Before You Go: Prepare Yourself for the Parisian Kitchen

There are many differences between France and the US. When you go you have to be prepared to stand out. It’s pretty difficult to blend in on the street, especially if you don’t know French.

But standing out on the street is nothing compared to the challenges that await you in the kitchen of your rental flat in Paris.


Where Is All My Space?

This is the first obstacle you will face. Kitchens in Paris rental flats are tiny. Really tiny. The space is even proportionally smaller than a kitchen in a similarly-sized apartment in New York. There are complex reasons for this that we’ll get to later.

Counter space is limited. Cabinet space is often crammed in overhead because it’s limited underneath by, yes, a washing machine. Because of the expense the number of pipes and drains was limited to basically the kitchen and the bathroom. The washing machine would have to be in one of these two areas, and, obviously, the kitchen is the better choice. Later it became normal and expected so it’s present in even newer buildings. If you have a dryer, it’s in the kitchen, too.

So be prepared to work in a small space.

View from the Eiffel tower


Is That Tiny Thing My Refrigerator?

Yes it is. Don’t look around for a separate unit somewhere. You get just one tiny fridge, and that’s it. But don’t worry about it. You can handle it if you make a few simple changes:

  • Get used to cooking fresh—it’s part of the reason why Europeans tend to be healthier than Americans, and you’ll love it
  • Get friendly with your local market—it’s part of the Paris experience to drop in on your local market almost daily to pick up ingredients to cook tonight
  • Store foods differently—Parisians often store fresh herbs on their balconies and cheese on their counters. If it’s used in a reasonable time frame, cheese stores well this way.
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Follow these tips and you’ll be surprised at how well you get along with a very small refrigerator.


How Many Grams in a Cup of Comté?

If you are planning on trying to cook American recipes in Paris, you might want to pack your measuring cups. In France and other European countries, many recipes are written in weights rather than in volumes like in the US. If you’re lucky, your kitchen will have a scale. If not, you’ll have to buy one. But don’t expect to find the measuring cups you’re used to. Even if you do find some, they’ll be metric.


Why the Differences?

The home is the physical embodiment of culture. People design physical spaces not just around their utility, but around perceptions of their utility. In France, cooking in the home has traditionally been regarded as an undignified necessity, which is why the kitchen was often designed as a small, separate space that excludes guests.

In the US, people are proud of cooking, part of our general perception that labor is ennobling. Of course, this extends more to the ostentatious preparation of a space in which one could cook but rarely does. The result is that the kitchens are typically made into inviting spaces—think how many parties you’ve been to where you spent a great deal of time in the kitchen.

In Paris, if you want to avoid offense, don’t barge into your host’s kitchen or offer to help preparation or clean-up, even if you can fit.