Why is the food so abysmal at Charles de Gaulle Airport?

aeroports de Paris

Because they recently asked, since my last trip out of Charles de Gaulle airport, I decided that I would try to imagine the perfect airport in Paris.

I sometimes take a bit of ribbing because being a good American, I can’t go too far without having le snack handy. And with airlines requiring earlier check-ins and cutting down on food service, a number of airports have gotten with the program and realized that there’s thousands of people passing through daily, many waiting…and waiting…and waiting, with nothing to do but eat.

I’ve given up on the food on the trains since those plastic-wrapped triangular sandwiches look terrible. If I was famished, I’d sooner eat the armrests. They apparently gave up the pioneering sous vide cuisine that three-star chef Joël Robuchon created for the trains, and while rail technology was embraced and swiftly moved forward, the food unfortunately didn’t zoom exactly in the same direction.

During a recent closure of the airport due to weather conditions, people were stuck there overnight and there was only one thing that I kept worrying about— “I wonder what all those people will eat?”

pappa sushi

I don’t think Chef Robuchon was called into service, but the idea of people arriving and departing in the airport of one of the great food cities and seeing what’s on offer, well, I feel bad for them. Although some claim it is one of the top three worst airports in the world, the crews are working hard on cleaning it up and organizing the layout better. Although it’s très Americain, I was happy to see they have a Starbuck’s at Terminal 1 that has chairs and fresh food, although I wonder – Why are there no French cafés or non-chain restaurants in there?

Since they asked, how terrific would it be to have a real crêpe at the airport, filled with melted, nutty Comté cheese and a slice of jambon de pays? Or to dig into a platter of spit-roasted chicken accompanied with a petit carafe of of Côte-du-Rhone at an in-airport bistro while passing the hours waiting for your plane to take off? Heck, even a falafel would do. With all those people trapped at the airport, each seems like a no-brainer to me and completely do-able. And while I know that making money and being commercial can sometimes be viewed as a bad thing, on the other hand, let’s say the ideas I’ve been thinking about could be viewed as focusing visitors gaze on the best of France, and reminding locals what their country has to offer.

When I fly out of San Francisco International Airport, I have a choice between wood-fired oven pizza, teriyaki, traditional Italian pastries, sushi, dim sum, or a pretty decent burrito (which is what I always choose, with apologies to those seated next to me on the flight.) London Heathrow, long considered a contender for worst airport in the world, has a caviar bar (mon dieu!…a branch of a French restaurant!), wine bars, a fresh juice bar, and a Gordon Ramsey restaurant. Hong Kong airport has a French Cognac bar, but they don’t have it in France, the land where these exceptional Cognacs are made?

During a recent trip, I stopped over in Newark Airport, which sported a French wine bar, a raw oyster bar, a fresh juice bar, and a sushi bar. The airport in Austin, Texas had a branch of a local barbeque serving up brisket and ribs as well as Amy’s ice cream, two local favorites. O’Hare in Chicago had branches of Vosges chocolate and Garrett’s popcorn, both local favorites. Berghoff’s in the airport makes sandwiches to order, slicing roasted meats directly from the oven. And Rick Bayless runs a Mexican restaurant with freshly made Mexican sandwiches, a guacamole bar, Intelligentsia coffee, tortilla chips, and organic yogurt with a selection of fresh fruits.

ice cream with sprinkles Austin airport

But lest anyone think the trend toward better airport dining is an American thing, I remember entering the airport in Berlin, and as I rounded the corner after the security area, I inhaled something familiar and warm: the smell of yeast and freshly baked bread filling the air. And soon I was standing in front of a full-on working bread oven with sacks of flour off to the side, not for decoration, but which the bakers were dipping in to for flour and grains as they mixed up loaves of bread. Once cooled, the loaves of organic breads were used to make sandwiches to order, with such offerings as country ham, arugula, and sun-dried tomatoes. There was also a machine pressing fresh (organic) oranges for juice.

(Perhaps someone will tell the airport officials to try to get the people who makes those fantastic sandwiches at Le Petit Vendôme to open up a stand at CDG airport. Personally, I would head to the airport early for one of those. And probably grab a second one for the plane ride.)

I’ve also had bowls of udon at Narita airport in Tokyo, San Crispino gelato (Caramel with bits of crackly meringue, if you must know) while waiting for my flight to depart in Rome, and slid a fork into a slice of Bavarian nut-filled torte at Dallmayr in the Munich airport.

So here’s a few things I imagine for The Perfect Airport in Paris:

-A wine bar where people could sit and sample some of the great French wines. With the wines, serve charcuterie platters like they do at the many wine bars in Paris. Nothing could be simpler to serve up and France has some wonderful country hams, sausages, rillettes, and pâtés.

-Speaking of which, who don’t love Champagne? (I, for example, am a huge fan.) Instead of the Champagne producers spending their time (and money) targeting Americans with an advertising campaign featuring Venetian masks, how about getting the Champagne producers together and setting up a Champagne bar for travelers to sip a glass of something that France does exceptionally well?

-It was likely really cool in the 80s but the novelty has worn off. So let’s turn the horrible Plexiglas Escher-esque hamster cage of Terminal 1 into a garden to celebrate the long-standing tradition of French farming. That big, grimy empty space would be an interesting place to grow and expose visitors to some of the lush fruits and vegetables France was always known for. Or how about a demonstration area of how grapes are grown since wine is such an important product of France? It might be kind of goofy to grow grapes at the airport, but if they grown them in Paris (and make wine from them), cru de Roissy just might take off.

-A cheese shop and tasting area. Visitors could get a plate of various cheeses from France, and buy prime examples of those cheeses to bring home rather than the shrink-wrapped specimens unattractively thrown together in the refrigerated bin in the duty-free shop. Although things could get a little stinky, cheese is the number-one greatest thing that no one does better than France. Really.

