Parisian Living

On Being a Vegetarian in Paris: Tien Hang Bistrot & more

by Rosa Jackson

Rosa Jackson, the fabulous food writer and chef, is based in Nice where she conducts market tours and succulent Provençal cooking classes. She travels to Paris frequently (as one must) in order to keep up with the restaurant scene. Here she checks out Tien Hang, a true haven for Parisian vegetarians!

Rosa Jackson Vegetarian Restaurant Paris
Rosa Jackson’s vegetarian son Sam in Zen restaurant

A few months ago, my son Sam declared himself a vegetarian. Now, if we lived in California this might not sound unusual, but this is France, proud land of steak-frites and saucisson, andouillette and tête de veau. What made his decision even more surprising is that both of his parents are meat-eaters. If much of my cooking relies on fresh vegetables from the market, I also can’t deny having a passion for steak tartare.

At first I wasn’t sure how to react. He had been making noises about becoming vegetarian ever since watching a cooking show on the television channel Arte in which a group of 12 to 14 year-olds visited a rabbit farm to see where meat came from. Picture the poor bunnies dangling from hooks, then cut to the skinned rabbits a few seconds later, ready to be chopped up for lapin à la moutarde. Who could really blame Sam?

For two years (he saw the show when he was five) I persuaded him that eating a little meat and fish is not a bad thing if you choose it carefully. But, as he got older, he became convinced that anything with a heart and a brain shouldn’t die in order to feed him. When he started to categorically refuse meat and fish, I decided not to fight it.

Rosa Jackson’s Stuffed Tofu – Tien Hang

I quickly discovered, though, that becoming vegetarian in France isn’t so simple. First, there was the school’s reaction. The teacher and canteen supervisors came to me saying, “Is he serious?” When I assured them that he was, they frowned and shook their heads. In France, school canteens operate on the principle that every child should eat everything, or at least try everything, unless they have a religious or health reason not to. The upside of this is that France is a nation of unfussy eaters. The downside is that la différence is not welcomed.

I went to see the économe, the woman in charge of collecting money for the canteen, and explained the “problem.” She gave me a sympathetic yet puzzled look.

“Vegetarianism is not a recognized diet in France,” she said. “We’ll have to put everything on the plate even if he doesn’t eat it.”

Thus, my son who doesn’t want to animals to die for his sake still gets served meat or fish every day at school, and has to eat around it.

As any vegetarian who has travelled to France knows, eating in restaurants is also a challenge. Fortunately, I live in Nice where the Italian influence means that gnocchi and fresh pasta with pistou or tomato sauce are nearly always on the menu. Nice also has one of the best vegetarian restaurants in France, La Zucca Magica, where children under 12 eat for free. Paris bistros are a bit more problematic, but since Sam is not fussy in other ways he will settle for almost anything that doesn’t contain animal protein (as long as goat cheese is not involved). He is also thrilled to eat miso soup and vegetable maki at my favorite Japanese restaurant, Zen.

Last night, as we were meeting a friend who has also gone off meat (or at least non-organic meat) after reading Eating Animals, I decided to see if we could find a good vegetarian restaurant in Paris. There are a lot more options for vegetarians these days thanks to places like Rose Bakery, Bob’s Juice Bar and Cococook, which serve Anglo-style salads, soups and sandwiches, but I was curious to try a restaurant with strict vegetarian principles. For once, I thought it would be nice if Sam could order anything on the menu without having to adapt to a meat-eating world.

Rosa Jackson Vegetarian Restaurant Paris Papaya SaladRosa’s Papaya Salad – Tien Hang

A little research on vegetarian websites led me to Tien Hiang, a Chinese Buddhist restaurant with two locations in Paris. The newest branch, not far from the Canal St-Martin, is open for the month of August when most Paris restaurants close for holidays. Though I was a little nervous about taking my friends to such a plain-looking restaurant, I made a booking for the four of us.

The first surprise was the dining room, which although simple was clean and pleasant, animated by the chatter of the French and Asian diners around us. We were handed thick menus listing an extensive selection of dishes, many of them made with “pork,” “beef,” “chicken” or “duck.” As the menu explained, this was not real meat but soy protein designed to imitate meat. A lot of people might argue with the assumption that vegetarians crave the look and feel of meat on their plates, but Sam seemed quite excited at the prospect of eating “chicken.”

Tempted by nearly everything on the menu, I ordered the green papaya salad, mini Imperial rolls, tofu stuffed with “minced beef” and  sticky rice, while Sam went for the vegetable maki roll and the “chicken” sautéed with onions. The papaya salad was suprisingly spicy, with extra flavor coming from strips of lemon zest. Almost overwhelming on its own, it worked well in combination with blander dishes such as the steamed ravioli. The fried Imperial rolls had a stuffing made of taro root, soy vermicelli, black mushrooms and carrot, with a meaty texture that I could have mistaken for pork.

