Visiting a Paris Bakery: What To Know Before You Go
Ah, France! The land of cheese, wine, and of course, bread! Even with all the haute cuisine that the country has to offer, one of the most unmissable parts of French gastronomic tradition, is a trip to a local bakery. In fact, bread is so central to the fabric of French culture, that the French baguette is now on the list of UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage”.
A visit to a Parisian bakery is a delightful way to experience a slice of the French way of life. Whether you’re looking for a quintessential French breakfast or an afternoon snack, here’s exactly what to expect and how to order your baked treats. Allez, let’s go!
What’s in a Name?! Boulangerie vs Pâtisserie
Bakeries in France are generally referred to as boulangeries. But you might be thrown off by the mention of another term: pâtisserie. There’s an important distinction between the two: boulangerie and patisserie are different types of French bakeries, specializing in different kinds of goods.
As per French laws, to be called a “boulangerie”, the establishment must bake their own bread from scratch, on premises. Boulangeries are where the French have perfected the art of all things bread; they specialize in all things yeast-related: from bread to viennoiseries such as croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, etc. Boulangeries usually also have some pastries, along with a selection of sandwiches for lunch.
A pâtisserie, or pastry shop, is a bakery that specializes in pastries, cakes, and desserts. They may or may not bake bread as well. Here, you can find a variety of sweet treats, including macarons, eclairs, tarts, cakes, and cookies. It’s not uncommon to find bakeries that describe themselves as boulangeries – pâtisserie, while others might be labelled as one or the other according to what they offer.
Etiquette for Visiting a French Bakery
Always Begin with “Bonjour”
In France, Paris included, always begin any social interaction in any context with a “bonjour”. This is an indispensable lubricant to facilitate any communication with anyone, whether it be in a store, a restaurant, or even in the streets. So do greet the the staff at the bakery with a “Bonjour”.
Wait Your Turn
You’d find that popular bakeries are usually busy during the mornings, lunch hours, and in the evening once people get off work. If you happen to visit during these rush hours, join the queue and wait your turn.
Keep in mind that French boulangeries are often small and crowded, so be mindful of the space, and of other customers. You can use this time to peruse the goods and decide what you want to order. Bakeries usually have the name and price of all of their goods clearly displayed on a small card.
Again, even if the bakery has bread or other items on display and within reach of the customers, definitely do not touch any of it! The staff will serve you at a French bakery.
Types of French Bread
If you’re buying bread in Paris, you may be surprised by the variety of breads on offer. Some of the typical fares are:
- Baguette – the classic long and thin French bread
- Pain de campagne – this translates to “country bread.” It’s a hearty, rustic bread made with a mix of whole wheat and white flour
- Pain aux céréales – this is a bread made with a mix of different grains, such as wheat, rye, and barley
- Pains spéciaux – these are specialty breads that can come in a variety of shapes and flavors, such as olive, walnut, or cheese and my personal favorite, pain aux figues or fig bread.
Aside from croissants and pain au chocolat, some other French bakery classics include tarte tatin (upside-down apple tart), mille-feuille (layered puff-pastry with cream), profiteroles (small choux pastries), baba au rhum (a rum soaked cake with cream), and of course, Paris-Brest (dessert made of choux pastry and a praline cream), just to name a few! <
Follow French “Politesse”
In Paris, most customer-facing employees may already know some English, but the same might not be the case everywhere else in France. It’s always better to at least learn — and attempt — some basic French.
To order anything, begin with “Je voudrais…,” followed by the number and name of the item you want. For example, “Je voudrais trois croissants, s’il vous plaît.” “Je voudrais” translates to “I would like…” This is the polite form of the verb vouloir (to want).
Then, for quantity, add un, deux, trois, or quatre (one, two, three, or four). “S’il vous plait,” translates to “please” and will get you far. If the bakery has an option for customers to sit down and eat, the staff will ask if you want the items “à emporter” (to go) or “sur place” (for here). Choose what you’d like!
When asked to pay, you can either choose “par carte bancaire” (by card) or “en espèces/liquide” (in cash). Most places in Paris will accept cards, but some might have a minimum-spend requirement of anywhere between 1 and 20 euros. Especially when visiting a bakery, it always helps to keep a bit of cash with you.
If you’re getting your food to go, the bakery will typically wrap them up in a paper bag. Grab your goodies, and before you leave, be sure to thank the staff and say good-bye by saying, “Merci. Au revoir.” This translates to “Thank you. Until we meet again.” Though it may feel a tad dramatic to say that to a shop-keeper, it’s a totally standard way to take your leave from any person or situation in France.
Enjoy Your Baked Goods
French pastries and breads are best enjoyed fresh, so don’t wait too long to dig in! By some estimates, Paris has more than 30,000 bakeries! With such a huge number to choose from, it can be intimidating to pick where to go. To help you out, here are some of the best boulangeries and patisseries in Paris.
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