-How about a chocolate arcade? Get a group of the best chocolate shops in Paris, like La Maison du Chocolat, Patrick Roger, Michel Chaudun, and John-Charles Rochoux, and have a hall with kiosks from chocolates from these masters of chocolate.

Some of them already have kiosks in the department stores in Paris so obviously they’re able to do it successfully. And if Ladurée can have a small cart selling macarons, why not encourage the chocolatiers to do the same? I can’t think of a better place to pick up some last-moment gifts.

(And folks could stop worrying about their chocolates being confiscated by chocolate-loving security agents since they would have already passed through airport security.)

-Open up some tea salons. Paris is famous for its salons de thé, pleasant places to pass the time, such as Mariage Frères, Ladurée, and Angelina. How nice it would be for people will extra time on their hands to sit down and how tea and a light lunch or a pastry before their flight?

-A bar à huitres! France abounds with fresh oysters which get delivered daily from the shores of Brittany, Normandy, and the mid-Atlantique. How about setting up a counter so travelers could enjoy a dozen oysters with some rye bread and extraordinary French salted butter? And Sancerre, mais oui…

-Fire up a bread oven. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to arrive back home clutching a loaf of real, authentic French bread from Paris. Someone like Eric Kayser, who’s been able to successfully open a multitude of bakeries in Paris (and the United States, Greece…and the Ukraine, Morocco…and Russia, Dubai, Lebanon and Japan…) could have a working oven selling bread and sandwiches made on their fresh bread. Hey, if they can do it thousands of miles away, surely doing it right next to Paris wouldn’t be all that hard.

-A sushi bar. Since I arrived in Paris, the quality of Japanese food has skyrocketed and although the industrial take-outs have invaded the streets, the throngs packing the places on the rue Saint Anne are testaments that authentic Japanese food has won over plenty of Parisians. The food is healthy and light, and places like Matsuri have shown that you can serve sustainable seafood and be a success.

-Fire up a rôtisserie. One of the best things at French markets are the spit-roasted chickens which are hard to screw up and really incredibly easy; you just season the chicken, stick it on the broche, and let ‘em spin until the skin gets nice and crispy. Imagine sitting down to a plate of roast chicken and potatoes cooked in the drippings with a glass of vin de Loire before hitting the walkway to the plane and facing the airline’s version of poulet rôti.



Related Links

Frommer’s Top Ten Airport Restaurants (USA Today)

Grabbing a Bite Between Flights (New York Times)

Best Airport Restaurants (Travel+Leisure)

O’Hare Unveils Airport Aeroponics (American Public Media)

Ultimate Airport Dining Survival Guide: Best Airport Restaurants (Food+Wine)

Airport Dining (Charles de Gaulle Airport Reviews)

130 comments

  • Hav you been to Vino Volo yet? Cutting edge……delightfully fresh food at an airport!! Imagine that……and a wine tasting? I love it! The only problem is that they aren’t at EVERY airport yet!

    • I haven’t been. But was thinking about this when I was at Newark Airport and saw the French wine bar with all the French wines being poured, and thought: “They have this in Newark, why not France?” So interesting that folks have figured out that you have a lot of people in airports with nothing to do, so why not feed them well. I know the McDonald’s and other fast-food places are necessary evils at airports, but it doesn’t seem like the other ideas are unreachable or difficult.

  • First I laughed REALLY hard at your title…
    but this is such a brilliant idea and if they had the tiniest iota of brains they would choose you as their consultant David.
    You are so right on about the dearth of anything decent to eat at CDG.
    The best choices I’ve found at the little grocery/magazine store just to the right of entering customs – their salads are not half bad and the prices not sky-high like post-customs.
    But you must eat it before entering customs or have it taken away.
    There is a newish La Maison du Chocolat concession selling hot chocolate inside the duty-free shopping area. The Laduree concession would be much nicer with a tea salon added on – great idea.
    Otherwise the choices are pathetic and overpriced.
    Perhaps you could organize a march or demonstration David?
    Certainly many French would join in marching to Nation?
    I’ll happily carry a banner!

  • Don’t mess with Escher, David! ;-)

  • I understand what you are saying about France’s Charles de Gaulle airport, but anyone producing good food in France does not want to be stuck in an airport. Where is the pleasure in that? The traffic, the stale air, cranky travelers with too many kids…no thanks! Of course there is a market for it and plenty of travelers would be thrilled to eat French chicken, cheese, potatoes, wine….but good luck finding someone willing to sacrifice their quality of life for a small fortune.

    I was in CDG this week and discovered a very nice place to eat in terminal E….called EXKi (it’s a chain). They had over 40 choices of organic soups, sandwiches, pastas and salads. I had a comte, apple and mache sandwich that was divine with a pecan caramel tart for dessert. The coffee was not bad either!!

    • Hi Stephanie: I agree that few people want to work at the airport, but I would imagine that the folks working at McDonald’s or l’Hippo would be happier standing behind a counter pouring wine or slicing hams than standing over a hot griddle flipping hamburgers.

      I think the argument might be that French people don’t take eating in airports (or on trains) seriously, but the SNCF hired Chef Robuchon to take on the task at one point so the concept isn’t so distant.

      And it’s interesting that places like EXKi are opening around Paris (and at the airport) and I think they opened one at the Gare de l’Est. My only issue with them is that all those bio (organic) places popping up wrap everything in so much plastic. But I guess for an airport, that’s another necessary evil.

  • Aren’t all airports like that, though? Chain city…. And charge you 3 times more than the groundside version, too – the Prets at Gatwick certainly does!

  • There was something wonderful about going through that hamster cage on my first trip to Paris — the first of many times I felt like I had stepped right into the pages of my French book.

    It is certainly ugly, though.

  • I echo Stephanie’s comments. I read that there are not so many good restaurants in Paris and the few good ones are filled to the brim. Having said this, offering food that requires no preparation such as cheese, wine, charcuterie, pastries etc can be a start while more good French chefs are groomed!