My biggest success, though, was the stuffed tofu, which arrived bubbling dramatically in its little clay pot. A difficult dish to make, with a filling of “minced meat,” bamboo shoots, mushrooms and cilantro, it cost €8 and was so deeply flavored that I found myself lapping up all the sauce with my sticky rice. Sam was equally happy with his chicken, whose texture he found amazingly like the real thing. Less of a hit was Erica’s bun bi (similar to bo bun, a Vietnamese dish of rice vermicelli with vegetables, meat and fried spring rolls), which lacked the tangy fish sauce that normally gives this dish its character.

Rosa Jackson Spring rolls Nems Paris Vegetarian restoMini Imperial Rolls – Tien Hang

Desserts are of the sort normally found in Paris Asian restaurant: coconut balls, bananas in coconut milk, litchis in syrup, ice cream. Sam tried one of the more original desserts, a banana coated in sticky rice and steamed in a banana leaf, but handed it over after one spoonful. Drinks are more original, with a selection of organic non-alcoholic beers and slighly fermented juices (there is also Tsing Tao if you’re craving the real thing).

I’m happy to have found a place that I can wholeheartedly recommend to vegetarians in Paris, even if I would also warn them that it probably takes a bit of time to discover the best dishes on the long menu. This very satisfying meal cost just €18 per person with drinks.

As for people who ask me whether I’m afraid Sam will be malnourished, I say: he eats eggs, cheese, milk, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, seaweed, whole grains and nearly every fruit and vegetable known to man. Will he be more poorly nourished than a child who subsists on hamburgers and pizza?

Tien Hiang
14 rue Bichat, 75010
+33 (0)
Métro: Goncourt
Open: Daily, except for Tuesday, 12pm – 3pm & 6.30pm – 11pm

Related links:

Written by Rosa Jackson. Read Rosa’s original post here. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

Written By

Rosa Jackson

Rosa Jackson is a Canadian-born food writer and cooking teacher based in Nice and Paris. After ten years in Paris, where she wrote about restaurants for a number of guidebooks and magazines and founded the company Edible Paris. She now spends most of her time in Nice where she teaches Provençal cooking in her home. She spends a few days every month in Paris keeping up with restaurants, conducting food tours, and sampling the finest patisseries and chocolates. View Rosa Jackson's Website

27 comments on “On Being a Vegetarian in Paris: Tien Hang Bistrot & more

I was in Paris last month with a friend who is vegan and we ate here. Twice. Both meals were mind-blowingly good. My black pepper “steak” claypot was just as good as the roast “duck” I had for my 2nd meal. And the coconut juice…OH THE COCONUT JUICE!

Srsly, I can’t recommend this place highly enough. We went to the location on Rue Chemin Vert. Blink and you’ll miss it, which would be a sad thing indeed.

I totally sympathize with Sam! I was the exact same way and have lived as a happy vegetarian for 18 years now. Sam sounds like he’s got a great big heart.

Thanks again for the vegetarian options for Paris. I will be seeking them out!

Last time I ordered a vegetarian dish in Paris, it came with shrimps. Go figure. Tres difficile being vegetarian in France.

This post is going to save me when I go to Paris next year! Looking forward to trying the vegetarian places listed in this post and the subsequent comments. Tout le monde, merci beaucoup!

Well done Sam! I too stopped eating meat as a child when I found out that animals had to be killed to produce it. I am now vegan. Been to Paris many times and found it difficult AND annoying not just for a vegan but for someone who doesn’t really like bread – especially white bread! The expressions I got when asking for “pain brun?” I’ll never forget!

But I am headed back there again now I researched where I can eat! Loving Hut and Tieng Hang – searching to find an Vegan friendly restaurant that serves traditional french food too.

Hi Michelle, Thanks for the info on your son’s school. That is certainly encouraging. Now they need to start using organic as well!!

My son studies at an international school. This year they’ve added an extra caterer for vegetarian children.

b from pergolina

sam is the best! wow! what a great kid!

I really enjoyed reading this. What a compassionate kid Sam is to make this decision on his own and to stick to his convictions at such a young age. Just wow. And kudos to you for being so supportive.

I’m 47, I’ve been vegetarian for 20 years and my Mom still tries to serve me meat whenever I visit.

It’s a start but Sam–and others– should look into where their dairy products and eggs come from. Cows are constantly gotten pregnant to produce milk; the female calves are taken away from their mothers and the male calves are sent off to the slaughterhouse, screaming in terror, unless they are destined to become breeding stock. When a cow cannot produce as much milk, usually at the age of around 7, she too ends up as meat. Same with free-range chickens. As for battery hens, the horror of their lives has been well-documented. Personally, I feel it’s less cruel to eat fish.

