Quick Content Guide
- Monoprix: Cheap Souvenirs in the Heart of Paris, France
- Why Monoprix is the Perfect Stop for France Souvenirs in Paris: One Stop Shopping
- What to Buy at a Monoprix Supermarket in France
- 1. French Soap
- 2. Pocket Wash cloths
- 3. French Bath Gel
- 4. Colorful Makeup Bags
- 5. Striped French Kitchen Towels
- 6. French Vegetable Sponges
- 7. French Cheese
- 8. French Yogurt in Glass Jars
- 9. French Butter
- 10. Dried Thyme
- 11. Soups
- 12. French Fleur de Sel
- 13. French Lentils from Le Puy
- 14. French Dijon Mustard
- 15. French Dressing
- 16. Olive oil from France
- 17. Fancy French Sauces
- 18. Colorful Tins of Sardines
- 19. Foie Gras
- 20. French Confit de Canard and Cassoulet
- 21. French Terrine
- 22. French Sauccises
- 23. French Pot Au Feu
- 24. French Jam
- 25. French Cookies and Biscuits
- 26. French Crepes and Galettes
- 27. Chestnut spread
- 28. Cake Mixes
- 29. French Candy
- 30. Packaged Bakery Goodies
- 31. French Booze
- Readers– have you tried any of these Monoprix supermarket finds? Do you have others to recommend? Share your tips in the comments below!
Monoprix: Cheap Souvenirs in the Heart of Paris, France
I’ve been hearing about the wonders of Monoprix in France long before I started this website. Everyone from fashion editors to in-the-know travelers raved about scouring Monoprix for downright cheap
inexpensive French souvenirs. But while the bargains are fun, I wanted to see a Monoprix mostly because I was curious about what items regular Parisians shop for on a day-to-day basis.
Monoprix is more than just a grocery store– it’s like a French supermarket and department store combined (similar to a mini version of an American Target store). You’ll find Monoprix stores all over in France, including right in the heart of Paris.
Why Monoprix is the Perfect Stop for France Souvenirs in Paris: One Stop Shopping
I’ve visited Paris many times, but my most recent visit was limited to a quick a day trip from Brussels (which is only an hour and twenty minutes away via high-speed Thalys train). With only eight hours in Paris, I didn’t have time to check out every hidden corner of the city to shop, so I stopped by a Monoprix in the 4th arrondissement on my way back to Gare du Nord. At Monoprix, I was able to pick up everything from French cheese, to biscuits, to soaps and sponges all in one twenty-minute trip. I ended up bringing home a pile of souvenirs just for me, along with plenty of extras to give away as gifts, at giveaway prices.
What to Buy at a Monoprix Supermarket in France
I’m not the only one who loves Monoprix– insiders stock up on their favorites when visiting France. My friend (and part-time Parisian) Cecile raves about Monoprix’s classic children’s French clothing— like navy blue striped shirts and Petit Bateau branded clothing. Cecile also makes sure to pack several bars Le Petit Marseillais soaps in her luggage.
My friend Johanna, who makes frequent visits to France with her French husband Antoine, loves everything about Monoprix— she singles out their “really cute awesome socks that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.” Bonus: look for Johanna’s personal take on my picks throughout the post.
As I was in a hurry when I visited Monoprix, rushing to catch my train back to Brussels, I didn’t have time to comb through everything (I wish I’d known about the clothes and socks before my visit). But I did scan the shelves for anything and everything edible, and also checked out the kitchen and bath items. I tried to keep in mind that many food souvenir items can’t be brought back through US customs, but as this website also has a large European readership, I didn’t want to leave off some classic French items that I was surprised to find in a supermarket at all (jarred pot au feu anyone?)
My conclusion? Of all the foreign supermarkets I’ve been to so far, France’s Monoprix is my favorite. But I’m biased towards all things French, having spent a summer living with a French family in Lyon as a teen, which sparked a life-long love of the country. While I really loved shopping Monoprix, I wonder if a regular French grocery store might have a wider variety of brands. Monoprix carries many items under its own label so its brand options in some categories was pretty limited (I only saw two types of French jam, for example [Ed. note: read on– Johanna solves this mystery later in the post]. I hope to visit a regular, non-Parisian supermarket this spring and add any additional souvenir finds in a future post.