    Have you travelled through Delhi Airport (the old one)? No alcohol sold, a tiny cafeteria with extremely limited items. I tried their home made half cooked microwave pizza.

    Swedish rail offers meals prepared by Michelin starred Leif Mannerström

  • Probably something to do with the airlines operating from the airport wanting people to buy even worse food on board the plane!
    I’ve never understood why the duty free areas charge over the odds for produce either, I never buy anything in them these days.

  • Abby: I think they might need to re-think the “hamster cage” tubes in more ways than one. On those long moving beltways that go up the steep incline, I’ve seen several elderly people (and a few young ones, too) almost take a nasty tumble. I’ll bet it looked really cool when they built it and to be honest, I love the retro look of Terminal 1. I wish they restored it and made it really cool again, but at least they are organizing it; I was there a few years ago and a bunch of us followed a sign to an exit, which led to a solid brick wall.

    Annabel: The Barcelona airport has a stipulation that the restaurants and shops charge the same as what they charge at their stores in the city. I did include some links to places that discuss dining options in various airports around the world which shows the possibilities.

    Sandra: I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with exclusive contracts that some of the current operators have. But that’s just a hunch.

    Three-Cookies: Yes, the places in Paris that have good food these days are really hard to get into. Most are small, too, which makes it frustrating but rewarding when you score a reservation. The young French chef of one of the most popular ones said to me, “I hope other people open restaurants. There is such a need.”

    Would love to go to India although I would imagine the airport food isn’t the best representation of the foods of India, but I’ve been surprised in airports, like the one in Berlin.

  • David, Have you ever thought of proposing these ideas to the Parisian Chamber of Commerce, or their equivalent?

  • You should definitely be hired as a consultant to revamp CDG’s food choices. what great ideas. The Dallmayr mention made me smile. It’s been my favorite place in Munich for over 13 years. I was so excited when they opened a branch at the AP where I load up on goodies every time I fly.

  • I was in Bangalore airport a couple of weeks ago, desperate for one last breakfast dosa before I got back to the states. There was not a single place selling Indian food! A sports bar selling vegetarian burgers and onion rings (cricket- is there a more boring sport?), a coffee bar that sold fruit and pastries, and a quick stop place that sold custard and baked goods (oh, and a souvenir shop that had the audacity to sell things that could be bought outside the airport for less than a dollar for $30). I was so shocked– who the hell goes to India for pastries and veggie burgers?!?!

    On another note, Salt Lake City airport, where I was a couple of months ago, has a local coffee shop right next to the Starbucks, and it was completely jam packed (and pretty damn good coffee too). Small things like that make me very happy.

    And here in Los Angeles there are still arguments over who gets to do what with the airport restaurants. My vote is with Nancy Silverton and something edible (pleease).

  • Oh, David, I just love your posts – your subtle humor leaves me nearly in tears for laughing.
    Personally, I think the quality of ALL airports worldwide would be improved with the champagne (or appropriate national sparkling beverage) bar.
    That being said, your suggestions, should they all come to fruition, will likely cause me to most ardently desire to take up residence in a broom closet within the terminal in order to enjoy all of this each and every day!
    Zum wohl!

  • I just came through Terminal 2 and they had a small shop offering foods of the territory; perhaps they need to do more of this throughout CDG. I would have checked out that store more thoroughly, but I was still thinking happy thoughts from the made-to-order panino with world-class fillings that I got en route at the deli at Venice’s Marco Polo airport. More of that kind of option everywhere, please!

  • Great post and it just might get people on the airport planning commission thinking. Years (OK decades) ago, famed San Francisco columnist Herb Caen wrote in his column that SFO could make visitors to the city feel welcome right away by offering free luggage carts. And it worked, for many years the cart were free at SFO.

    I hope the put you on the food and beverage committee.

  • The food is awful at the airport.

    When we came back last October we had to try and get lunch there. It was so expensive , and not great tasting into the bargain (or not as the case may be!). I’m extremely intloerant to yeast, and that cuts down options a lot, as most places had bread based snacks. Hubby and little one had sandwiches, which were run of the mill – little one refused point blank to eat! I had about a not quite full tiny ramekin of salad for 14 euros. On the plus side le fussy child was very appreciative of what I cook at home, well for a while anyhow.

    On the plus side the macaron shop was awesome, and fulled my macaron obsession big time!

  • I did an open-jaw in January (flew into LHR out of CDG) and was appalled at the complete lack of selection after passing through security at CDG. I had plenty of time to get something to eat before taking off, but figured it would behoove me to scoot through security before stopping to get food. I don’t know why I assumed that CDG would be like most other airports (oh wait, yes I do) and have something to eat after going through the security checkpoints – there was one, tiny little kiosk with pre-made, dried out, horrible little sandwiches, cookies and sodas. At that point I was too tired (and irritated with the security guards) to attempt going back out to get some food.

    Then I get to my layover in Philadelphia and enjoy a cheese and charcuterie plate with a nice glass of Rhone. WTF?

    You’re absolutely right – it’s a travesty that one of the best cities in the world has such dismal fare.

  • Singapore airport is excellent for food, entertainment, shopping and personal care. plenty of great food options, free movie theatres (lounge style), great massage parlors, hair salons, hourly hotels, and on and on. Being stuck there is not so bad.

  • Never have been at CDG but the food at some German airports is horrible & they charge you a small fortune, I can’t agree more to your “have to be” for Japan, the Ramen or Udon bowl is something you can’t do wrong. Or sandwichs at one of the London airports.
    With been straned twice thanks to the ash cloud I realised that some airports like Narita are well prepared for people not able to check in and pass trough security. Not like Heathrow with limited food offering outside the security area.

