« SHF23: Surprise Inside: My Triple Surprise Williams | Main | A Good Chinese Restaurant in Paris »

Chinese traiteurs in Paris

Chinese Traiteurs in Paris

You hear lots about “la belle vie” - “la dolce vita” – “the good life” in France. You also hear about the Sunday markets, the freshest and best local produce. How every French person is so lucky to eat wonderfully, how French people really take the time to cook their meals and spend time savouring every bite and morsel of a Quiche Lorraine prepared from scratch, with bacon from pigs that ate only corn… French people enjoy the occasional splurge at fancy Michelin starred restaurants for the celebration, the meal of the month. In short, French people just know how to eat, and they eat well.

This food-loving scene is probably only applicable to 25% of the population. These are the foodies, the weekend cooks, the doyens of the families that prepare the big family lunch on Sunday (does not including the people who were running around all week and missed food shopping in Carrefour on Saturday). The rest of the population pie is divided among the younger generation who prefer fast food, the others who see food as a social tool and the working people who do not have any time for food.

The “foodie” group is the one that wakes up faithfully at 7am on a Sunday for the freshest foods, who are on the pulse of what the French chefs are into. The younger student generation prefers pizzas, a jambon fromage baguette (ham and cheese sandwich)- handy food to down with a can of diet coke. Then there are those who like to hang out in a nice trendy place. They care only that Phillippe Starck designed BON or that they are paying EUR15 for a beer, hanging out with the cool gang.

The last group consists of the busy bees and the lonely bachelors. Ben and I are part of this group. Our day starts at 6:30am in the morning and we are not home before 8:30pm every night. By the time we have dinner, it’s 9/9:30pm. We spend two hours every day on the metros… and we don’t even have kids. How do the other French families cope with work, children and food shopping? The surgélés Picard (Picard brand frozen foods) are ubiquitous in Paris (88 in Paris, that makes 4.4 in every arrondissement). Is that another lonesome bachelor coming out of Picard with his weekly supply of frozen roast beef and fondant au chocolat (melty chocolate cake)? We are also the reason for the horrible Chinese traiteurs (caterers) in every neighbourhood.

As happy as I am for French people discovering and enjoying Chinese food, I am honestly turned off by the way it is served up in Paris. The traiteurs cook up the food in the back kitchen, which is displayed on plates in a glass case in the store front. The clients pick and point at what they want: rice noodles, beef with green pepper, pork nems… the server puts the food into little clear plastic barquettes (boxes), adds two ladles of gravy into the barquettes and weighs them. The barquettes go into the microwave for 2mins and gets transferred into a clingfilm machine that seals the barquettes up. Hmmm... how appetizing.

I don’t like the fact that the food’s been sitting out (how long??) in the glass shelves and definitely not in the summer time. I don’t like the msg they put in it. I can almost close a blind eye to the zapping of food in the microwave. But what really gets me going is the servers pilling the boxes to the brim with gravy before they weigh the food. This is just such a Chinese trait – screw the customer as much as possible.

Some of my colleagues go to Chinese traiteurs for lunch and always rave about how they like Chinese food, the merits of Chinese food… and this is a real dilemma for me. I don’t want to kill the joy and curiosity and yet, how do I tell them “It’s really not how Chinese food is usually prepared or consumed.”? So, I take them to one of the few good Chinese haunts in Paris.

Next: One of the few Chinese restaurants worth going to in Paris…


Yes we like getting traiteur food because it is very easy and someone prepare the food. Maybe only the traiteurs chinois do heating like this. We warm the traiteur French food at home and never heat too much.

Sounds pretty grim, which is a shame because Chinese food can be so good. In my experience, the majority of 'Chinese' food in my area is pretty bad too. (People expect it to take no time at all to cook, and be unreasonably cheap, which does not help good Chinese retaurants to flourish.) I love many foreign interpretations of Chinese food - Indian Chinese is some of my favourite Indian food, and I always order 'Chinese' food like tang soo yuk and ja jiang myun in Korean restaurants. So in some countries it turns out better than others. Looking forward to the post on the good place.

Pipa: You're right. The French traiteurs don't reheat the food like the Chinese traiteurs do. I find it very convenient to have traiteurs in Paris, because it does help those of us with crazy busy schedules... but not at the expense of healthy eating.

Pepper: I think it's possible to have good inexpensive Chinese food, esp if the traiteurs cut down on all the MSG and bottled flavourings, the cost could possibly go down. I think many Chinese caterers have compromised what tastes good with what looks good.
I've never had Indian Chinese food before... wonder what that is like.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)