Sunday, March 25, 2007

Food and Eating Considerations

The key to planning any meal in France is to understand and be respectful of cultural differences. Just because the Tour is nearby doesn’t guarantee a restaurant will serve food all day. Meals are not a quick, hasty, thing in France so if you’re in hurry put yourself in a winning situation by planning well. Another tip is on tipping itself. In France just about every waiter is paid a good living wage and part of the reason is that the service is INCLUDED in the price on the menu. The term “service compris” is one you’ll see on the menu and means service included.

Just because you don’t see it on a menu doesn’t mean that service isn’t included. Be aware that you can still tip if you’ve been well served and feel that the server deserves something extra.
If you stay in a hotel you often have the option of paying for breakfast that is as part of the price of the room—sometimes the breakfast is included automatically. A typical 3-Star hotel spread will include: Cereals, fruit, coffee, yogurt, pastries, self-serve egg boilers, ham, salami, cheeses, baguettes and more. It’s a great way to fill up for those that have a budget. One tip I learned from a pro soigneur is to use the buffet style set-up to make your lunch for the road. You have to be sneaky but if you’re willing to risk it you can make a sandwich or two to take along.

Other ways to save on lunch is to make stops at the many supermarkets and shops you’ll find along the road. As for hauling it up the mountain you’ll have to get creative and pick things that can be carried in a small daypack or on your bike. One idea is to use a larger capacity bike specific hydration pack. They now make them in a small daypack sizes that will allow you to carry water and your goods. I typically wait to buy until arriving to near my destination to buy—in smaller villages be aware that this may mean some items sell out though, baguettes for sandwiches go quickly.

You can also count on nice food options from the many vendors and café’s that will line the roads. On a big stage in the mountains typically you’ll see a food vendor every kilometer or so. As a general rule there is not Super Bowl style price gouging. Look for nice café’s with a Plat du Jour offering ($6-12 lunch). Something I have learned in my travels is that France doesn’t mean traditional French food is the best choice. In many cases I have found great tasting meals in ethnic restaurants and mom ‘n pop bars. Away from the tour if a restaurant looks busy and full of locals than it’s probably a great place to eat.

Eating on the go Guide

Boulangerie/Patisserie is a bread/pastry shop where you can find breakfast and typically lunch as well. These are spots where you can grab good food quickly and be on your way.

Brasserie is a small lunch/dinner spot where you’ll be served a sit-down meal that is less formal, less expensive, and more quickly. They are very popular spots during Le Tour as they typically don’t close between dining periods.

Anywhere bar--The anywhere bar is a term I coined for the hundreds of bars along the road that you will pass on your journey It seems every village I visit has one, and when I go in it’s just the same as the last one I visited. Often these bars are a great lunch spot--look for the Plat du jour and keep in mind that not every bar has a menu or kitchen. If the locals look at you funny then it’s don’t be alarmed. If you just hang around and mind your own business people will stop staring after a while.

Supermarche I’ll talk more about in my shopping section about French Supermarkets but know that they have great, healthy, food perfect for long days in the saddle. You find great pre-prepared foods and most have a dedicated section.

Local Market Day Market day in French villages is very common. As you ride you’ll often stumble through a village having market day. If you want to experience France at its best try to stop and enjoy. Local delicacies are everywhere and the stop is worth the time.

A simple Google of dining in France will find net some good articles by European travel guru Rick Steves and others. The site below has a free travel tips section with some valuable info on food and more.

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