  • Great post David. Fantasizing is the best way to make it through air travel these days and fantasizing about food is far more constructive than the other things that leap to mind.
    Now for something completely different…
    I wanted to tell you I made your Preserved Moroccan Lemons last weekend after some friends brought me some lemons in danger of freezing in the recent SF area cold snap. I am delighted with the three jars I made: one for me, one for my son and one for the friends who brought the lemons. I can’t wait to taste! You didn’t tell us that not only do the preserving lemons look great on the counter, they smell wonderful when you open the jars. Thanks for sharing a wonderful recipe. http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2006/12/moroccan-preser-1/

  • Great article and I do wish they’d hire you!

    I think the reason for the awful food is that the people with the power to make the decisions all fly Air France and there spend all their time in Terminals 2E and 2F, both of which are halfway decent. They should be condemned to fly in out of 1 and 2A-D for weeks on end so that they see how most tourists see the airport.

    San Francisco is a model for airport food. How difficult can it be to do that in France where cuisine is supposed to be a UNESCO treasure? (@Rebecca, how horrible that you can’t get good Indian food in Bangalore airport!!)

  • wait till you get to Vietnam airports… they hardly do any justice to the local cuisine with their instant noodle and cheap sandwich offerings. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t let those street food sellers open up stalls in there, that would have at least made the waiting fun.

  • Sedulia: Maybe I can open The UNESCO Treasure Café and Restaurant? It’s amazing that San Francisco really dialed up the airport food over the past few years. I remember when they started they had some rough spots (a few places didn’t do so well, and folded) but with all the regulations about arriving early, I think they just decided “If we make the food good, people won’t mind coming to the airport early”, which they have.

    I think you’re right on about the officials all taking Air France and using that terminal. I’m a United flier and I’m glad they’re fixing that terminal, although it’s still pretty triste.

    Robin & Kelly-Jane: It’s interesting that some of the best French food, or more authentic, is found outside of France. The airport food really is a different story and it’s sad that it’s so abysmal.

  • I would live in the airport if the food was as good as you described. You know, like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

  • I say nuke Terminal 1 from orbit, it is the only way to be sure no one will ever have to endure one of those gravity challenging moving Dunlop carpets again.
    It was originally built in 1974 and at that time was ultra modern. We use to fly through there as children on the way to the US from north Africa and were impressed back then.
    I have had so many frustrating times taking groups of culinary students through that place. I was even there when one of the terminals collapsed due to faulty construction. At least they managed to get the internal transportation improved. I was always amazed at the bewildered French from province navigating the place for the first time trying to decipher the bus system. Don’t get me started on the elevators.
    I haven’t been in 3 years but can only hope they have worked through some of these issues.
    Couldn’t agree more about the food. They could really shine at what they excel at and that would make the rest of the cluster more tolerable.
    Very sad to hear that Joel’s sous vide is no longer on SNCF. I was always down for a Hachis Parmentier with duck confit. Domage.

  • CDG was my first impression of France when I changed planes as a teenager. The impression was so bad that I avoided France for 20 years. When I finally came back as a thirty something, and entered the country, I had a wonderful time, and regretted not having visited earlier, but the damage was done. Countries make their first impression in their airports and making it a good one pays off with good will and tourist €.

    I doubt anyone in France will hear your plea, but maybe someone in the US will and make the airports more welcoming.

  • Not that it’s a fabulous option, but last week we found Maxim’s Bar in Terminal F. The good thing is that they serve real food all the time, so that even though it was 9:00 in the morning, we were able to get a lunch meal to appease our jet-lagged bodies. Salads, charcuterie plates, about 16 Euros per person, and a reasonable atmosphere.

  • Couldn’t agree more! The first thing that popped into my head as I started to read are the little brotchen that Lufthansa serve with cheese! So delicious and simple!

    And yes, dim sum at the SF airport (and Hong Kong) – can I mention the dumpling and noodle soup bar at the China Airways lounge in Taipei?! Hawker food. HOW HARD IS THAT? I want to die there.

    And the insane Lindt chocolate bar I bought (for my mother in law – what was I thinking – at least I got a bite of it!) at the Zurich airport “chocolate factory”…..

    I noticed this also at le Train Bleu … the French “agencies” running these places seem to think they are in the transportation, vs. the catering business. BOY would they have alot less grouchy passengers if they offered food experiences that made you want to SKIP the plane ride!

  • You’d never want to leave Charles de Gaulle if it had all of that. Bring on the bad weather!

    I like that you talk about a garden in the airport. But what I’d really enjoy, especially if I was stuck, is a place for a quick shower and foot massage, like I once had at the Singapore airport during a two hour layover for our flight to Chaing Mai. That was heaven on Earth after the relentless trip from San Francisco with a stop-over in Hong Kong. (Also you could have a kiosk selling fresh socks. Who ever thinks to pack those in carry-on luggage?)

  • I wish your blog was required reading for all French bureaucrats, David! It’s seems so simple, really.

    I’m making Carmelized White Chocolate this morning per your post of ages ago and forcing myself to work on the computer, to keep my fingers out of the yumminess!

  • Bravo, David. Your description sounds like the beginning of a return to civilized air travel. I agree with everyone who mentioned that you ought to be hired as a food + beverage consultant (make that the hospitality consultant) at CDG.

  • CHER GOUVERNEMENT DE LA FRANCE: Cette homme ici, vous devez l’ecouter.

  • My husband and I were stuck at CDG last spring for somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 hours due to an awful delay that, in true French fashion just kept getting extended and extended without great reason (what I wouldn’t have given to spend those last 8 hours in Paris wandering around the 6th instead of languishing in CDG!). But the point is, we got like €25 food vouchers and were so hard-pressed to use all €25 each that we ended up buying snacks like chips and m&m’s because our options were limited to one subpar concession stand type of place (the only food available in the terminal–I’ve since mentally blocked which one) that had tasteless sandwiches and pasta salad (shudder).

    If only, David, your proposal was in effect…I would have been more than happy to waste away at the airport! We’re coming back to Paris in 3 weeks…I guess I’ll make sure to stock up on snacks before we hit the airport this time!

