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Paris bouillons: some of the first restaurants in the capital city.

The first time I was invited by a chef-friend to eat at one of Paris’ bouillons I thought we were going to a place that specialized in soup.  But, in fact, the term ‘bouillon’ was the term used at the end of the 19th century for restaurants where one could eat a hot meal for a small amount of money.  They were mostly in neighborhoods known as ‘populaire’ or working-class.  They have become extremely popular, using a different understanding of the word, in the last ten or so years.

There are close to 20 of them now, spread all over Paris and they have lines outside the door more than an hour before they start their lunch service.  Most bouillons begin serving lunch at 11:30 and continue non-stop service until midnight, though some have chosen to close for a pause between lunch and dinner.

Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond

One of the fun things to do is to organize lunch at a bouillon and pair it with another morning activity nearby.  Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond is located just next to Les Halles and is only a 5 minute walk from the fairly new Pinault Collection Museum.  Modern art followed by a step into the past.

Bouillon Chartier

One of the most famous bouillons, Chartier, is not far from the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. It was one of Paris’ first restaurants and one can still see the numbered drawers where regular diners were able to rent a space to keep their napkins between visits.

We chose to organize our meal around some food shopping in the area just near the Gare de l’Est train station, where epiceries and primeurs focus on Mediterranean and North African cuisine.

When we arrived at the restaurant, Bouillon Julien, located at 16 rue du Fbg Saint-Denis, in the 10th, I realized that I had been to this restaurant years ago when it was owned by the restaurant chain Flo.  The space is authentic Art Nouveau, built in 1906, and was a favorite dinner spot for Edith Piaf during her relationship with Marcel Cerdan, a world famous French boxer.  The interior was just as I remembered it: exquisite examples of Art Nouveau tile and glass as well as a mahogany bar created by Louis Majorelle.

There was a long line of people waiting, but we had reservations so the wait was only a few minutes.

The principle behind the bouillons is simple, yet delicious, food at a more than reasonable price.  Our starters were both less than 5€:  I had steamed leeks in a vinaigrette with toasted hazelnuts and my companion had rillettes du Mans, which is simply pork that has been slow-cooked and then preserved in it’s own fat, so it is similar to a country paté, and served with great sourdough bread.

For main courses, we went with roasted chicken with vegetables and a skirt steak with mashed potatoes, both of which came in at around 12€.  Our desserts, a baba rum and a rum/raisin bread pudding were less than 5€ each.


Half of the fun at bouillons is the idea that you are eating a nice meal, always in a memorable space, and the cost has been more than reasonable.  Consider stopping at a bouillon and experience Parisian dining from another epoch.

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