounced ‘shockolah show’ – the perfect dipping bowl for the morning croissant.
Where kids need to eat in Paris:
- Crêperie Josselin in Montparnasse (not too far from the Luxembourg Gardens) for basic
- Breizh Cafe in the Marais for fancy
- Le Hangar – 3rd Arr. Proper French food, proper French diners, with a laid back atmosphere. Better for early dinner or lunch with the kids.
- Le Train Bleu – 12th (Gare de Lyon) – super decadent interior and gastronomique to say the least, but noisy enough for families to blend in
- Le Grand Cafe – 9th Arr. Lusciously Parisian Art Nouveau interior, seafood platters for the parents and a decent kids menu
- Tante Louise – 8th Arr. Our new family favourite, quiet Bourgogne restaurant with fancy food but willingness to adjust for timid palates
This is only a small sample of some of the fabulous dining options in Paris. Michelin (filter under “Guide Michelin” and you will be presented with more budget options than just starred restaurants) and La Fourchette have a free restaurant apps which provide a booking facility in many cases, not just for the starred restaurants but all levels. they are in French, but very user friendly and also show you locations by map. (also check out The New Food Lover’s Guide to Paris and Le Fooding).
- Bac a Glaces in the 7th
- Berthillon on L’Ile Saint Louis
- Glaces Glazed in the 9th (also in the 6th, 7th and 19th)
- Raimo in the 12th.
- My favourite is Marché Bastille on Thursdays and Sundays, but there is an excellent list here: Paris Markets
Taking things a step further
Want to stretch your legs or get a little more hands on? Try these for size
- Le Foodist have cooking classes in macarons, croissants and eclairs – wouldn’t you love to have a child who could make these things? Best for around age 9 and up as it can get a little technical
- Ooh La La Food have a ‘fun cooking class’ that welcomes children. This starts at the local market and ends with eating your own home-cooked lunch
- Paris By Mouth do personalized walking food tours of different regions of Paris – why not ask them to tailor one to tender tastebuds?
These recommendations are made as of February 2016, and I’m sure there are plenty more – do you have any? Please comment below for other readers!
Next up – what do you think? London? Barcelona? Italian Alps? Germany? Greek islands? Happy to take requests….