  • Exki was my go-to place when travelling out of Roissy when I was living in Paris in 2008-2009, as well as my favorite sit down and study place around the corner from my host family’s apartment. The “Romulus” was my absolute favorite!

    Also, the Austin airport is almost entirely local restaurants. I was born and raised in Austin, and the food in the airport is one of the few things that makes leaving bearable.

  • It’s not just the food that’s awful though is it, everything is. The most depressing airport I’ve ever had the misfortune of passing through.

  • Great ideas, David! CDG being what it is, I always head to Paul for a jambon/beurre on a baguette. Makes a convenient meal for the flight home or heading into the city. Their lemon tarts aren’t bad, either. Add a coffee and I’m good to go.

  • I recently read that each time Julie and Paul Child returned to their home in Provence, they always ate their first meal at the airport because the food was so good there! I admit I was shocked by this but also delighted as I was hoping this was typical in France. Apparently not! My first trip to Paris is this Sep. and I know now to lower my expectations – LOL.

    I passed through San Francisco’s airport last week and had a fantastic bowl of soup with a little miniature loaf of sourdough. I can’t remember the name of the place. I think it was called “The Soup Company” or something similar. It was probably the best airport fare I’ve ever eaten.

  • CDG should install a few water fountains, too. I couldn’t find one in 2E last fall while waiting to board an Air France flight. And I really wasn’t in the mood to spend 3 or 4 euros on a (small) bottle of water. Even crummy JFK has water fountains.

  • I think it’s a requirement for airport food to be horrible, overpriced, limited, and highly processed. Grrrr.

  • Caramel ice-cream with crispy bits of meringue??? Oh.My.God. THAT would be worth flying for :-)

  • What wonderful ideas! I tend to fly out of Brussels or LHR instead of Paris as it’s a lot more expensive to fly out of CDG, and BRU/LHR are equally close to me (I live in Lille), but if they had all your food ideas I might consider changing things up!

  • I agree with you about the food thing. Great ideas. You definitely should be hired as a consultant. I strongly disagree with you about the interior design of the airport. I LOVE it. It was my first impression of France when I landed there years ago. I felt like I had stepped into a Goddard film or a scene from Logans run. I was so happy. I’d be sad to see the tubes go… :-(. Very very sad…

  • I usually only have 30 minutes to an hour to spare when I get to the airport, so I’d love to have an authentic little bar where you can grab an espresso (or perhaps a Pastis or a Martini Rouge) and take a few minutes to snack on a toasted jambon fromage sandwich while watching a football match or chit chat with your fellow travelers.

    Just light,easy, comfortable, simple, and delicious fast food and drink at normal prices in a relaxed setting. Or perhaps a nice, charming area to sit down after grabbing a little bit of take out catering– croissants, baguettes, fresh fruit, cheese, sliced saucisson. a half bottle of wine, and a freshly baked pastry.

    I imagine the quality is low at the establishments they’ve got now because business is going to come to these spots no matter what. And they might be appealing to the lowest common denominator, as well, as sadly not everyone appreciates a ham- gruyere sandwich but everyone knows what a Big Mac is.

    Fortunately leaving Paris, although bittersweet, allows us to snack well at the airport with the right provisions. Coming in I don’t mind the lack of good food at the airport, as I’m ready to rock and roll and get right into Paris to let the fun begin.

  • I sympathize that the food at cdg is terrible and not least because I’m going to be flying out of there soon but for truly terrible food you cannot beat JFK! And now that I know that Newark is so progressive that is a proble,=m

  • @Mary -The first water fountain was installed in a French school in 2007 -this made the national news. Airports lag behind… Loved this post, absolutely hate flying through CDG due to the lack of good food!

  • And have you had to wait for a train at the CDG SNCF station? Brutalist architecture, one grim cafe lit by all of four lightbulbs, and cardboard sandwiches…. misery. Although I suppose it’s an achievement to be able to make jet lag even worse….

  • I agree, Terminal 1 at CDG is in general revolting, tho the Starbucks there gives some small relief. Right above the TGV station at CDG is a half-decent sandwich stand, I think it’s “Paul” and that about wraps it up for anything approaching reasonable to eat. I go through CDG a few times a year, PLEASE help them get it together, David !

  • It can be done, it has been done, viz., the wonderful Sole Albert at the now defunct Maxim’s in the now defunct original Terminal 1 CDG.

    Oh, and check out the collection of restos/bistros/bars at Lyon’s Saint-Ex.

  • There’s an Exki in CDG?! Since when?! Am I just that unobservant?! Well I know where I’m eating next time…

  • I have been to many airports with bad food. I think you should be an airport food consultant! Great ideas here! Quito, Ecuador has a horrible airport with no food at all, hardly, and the country has amazing dishes they could be serving right there at the airport! I’m from Minnesota and the MSP airport has at least one local restaurant with great food.
    Katie

  • Total agreement. The food situation at CDG is perplexing and disappointing in equal proportion.

  • have you been to Taoyuan intl airport in Taiwan? it’s pretty shabby and one of the worst airports ive been to.

  • Mary: It’d be nice if they added a few restrooms, too. Having to take the elevators (which are often broken) downstairs is a pain, and I would imagine really difficult for people with reduced mobility. Oddly, at Orly airport, they have pay bathrooms. I wonder what travelers do who are passing through who don’t have any euros?

    Connie+Bonnie: Paul is a good example of doing something truly French that’s good, and is reproducible in airports and train station. Don’t know why someone else hasn’t come along and done something similar (unlike Brioche d’Or, etc, which don’t get it right).

    mileparadis: The last time I ate at Le Train Bleu, the maitre d’ came up to me when it was time to pay the bill, and said, “In France, the tip is included but it’s customary to leave something extra.” I was pretty shocked and there is no way he would have said that to a French person. I haven’t been back..which is too bad, because the place is to pretty. (Tip: L’Europeen across from the Gare de Lyon is a lot more fun, and a lot less money. Sit at the bar and have oysters and Sancerre!)

