How I spent $19 on a $90 dinner in Paris

Save money during Paris Fashion Week by cooking your own dinner with items purchased at a local farmers market, like features writer Alexandra Mondalek did. (Photo: Alexandra Mondalek)

Yahoo Lifestyle attended Paris Fashion Week on a shoestring budget, and we’re taking you along with us, with tips on how to pack, where to stay, and how to enjoy the French capital without breaking the bank — or forgoing any of the fun. Today’s lesson: How to enjoy a Parisian meal without the markup.

During Paris Fashion Week, there are a handful of fashion-insider-sanctioned cafés and clubs that consistently pop up on Instagram.

One need not search long to spot them: There are Monsieur Bleu at Palais de Tokyo (itself a regular venue for Paris Fashion Week shows) and Café de l’Homme at Place Trocadéro, both of which offer great views of the Eiffel Tower.

And were you even at Paris Fashion Week if you didn’t post a picture from Café de Flore? (We’re looking at you, Revolve influencers.)

Paris Fashion Week is a biannual event in which fashion editors, buyers, and tastemakers head to the French capital to attend designer shows, events, and dinners. But if you’re a fashion aficionado without a brand-subsidized budget, eating at the cafés that are favorites among the Instagram set can be unreasonably pricey.

And by all means, do it for the ’gram! That is, pose in front of the restaurant. (We even teach you how, and you can see in real time @hautetakes). But only commit to eating a meal there if you’re willing to spend multiples what you would on something you made yourself.

This style writer wanted to know just how much less it would cost to cook a comparable meal in my Airbnb — with groceries purchased at the local Monoprix grocery store — than pay for it at said Café de Flore.

On the menu at Café de l’Airbnb with Chef Alex? To start, a bottle of smooth Chardonnay and a tomato and mozzarella caprese salad. For dinner, herb-roasted chicken breast and asparagus, with rich vanilla ice cream for dessert.

This dinner, cooked at an Airbnb in Paris, cost less than $20 per person, compared with a similar dinner that costs $90 at a trendy café. (Photo: Alexandra Mondalek)

The grand total of the Monoprix-purchased dinner came to 32 euros for two people, or roughly $19 USD per person. That same meal at Café de Flore costs nearly three times as much, coming in at 77 euros, or $90, per person. For a bit of perspective: Two glasses of white wine alone at Café de Flore cost more than the entire meal at chez moi.

And so, my at-home dining experience wasn’t nearly as chic as it might have been at a Parisian café along Boulevard Saint-Germain (it’s true that there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about being served by a snooty Frenchman compared to wrestling with a wine cork.)

But what I sacrificed in Instagram-able moments, I saved in dollars (and at least one of those things is very real). If you’re in Paris for a few days, here are some tips for saving on food costs.

Discover your inner Julia Child

As part of our Paris Fashion Week on a Budget series, we dove into the benefits of staying in a home rental versus a hotel. One of those benefits includes having a kitchen to yourself, depending on the space you’ve rented.

Take advantage of a host’s kitchen to save money on dining out. Before your trip, email your host and ask whether they have kitchen equipment that you’re allowed to use, as well as any spices so you know whether you’ll have to purchase them yourself. As with any rental service, be sure to clean up the apartment once you’re finished so you maintain a strong rating that makes you more likely to book apartments you want in the future.

When grocery shopping, head to a budget grocery store like a Monoprix (of which there are dozens within Paris) versus a gourmet market like La Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marché.

Check out a farmers market

If you’re planning to cook your own meal or pack for a picnic, there are a number of farmers markets around the city worth exploring, not only for their fresh produce selection, but for the meat, cheese, wine, and trinkets available for purchase.

A selection of cheeses at Place Monge farmers market in Paris. (Photo: Alexandra Mondalek)
The metro stop in Paris that takes you directly to the Marché Monge farmers market. (Photo: Alexandra Mondalek)

Two worth exploring are Marché Monge at Place Monge in the Latin Quarter (conveniently located next to a metro stop with the same name.) Marché Monge is open Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Marché Bastille is open Thursday and Sunday mornings.

If you’re planning a visit to either, go early in the morning. Keep in mind that if the weather is unfavorable, many vendors close up shop early. Also, plan on carrying some cash to the market.

Stay away from restaurants near major landmarks

You’re on vacation, so to assume you’ll cook every meal at home is a bit of a reach. When you do dine out, try your best to stay away from restaurants near landmarks. The idea of eating at a restaurant with a view of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe may be romantic, but there’s nothing romantic about being broke.

Other tourist traps include cafes near the Louvre Museum, the Père Lachaise Cemetery, or Notre-Dame de Paris.

If you think you’ll be hungry while visiting one of these spots, pack a few items to snack on that you’ve picked up at a local Monoprix or a produce stand. The Champs de Mars is a parklike green space behind the Eiffel Tower, the perfect spot to picnic with a baguette and some cheese if you’re visiting the tower. If you do stake out a spot there, be sure to say “no” to vendors walking around with $10 beers and water bottles for sale. Another great picnic spot in Paris is the Luxembourg Gardens.

The best part about both of those makeshift dining spots? They’re free to enter.

There’s something delicious about a bargain, it seems.

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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.