This summer, at the center of our vacation is a lengthy stay in Rouen, France. We visited there previously, in early May of 2014, and loved the Cathedral, the Gros-Horloge and lots of other things. We also loved the food we had there – we really feel like the culinary scene is very alive there, with every restaurant presenting flavorful interesting food made from incredibly fresh local ingredients. And yes, I had lots of luck finding dairy free options, and have lots of confidence that I will encounter little difficulty in eating well and really enjoying the food along with everything else there.
Nevertheless, I feel it’s a good idea to do some research and know what my options are. First, because there are some things that are hard to find dairy free in France (like the famous French croissants, and cheese). Second, because we have rented an apartment for our stay, and I am looking forward to making many typical Norman dishes, some of which include cream and cheese and butter, and I will need to find margarine and dairy free milks and so forth for my cooking. So my focus here is twofold, on restaurants that will have dairy free options, but also on grocery stores (health food stores perhaps) and markets where I might be able to get my dairy free substitutes. Sure, I will pack some vegan cheese and other things in my luggage to bring along (some Earth Balance margarine, maybe), but since Rouen is not the first stop on our trip (we are spending a week in Bulgaria first), there is no telling what I will have to add to our larder in France.
So here is a brief listing of the places I have found out about thus far, that may add to our experience in Rouen. Thanks as always to Happy Cow, with its helpful page on vegetarian options in Rouen. And thanks also to the Rouen Vegan blog – so sad that it only was active through 2014 (and I don’t know how I missed it before!), but it is still very helpful.
Faites-Le Vous Meme. Right on the street where we are staying is this interesting cafe, which seems to offer some vegetarian options on their menu (hmmm, will they be dairy free as well? I will have to investigate this). They also offer baking classes in the mornings – or do they simply welcome people to come in the mornings and help them chop vegetables for the day’s meals? A little hard to sort that out. But we will definitely visit them, I am sure.
Payiz. We have already experienced some of Rouen’s variety of international food restaurants, having eaten sushi and Moroccan tagines the first time we visited Rouen. Of course, that is always a way to avoid dairy, even if it does feel like cheating in a way (part of experiencing a place is eating the food that is typical to the region, right?). Payiz is a Lebanese restaurant not far from Rouen’s historical center, and I am sure we will check out their falafel sandwiches and hummus spreads at some point.
Tex-Mex L’Equateur. TexMex food in Rouen? I am fascinated by the idea of the French trying to imitate American regional food. So while I don’t feel like I will be jonesing for a taco or burrito while there, I may stop in just to see what it’s like.
Gourmand Grain/Natural. Formerly known as Gourmand Grain, this cafe/health food store is just around the corner from the cathedral, and as Gourmand Grain, was known to sell vegan cheeses and croissants. I have yet to try a dairy free croissant in France, so that is pretty exciting for me. However, sometime in 2014, the store changed hands and was renamed “Natural.” I will be interested to see if it still sells the same products (I hope so!).
La Vie Claire. This health food store has two locations, one of which is downtown, with the other near the Saint Mark Market (more on that later). A place to buy vegan products, such as meat substitutes.
Marche Saint-Mark. This is an open air market that takes over one of Rouen’s squares on four days of the week. I am sure I will be able to buy lots of great fruits and vegetables there, as well as meat. Hopefully they will have other accessories, such as herbs and spices and olive oil. But if not, I can certainly go downtown and shop at the:
Monopris. France’s most ubiquitous supermarket chain has a location right downtown in Rouen, on the well-traveled Rue du Gros-Horloge. This branch is said to have fresh, fairly-priced produce. I wonder if they will have things like margarine and – do I dare to dream? – vegan cream cheese and that sort of thing. We’ll see!
Desserts will, I would imagine, continue to be the greatest challenge. If I can polish up my French enough, perhaps I will have the guts to ask for dairy free options in the boulangeries (I recall there are some nice ones in Rouen). I do know that there are options in Rouen’s most famous dessert destination, Dame Cakes.
The cakes that give the cafe its name are pretty much off-limits for us dairy free folk. But they do have a counter with some packaged house-made chocolates that we can have. And oh my dears, these are exceptional. Chocolate bars mixed with dried fruit and nuts, and chocolate-covered nuts. You are not going to want to miss out on a visit to Dame Cakes. I bet we will be stopping there at least once a week, probably more.
As you can see, there are options in Rouen. I haven’t begun to tell you about the restaurants we’ve been to before (some handled dairy free requests better than others, but I ate very well at all of them). To say that we are looking forward to our time in Rouen in June and July is the understatement of the week. And believe me, you haven’t heard the last from me on what we are going to see, do (and eat!) there.