    Sarah: The Austin airport is great. I always go early so I can have bbq. My one last indulgence before flying out of Texas.

  • I agree that there is a dearth of good food options at CDG, we had to take an early morning flight last January and the croissant at the terminal was not even good. Too bad, food is a great source of revenue for airports. Have you tried the range of local restaurants in Changi Airport? You can have a decent nasi lemak and bah kuh teh before take off! But, I still love CDG because it’s how I get into Paris!

  • I haven’t been to Paris in a few years so thanks for the warning.

    I’m one of those insecure people who like to arrive at the airport many hours before my flight, and one of the ways I pass the time is by having a leisurely meal while reading a magazine.

    Now I know what to do on my trip back from Paris, this summer: bring my own lunch.

  • I think you have some great ideas, but you know, Marketing has never been the point fort of the French. The airport seems to me the perfect place to offer leaving tourists a taste of France worth remembering rather than a cardboard flavoured muffin from Colombus café! And Orly is even worse than CDG in terms of selection! But I have noticed recently that Ladurée have little trolleys at both airports and I was at terminal 2 at CDG last week where they now have a Maison du chocolat stand. So maybe they’re finally catching on…

    • Well, on one hand, there is the well-known French aversion to le marketing, however some of the world’s largest (and most successful) businesses are French; Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Dannone, Accor (which owns everything, including Motel 6!) and the 4th richest man in the world is French businessman Bernard Arnault, do there are people here that do seem to know something about marketing. My guess is that the concessions that are the most profitable as the ones that are there, not the ones providing the best food or representation of France.

      But like those expensive pay toilets that are springing up around town in places like the Louvre and in department stores, it’s a short-sighted way to make money off tourists (and locals) because they just leave a negative impression of the city.

  • is an airport about eating good food or about getting from “a” to “b”?
    there’s a time for shopping and eating and, as far as I am concerned, it is not something I do at airports.

  • I guess I’m feeling odd man out here since I haven’t been to nearly that many airports to really have formed a lasting opinion about the food, to me it’s just all part of the adventure. I do have a hard and fast rule, though, when in a foreign country and/or city…NO eateries I recognize from home. That just seems pointless. Why go all that way at all that expense just to eat something you could have had 2 miles from your own home?

    On the other end of the spectrum, I also am not going to go all that way at all that expense to drive some pos car worse than the one I left in my driveway or sleep on some lumpy mattress in a tiny box or shower in a dark closet. I’m on vacation. My days of youth hostels and sleeping on the ground are over. I have gotten to a point in my life where comfort is key, even when I’m on an adventure.

    But I also want to experience the place where I am, to feel a part of it, to understand what it means to wake up in whatever corner of the world I find myself in and to navigate myself through it as a denizen of it…if only in my own delusional mind.

    So I get where you’re all coming from. The airport is your first introduction to this new culture, this new adventure, this new identity for yourself for however long you have chosen to wear it and it comes up lacking. Not to mention the fact that you’re famished.

    But then again I could just be overly romanticizing the whole idea since I just had major surgery and my biggest adventure lately was taking myself to the pharmacy all by myself, ta da! The only airport I’ll be visiting in the near future is the Albany International Airport to drop other people off so they can go on their adventures, lucky stiffs. I hope the food stinks.

  • I love leaving Chicago (hometown) through O’Hare and buying popcorn for the flight and some of my favorite chocolate for hosts and friends at my destination. I distinctly remember how steaming, greasy, and perfect the pork buns at Kansai airport were. My memory of CDG? The most poorly organized security line in the world (which took over an hour and a half to clear) and a really sad baguette sandwich. Alas.

    • There’s now 2 lines you have to wait in to leave; one is the passport control (which I don’t quite understand, since people are leaving) and the regular security line. The good news is that in Terminal 1, they finally put restrooms in the waiting area after security so you no longer need to exit the secured area, and then go back through the line again if you need to use the facilities.

  • David,
    This is brilliant!! Does the French government read blogs in English? Someone needs to get your ideas to them.

    I was one of the unlucky people at the Paris airport during the storm last December, stuck there on my way to Florence. Unfortunately, I believe the whole CDG experience is just part of the way to acculturate you before you drop in further into la belle France. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a francophile myself, but there just is a certain ‘je ne sais quois’ about how the French treat incoming tourists. And it starts at the airport.

    Anyway, be that as it may, your ideas would go a long way into making the experience at CDG a little less aggravating.

  • The food is so bad because the airline food is worse. Two years ago I got a sandwich before we departed for the States. When I got into it I thought it was awful. But when I was served the airline cucumber sandwich (two thin slices of cucumber between two peicces of white bread) I happily dug out the CDG sandwich & finished it off.

  • OMD – bad food at a French airport?? Even the Twin Cities has a wine and cheese bar.

  • do you think there is a rule “the better the food around the airport, the worse the food in the airport?”…have you ever flied in or out of Pisa or Milan? yikes. couldn’t they at least get an autogrill for a (almost) decent sandwich?

    Isn’t there someone reading this blog who knows someone in french government/airport management? I nominate David to the food committee …

  • I agree and I think it’s such a shame that the amazing city of Paris is served by such a poorly-equipped airport. It’s the face of Paris and, for a lot of visitors, the first and last thing they see (and remember). France, the land of great food and wine, and the best I can buy to eat is a pitiful sandwich or a steak haché that would put any French person to shame?! And how about some better shopping? When I’m at the airport, I’m usually looking for ways to spend my last bits of cash or find last minute souvenirs/gifts. I’d love to be able to purchase some fresh Ladurée macaroons in a dainty little box to take to friends and family. Or some artisanal oil in a ceramic bottle from Huilerie Leblanc. Essentially I want to have all the best of France, as well as the best of the world (sushi), under one roof. This is what every great airport should aspire to.