Gawwwd, I love this blog. I’m even more convinced that I was born in the wrong country. I’ll get to France someday. Until I get there, thanks for making it a little more real to me.

Great article. I had worried what we would eat on this trip to Paris since starting our mostly vegetarian diet a few months ago. As for being malnourished, in the US a group of people who live in California have some of the longest life spans are complete vegetarians. I’m surprised that the smarty pants French don’t know this 😉

Again, thanks for the links – what a Godsend!

Tara, thanks for those encouraging words – I’ll throw them back at anyone who says Sam’s IQ will be lower because he doesn’t eat fish!

Tara Tiger Brown

One other thing, there are lots of studies about kids that choose to be vegetarian have higher IQs. So not only is Sam choosing a healthy lifestyle, he is a a smarty pants!

Tara, Thanks for the link to the vegan resto in Paris. I will definitely check it out. Let us know your thoughts if you go before we do! Enjoy your travels. -Erica

Tara Tiger Brown

MERCI!! I am Vegetarian and my husband is Vegan so we are always on the lookout for recommendations here in Paris. We have been trying to figure out where to go for Chinese mock meat and your review was perfect.

I am sorry that your son hasn’t been supported about his food choices at school. Bravo to him for sticking with what is important to him despite the adversity. It’s hard being different, especially at his age.

I’m not sure if our 5 month old son, Ripley, will stick with the veggie life, but at least living in Los Angeles he won’t be alone no matter which choice he makes.

Lastly, there is a vegan gourmet restaurant in Paris that we are going to try out that has received rave reviews and they welcome children:

I just had tasty Indian food last night at:
Coffee Anjapper – 22, rue Cail Paris 10eme M: La Chapelle.
They are not vegetarian, but they had great vegetarian options. The Biryani was one of the best I have had, and I have had many. Also fab was the veggie Kotthu, and the masala vadai. Yumm heading back soon for sure!

Lauren, I was impressed by your list of vegetarian (or veggie-minded) restaurants in Paris – a useful resource for any vegetarian visitor. I’m dying to try that veggie burger at Bioboa!

I’m glad that so many of you are supportive of Sam and his unusual choice. He said to me yesterday, “I still like the smell of meat and remember how good it tastes, but I just tell myself that I don’t need it.”

Go Sam! I loved this article as well! I visited Paris earlier this summer and as an avid vegetarian myself, I did a lot of research on veggie restaurants in Paris. I was surprised when I discovered there are a bunch! While some were not as we expected there were a few gems in the city. Here is the link to my post I did in regards to the restaurants I found, I have to say our favorite one, which my boyfriend and I visited several times was:
Le Potager du Marais

0033 1 42 74 24 66
22, Rue Rambuteau
Paris, France 75003

Their seitan was the best I’ve ever had! You must check it out!

Hi Sion. I would say that this is still a hole in the wall, but it is nice and clean and friendly! You must try and let us know what you think! – Erica

Sion @ paris (im)perfect

I love Tien Hang, but have not tried their new Canal St Martin location – it looks nicer than the hole in the wall in the 11th (not that I have anything against holes-in-the wall. Quite the contrary!)

Thanks for not only spreading the word on this great vegetarian restaurant, but also sharing such a warm, personal story to go along with it. Sam sounds like a super smart kid!

Please excuse my over-use of Smiley faces. I was overly enthusiastic and did not proof read ..

I think you are so very wonderful for your reaction and response to Sam and his decision.
We don’t eat red meat but do eat chicken and fish , when my son was a young teen, he decided he was not going to eat chicken either.
And that was that. He has lived all over the world and has managed not to eat meat and to stay healthy .. despite well meaning grandmothers and friends who are sure he will enjoy ” just a bite of something that they made that he will like” .. I sometimes think that not being a meat eater is not as hard as it is to explain your choice to people/strangers all the time.
We have eaten in Paris so many times and never had a problem, and now I live in Buenos Aires, home of the Steak .. we still manage fine 🙂
Good for Sam ! and good for you being so supportive.
My mother in law was sure there was something wrong with her son for not eating meat 🙂

Sam is a great guy and definitely on to something with his vegetarian attitude! This is a great post. Thanks Rosa! – Erica

Fantastique! A new veggie option to try.

I love your story, Rosa – sounds like Sam is already a very special guy! 🙂

Well written and very intersting. Loved this article, since it was so personal. And geez how I long for some Asian food now. Will be in Paris again in ten days so hopefulyl I will have time to discover some of your tips you’ve generously been giving during the summer. Thanks!

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