My list of thirty-one Monoprix supermarket souvenirs below has both non-food and edible items (non-food stuff is listed first). I also threw in a few photos of how I gifted my French supermarket souvenirs (to read the full how-to’s and see all the photos, check out my last post on how to create your own DIY souvenir gifts).
But enough chatter, on to the souvenirs–
1. French Soap
2. Pocket Wash cloths
Bonus: French soap + washcloth= cheap but luxe gift (see our last post for details)
3. French Bath Gel
Johanna’s take: this body wash is both cheap and awesome.
4. Colorful Makeup Bags
These colorful designs caught my eye.
5. Striped French Kitchen Towels
6. French Vegetable Sponges
Johanna’s take: Johanna confirms that Spontex sponges are made in France, in the city where her husband Antoine’s parents live– Beauvais (in Picardie, about an hour north of Paris). Johanna notes the stark contrast of the storybook-perfect village of Beauvais, with its gorgeous cathedral, bright green grass, fast-moving, puffy clouds and light blue sky– against the reality of the sponge factory (“smells like rubber when the wind blows the wrong way!”) The smell is so overwhelming that Johanna admits she “couldn’t bear to actually buy the sponges. Such a mistake because Antoine says they really are the best ever.”
7. French Cheese
I regretted not having time to visit a fromagerie, but decided to make do with supermarket cheese available at Monoprix. I was very skeptical when I saw how low the prices were, but figured they were so cheap that even if I bought some duds it wasn’t a big deal.
On the next leg of my European trip, I stopped in London to visit a friend. One night we broke open one of the packages of cheese for a little snack. The cheese was so delicious that we ended up devouring almost all of it (only one sole package of Comte made it home to New York). Next time, I won’t second guess myself and will stuff my suitcase full of French cheese.
8. French Yogurt in Glass Jars
9. French Butter
10. Dried Thyme
Johanna’s take: Thyme is actually used quite often in French recipes – more than you realize. Antoine is always using it, along with rosemary, in just about everything. It’s part of the traditional provençal herbs.
France is known for its amazing soups and broths. I found jarred fish soup (a French classic) as well as dry soups like mushroom and vegetable. I didn’t bring any home so I can’t comment on the flavor. My mom picked up some French bouillon, but hasn’t used it yet (I’ll update the post when I have additional comments).
Johanna’s take: Antoine swears by French bouillon – he hates the American version.
12. French Fleur de Sel
13. French Lentils from Le Puy
I don’t have a before photo of the lentils on the shelves– this is how I repackaged them at home for gifts. Green lentils from Le Puy are totally different from standard lentils (firmer and more delicious I think), as they are grown in a very specific microclimate in a volcanic region of France. I prepare Le Puy lentils by steaming them, then tossing in a mustard vinaigrette, and topping with a poached egg.
14. French Dijon Mustard
I was disappointed that this turned out to be my only photo of the shelves of mustard– the actual selection much more extensive.
15. French Dressing
I took an intensive recreational course at a New York cooking school and learned how to whisk together the perfect French vinaigrette. But sometimes I get lazy and reach for a bottled dressings. I didn’t bring these home but wish I had– now I’m wondering if they’re any good.
Johanna’s take: Johanna promised me the traditional recipe for French vinaigrette handed down from her husband’s grandmother– using all only-in-France ingredients. Look for it in a future post!
16. Olive oil from France
What intrigued me most about Monoprix’s French olive oil section were these mini “single serving” sizes. Perfect for a picnic or to bring with your lunch to the office. [Ed. Note: Thanks to several readers who explained this is not olive oil, but tuna in olive oil- perfect for making a nicoise salad!]
17. Fancy French Sauces
French sauces like bechamel and hollandaise can is tricky to make from scratch (the sauce can easily break if you’re not careful) so I would be curious if a ready-made version would be an alternative.
18. Colorful Tins of Sardines
I’m not a big fan of canned sardines but these were so pretty to look at I brought home a tin anyway.