    Another awful airport to add to the list: Montreal. How is it that the second largest city in Canada can have such a pathetic airport? Montreal is cool, hip and the food is great to boot. Not at the airport!

    I love your suggestions and hope that somebody in power hears them!

  • Worst over all airport experience–CDG.
    Worst food—Gatwick.
    Funniest–leaving Rome after a 36 hour delay. Hysterical.

  • I suspect your suggestions would all be far too commercially successful and therefore are TABOO! Oh, the horror! Lol

  • Is Brasserie Flo still open?

    We had an excellent meal there.

  • As usual, I am laughing and smacking my lips at another of your posts, I suspect that someone in airport administation may read your blog, so maybe….

    Whatever you do don’t fly out of San Jose, CA after eating anything there. Food poisoning, honestly. It used to be a very convenient airport, then it grew, everything was slowed down and they then put in really bad fast food (yes, that seems redundant), but it is the worst of the bad. It’s better to serve nothing.

  • Abysmal is too mild to describe the food at CDG.

  • Seriously, you should pitch those ideas to whoever runs the airport. Rome airport food is horrific, but the best I’ve had lately was in Barcelona. I love Catalunya :)

  • There is a Ladurée and a Maison du Chocolat stand in Orly. There is also a Ladurée in CDG 2E in the duty free zone. In never flew out of CDG 1 (Air France frequent flyer…) but although it is generally dreadful, there are some signs of hope. Paul has decent offering, Ekxi (?) is pretty good, and one of the terminals has an Hediard stand that makes pretty good food. I’ve also found there has been some progress with SNCF food – its still expensive but not too bad.
    But I agree with all of suggestions! Especially the idea of a Mariage et Freres Salon de thé. Yum! Can you write to them about that? Better still, start of petition…

  • Yeah, but you can just go outside and get a fresh baguette. So I don’t feel bad for you. I live in Southern California…LAX airport…aka, the land of Del Taco and Panda Express.

  • Brilliant David.
    Do send your marvellous ideas to the Air France Magazine, the French English monthly distributed in the pocket facing your seat on board.¨
    .
    Let alone noone should travel to the US from Paris.
    Flights are so awful, packed to the last seat, :
    My solution is going from Paris via Geneva to the US. The difference in price is so small, you are rewarded by not only a very pretty flight from Paris to Geneva but also the delights of a very civilised airport with wonderful bars. All you can dream of. Then you board a flight to the US not filled to the last seat even in economy. Elle est belle la vie.

  • Madeleines and Marathons: Unfortunately there aren’t any bakeries (with baguettes) within walking distance of the airport, although the ones at Paul in the airport aren’t bad.

    As for LAX, you have Encounter restaurant in that fabulous building next to the airport, and if I remember, there’s Gladstone’s for Fish (from Malibu), Pinks Hot Dogs, Border Mexican Grill, Wolfgang Puck, two breweries, and best of all, La Brea Bakery!

  • I’ve been through CDG a few times. It is dark, disjointed and dismal. I will not eat at McDonalds, so that has severely cut down my choices in the departure area we’ve been through. As you say, it’s such a big disappointment to have an airport in the vicinity of Paris be so “horrible” (note: french pronunciation!!). Our airport in Vancouver has at least a large food court with choices from crap to healthy, and once you get through customs there are local restaurants and a nice glass of wine or beer to be had. And don’t forget Tim Horton’s!! In Stockholm (my other home) Arlanda’s older airport has a decent little place to at least grab a bite, or a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee, while you watch planes leave. Once through customs you have a plethora of choices!! I haven’t been to Paris in a few years, but I know I always dread leaving there… :)

  • So when are you taking over the food and beverage program at CDG?

  • AMEN! Anyone at CDG listening? They should be a pay you royalties for these simple yet brilliant ideas.

  • Seattle is my favorite airport for food. Local food options include Ivar’s fish and chips and clam chowder; Dilettante for chocolates (especially the chocolate covered Bing cherries: and it’s Seattle so Starbucks is a local business. Plus there’s a large mezzanine where you can enjoy all of this with a fabulous view of the Olympic Mountains.

  • My response, and I haven’t looked at any comments yet- is this: Because it’s France.
    If you’re stupid enough to leave, then eat this!

  • I recalled my time flying back to New York City from CDG during my vacation to Paris for the first time last spring. It was a dismal experience. I had to wait over 3 hours at 6 AM and from the secured area, the only place that sold anything caffeinated was this small kiosk that had over 30 people waiting on line! I saved up my (little) energy and went to take a nap instead.

  • Glenn……lol ! Great point! If you are arriving, you are too tired to eat and if you are leaving……you are stupid indeed! I’ve been here 3 years and am never leaving.

  • LOL – loved your recent post. It’s so true. I’ve been to CDG and yes it’s hard to find good food, the same thing with the trains. Are they owned by the same people? I wonder…
    Train food is terrible and so costly. The airport is not much better. I once thought we were the client/customer, but I guess this is not the case.
    If you started a petition, I would gladly sign it. :-)

  • Without a doubt, CDG has pathetic choices for dining. I always try and buy something to eat that I bring onto the plane, either from the markets or bakeries. Since I am part of the flight crew though, I have more options. I can either chill what I bring or heat it when I want to. Often among the crew we have the makings of a picnic…cheese, baguette, fruit, pate…all but the wine! How nice it would be to have those choices available at the airport. CDG has many connecting passengers who don’t have the choice of bringing what France has to offer.

    My airline flies out of Terminal 2 and the restaurant is on the second floor. There are 2 security checkpoints for the bank of gates. The gate signage is so misleading that if you go through the the wrong security checkpoint, you have to carry all of your bags up the stairs and…voila, there is the restaurant. That’s one way to get people to go there! The last time I grabbed something quick at this restaurant was a Croque Monsier that sounded like a safe choice, until they took the pre-made sandwich out of a cellophane bag to heat. I almost tried to duck out. And yes, it was abysmal.

