One need not look far to find gourmet foods in Paris. A couple places, however, stand out for their extraordinary selection and quality. Two food emporiums tower above the rest: La Grande Épicerie and Lafayette Gourmet. Spreading the bounty on each side of the Seine, La Grande Épicerie is located on the Left Bank (7th arrondissement) and Lafayette Gourmet on the Right Bank (the 9th, near Opéra Garnier). Food enthusiasts will find nirvana in both.
Another feature in common is that both are located inside major department stores. La Grande Épicerie is part of Bon Marché. And Galeries Lafayette is home to Lafayette Gourmet. I’m not usually wild about shopping in department stores (I prefer specialty markets and shops instead), but these food halls are remarkable enough to lure me in with each visit to Paris. And the visual pizazz that shines forth from the food displays is a treat in itself for appreciating the stores’ merchandizing talents.
La Grande Épicerie has recently undergone a major renovation (click here to see my post describing its new look). The first time I stepped inside La Grande Épicerie, I got stuck in the jam aisle. Itt wasn’t because a jar of Bonne Maman Fraise à la Menthe Fraîche had spilled making the floor sticky.
I was mesmerized by the tempting choices and pretty jars standing shoulder to glass shoulder like a well-trained infantry. I stood for ten minutes with my mouth agape. And this was only one of several aisles devoted to jams. Every aisle in the entire store was equally jaw-dropping. Needless to say, my first visit to a gourmet food hall in Paris occupied the better part of an afternoon.
Why go to food halls in Paris?
The food halls in Paris are terrific spots to buy gifts, find souvenirs, or pick up an artfully decorated fruit tart, chocolate cake or full meal for consumption while in Paris. Sometimes I go simply to gawk at the selection–and, yes, a big helping of people-watching. But I’ve never been able, or wanted, to come out empty handed.
Which gourmet foods can you find there?
No, what can’t you find there is the question. Almost every imaginable food item and category is represented. Stellar cakes, pastries, and breads (many of which are made fresh on premises), plus cheeses, meats, fresh produce, dairy, and a head-spinning variety of canned, jarred, and boxed specialty items.
Over 70% of the items are French in origin. The rest play to transplants who can’t do without their Philadelphia Cream Cheese or Hellmann’s mayo. At La Grande Épicerie, several aisles are dedicated to specific countries with food stuffs likely to make any homesick patriot’s heart go pitter-pat. Although I confess that seeing bags of marshmallows piled next to Heinz ketchup in the U.S. aisle made me a little queasy.
What are some of my favorite things to buy at the gourmet food halls?
Small gifts that stand up well to travel and are quintessentially French include sea salts, mustards, teas, and confections.
How do the gourmet food halls compare to the famous open-air markets in Paris?
They’re entirely different experiences. Prices are expensive at food halls, but they’re compelling to experience even if you don’t make a purchase. I recommend visiting a mix of open-air markets and at least one gourmet food hall while you’re in Paris.
What else is fun to take in that’s near these food halls?
The stretch of boulevard Haussman near Galeries Lafayette is filled with shops and grand stores. Printemps, another landmark department store, is only steps away. While Printemps doesn’t have the same breadth of gourmet items, its offerings aren’t shabby either. You’ll find high-end chocolates, macarons, etc. Another reason to visit Printemps is to look, or linger longer over tea or lunch, at Brasserie Printemps. Located on the top floor at 64, boulevard Haussmann, this circular room with a huge stained-glass cupola is a stunning example of decorative arts. Also, and you’re unlikely to miss it, but be sure to lay eyes on the elegant Opéra Garnier before leaving the neighborhood.
If shopping at La Grande Epicerie, try to time your visit so that you also get to Marché Raspail which is close by along boulevard Raspail. The regular Raspail market is open on Tuesday and Friday morning. Raspail’s organic (bio) market is open Sundays only, which means it cannot be combined with La Grande Epicerie. The Luxeumbourg Gardens are an easy walk away for a picnic spot where you can dig into the sumptuous foods you just purchased.
La Grande Épicerie (Gourmet food hall at Bon Marché department store)
Rue du Sèvres at rue du Bac (7th arrondissement), closest métro is Sèvres-Babylone
Open Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 9 pm; Saturday 10 am to 8 pm; Thursday and Friday 10 am to 9 pm
Lafayette Gourmet Food Hall (at Galeries Lafayette department store)
35, boulevard Haussmann (9th arr.) Closest métro stops are Havre-Caumartin and Chaussé d’Antin-la Fayette
Open Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 9:30 pm
Raspail Open-Air Food Market (Tuesday and Friday mornings)
Raspail Organic Market (Sunday morning)