While you might immediately dismiss anything with meat and poultry as not US customs-friendly, that is not always the case. While you can’t bring in any meat at all (beef, lamb etc) because of restrictions on countries impacted by foot and mouth disease, poultry is a different matter. Duck from France (as in foie gras and confit) is sometimes allowed through US customs, depending on the region it’s from and how it’s packaged. Check US customs regulations for specifics. Readers from the EU will have a lot more options of course.
19. Foie Gras
It didn’t really surprise me to find foie gras at the Monoprix– but what did surprise me was how much of it there was– so many different cans and jars in all sizes and varieties.
20. French Confit de Canard and Cassoulet
I’ve only seen D’artagnan confit vacuum-packed (in whole duck legs) at my local supermarket, so I wasn’t even aware that confit could be canned. And cassoulet? My understanding of cassoulet is that it is far too complicated to attempt to make at home so it’s best enjoyed in a restaurant. I’ve never seen a ready-made version but would love to try it.
Johanna’s take: We have these very same cassoulet tins! Antoine brought them from France years ago and we always have a tin on hand for a long winter weekend. Tinned cassoulet with some potatoes is easy and total comfort food– most people don’t want to do it in their homes because the frying and cooking smells linger in the home for hours after; it’s like frying bacon – it takes forever to get the smell out of the kitchen. But it tastes heavenly and is really simple. Come over one day and Antoine can make it for us. [Ed. note: Johanna, I’m there!]
21. French Terrine
Johanna’s take: Terrine…I hate it. I hate lumpy pates – but Antoine loves it. I much prefer mousse pate, which can be best found at the traiteur. [Ed. note: a traiteur is like a French version of a delicatessen].
22. French Sauccises
23. French Pot Au Feu
24. French Jam
I was hoping to find more French jams on the shelves of Monoprix, but they only had a couple of brands (including Bonne Maman, which I dismissed because I can get at my local bodega). I didn’t have time to check out other grocery store chains on this visit, but I would have liked to see what other jam brands are available (baker, blogger and American expat in Paris David Lebovitz recommends the brand Christine Ferber).
Johanna’s take: As for jams – many French women make their own. Antoine’s mother makes her own, his aunt makes her own, their grandmothers made their own, and we have jars from a friend’s mother too. You have to try it. While jams are still far better homemade, Bonne Maman is a great alternative –note that the ingredients are far better when bought in France than here in the US. Or at least, that’s what Antoine thinks. They also have much more variety in France, particularly for fruits which are particular to France and not found in the US.
25. French Cookies and Biscuits
While Bonne Maman jams are widely available in the US, I’ve only seen a small selection of Bonne Maman cookies here, which is really unfortunate. Monoprix has an enormous selection of Bonne Maman cookies– and having taste tested many
a few, I can confirm they are delicious. My favorites are these addictive lemon tartlettes.
Of course, there were lots of other French cookie brands, but there was only so much I could bring home.
26. French Crepes and Galettes
I’m sure others will disagree with me, but I bought packaged crepes and galettes and thought they were delicious (and a quick way to make crêpes complètes).
27. Chestnut spread
I wasn’t sure how to use this pretty tube of chestnut paste (I bought it for its pretty packaging). So I consulted the forums on Chowhound for advice (Chowhound is one of my go-to resources for food questions). While I haven’t tried these out myself yet, I learned that chestnut paste can be used as a filling for crepes, squeezed over ice cream or used to marble brownies.
28. Cake Mixes
29. French Candy
These candies are all top sellers in France and I thought they were all delicious– my favorites are the carambars, which are like a chewier, less sweet version of Starburst.
30. Packaged Bakery Goodies
If I hadn’t already filled up my bags, I would have definitely picked up some of these prepackaged pound cakes and pain au chocolat to sample. Of course they won’t compare to fresh-baked but I wondered if they were better than the American equivalent.
Johanna’s take: Antoine LOVES madelines. That is his breakfast on-the-go, but he can’t find any good madelines in the US.
31. French Booze
Of course you know you can find French wine on the cheap in the supermarket. But for a less common booze souvenirs, pick up an anise-flavored apertif like Pastis.
Johanna’s take: Pastis and Cassis – two of France’s best liqueurs. Along with calvados (NORMANDY!)
[Ed. Note— Normandy is top on my list for future travels!]