    Thanks David, for bringing about this conversation. With luck, the airport authority will take notice and maybe even consult with you. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

  • what great ideas! the only problem is…I might not leave the airport!

  • Miami International has terrible food….I think it’s all about money, that is, the people in charge of leasing the restaurant space are either incompetent or getting paid under the table (no pun intended). There are many good restaurants in Miami that serve Cuban food and other Latin food that would be a good introduction to the city but maybe these restauranters aren’t willing to pay off the the airport authority.

  • I totally agree–I loved the Laduree cart and shop in the airport. I would love to see a sit down tea salon and the chocolate arcade idea would be fabulous Perhaps you can approach the managment at CDG and offer your ideas to get all this started and maybe be paid to organzie it all!! We know if you head it up it will be wonderful.
    Merci for all your good ideas. I love your blog, love France, love to dine in France …

  • Oakland Airport has Fenton’s Creamery, delicious local ice cream!

  • Champagne, cheese and chocolate tastings in the airport? I would most likely (maybe happily) miss my flight back home. Brilliant!

  • i remember the last meal i ate in cdg was a fast food burger! It would be awesome to have to novelty shops in CDG. Like Paul has a small cart in versailles, why not at CDG? And since Laduree was able to expand and opened up a shop in Dubai, (I asked them if the macaroons are done in UAE but the manager said that all the macarons are done in france and they ship in over to dubai) they can do it easily at the airport. The fresh market in bastille with le chef preparing those seafood rice in huge iron cast pans. Great ideas David. The CDG would not be so boring after all.

  • I am seriously considering taking the train to Paris, on my first visit there, sometime in the not too far future! ;-)

    I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent coffee at very stylish Café Chocolat at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, the complimentary chocolate praline was a treat too. I felt removed to a quieter, gentler world. Just what one needs when traveling.

    On a minor note, I like the sandwiches offered at Ströck Bakeries at Vienna International Airport, especially the vegetarian tofu which is tasty enough for carnivores, in my opinion. They wrap the sandwiches in a sort of lightweight butcher paper and hand it to you in a paper bag. It costs less than 3 Euros! Their coffee is very good (under 3 Euros), as are their Danish pastries.

  • Diane: It’s funny when some of the ‘specialties’ of French cuisine get a make-over. At the highway reststops they sell Oeufs mayonnaise…a hard-boiled egg cryovac’d with a foil packet of mayonnaise and I was at the supermarket the other day and they had peeled, cooked quail eggs in a plastic mold, each in its own indentation.

    I’ve learned at airports and train stations not to order anything I can’t see because they’re likely going to pull it out of the refrigerator if it’s not on the counter or on display.

    nan + janet: I suspect that is the problem here, too – fast food places likely pay a lot more fees and the contracts are likely much more lucrative than small restaurants and operators. For quite some time, in France, fast-food places charged patrons a lower tax rate than regular restaurants (5.5% vs 19.6%), which put them at a disadvantage. They finally changed that law and reduced the taxes for non-fast food restaurants.

    So until a merchant or someone in charge at the airport decides to upgrade the offerings, I think bringing a sandwich..and a beverage of choice, is still your best bet.

  • Dear CDG: What he said. Signed, sad, starving fligher.

  • I love your suggestions and some of these could also be extended to food while in flight. Obviously I don’t mean a bread oven, but a plate of sushi would be excellent. Airlines still seem to complicate matters instead of focussing on food that as a matter of course travels and heats up well. A thick soup and some delicious crusty bread would be perfect for instance (like it is for a picnic). Really good sandwiches.
    The best airline food I have had in recent years was on a flight from Italy (same airline as outbound service) – even airline meals were given good fresh ingredients and care.

  • David, This is a really terrific post, and you must have been reading my mind, since catching a quick and pretty decent lunch at a Frescobaldi wine bar in the airport in Rome the other day, I found myself musing on how awful the food is at CDG, and Orly, too, for that matter. Since security considerations mean that those of us who travel often regularly get stuck at CDG at meal times, it seems to me that there’s a great captive audience of hungry travelers desperately hoping to find some decent eats out there. You really should forward this post to ADP (Aeroports de Paris) and the Paris Tourist Office. And don’t even get me started on the food on the TGV–overpriced and just plain awful. Amazing that France doesn’t put its best foot forward gastronomically in these highly public settings. And they’re ever so many other reasons that I hate CDG, too–notably among them, those toilets that require you to use a flight of stairs–great with luggage, or hunt down an elevator; why don’t airport architects understand that rest rooms should be on the same level as the main passenger concourse?!?! And if pretty ratty JFK can deliver the luggage from a 777 within minutes of arrival, why the twenty minute wait for bags on an inter-European flight? Cheers, Alec

  • I couldn’t agree more – I fell ashamed as a french to see such a poor offer, either to eat “sur place” or to bring back home. I totally vote for your airport :)

  • I think Orly had better food choices then CDG? One good thing I did find at the CDG was my last chance to pick up Michel Cluizel chocolates.

  • David, Your post is right on about CDG. The food is abysmal and the experience of getting in and out of the airport certainly has room for improvement. Your suggestions are well thought out and expressed. How wonderful it would be for the French to boost the image of their food culture as people arrive and leave the country. I suggest you send your post to the agency and pitch your post to some of the French newspapers!

  • Hi David,
    On another topic, did I miss it, or have you written your own version of Chad Robertson’s Tartine Country Bread recipe? Chad’s recipe is a mighty 40 pages, and it occurs to me that you might be able to make it a bit more succinct! My first 2 loaves turned out beautifully — full of great air holes and fabulous flavor … yet, I still have questions. Have you tackled his wet, no-knead recipe?
    Better yet, have you tasted his Kamut Loaf? I like it even better than the Country Bread, but that recipe isn’t included in his book. If you decide to write that recipe, I’ll definitely be eternally grateful!
    Molly

  • this has my vote as well!