In the summer, a picnic is always a good idea. For those of us from famously wet countries, a picnic in the rain is part of our national identity, and not even a storm can keep us away from our scotch eggs and plastic-wrapped sandwiches. Toulouse in the summer, while a little wayward like a grumpy preteen, is best celebrated by sitting along the banks of the river Garonne. At lunchtime, the city descends to the riverbank. So, knowing where to buy the best to-go lunches that are also affordable is of the utmost importance.
Toulousains dangle their legs over the banks as they pick at their poke bowls or noodles, or sunbathe in the Prairie des Filtres, a small grassy meadow of weeping willows, on the opposite bank. The river is everyone’s favourite sunny spot, and a perfect location for a budget lunch. So which to-go lunches can turn this al fresco eating excursion into a picnicking adventure?
While Toulouse is proud of its duck and its cassoulet and its ability to clog your arteries, it also turns out variety with remarkable ease. If you’re looking for Columbian empanadas, or vegan Nepalese stews, or authentic gluten-free Mexican tacos, you will find them here. Every time I visit the river with my lunch in hand, someone nearby has got something intriguing, something that makes me almost painfully nosy and nurse a small knot of food envy in my gut. Yet, this list is of my 4 favourite to-go lunches, the affordable places I always return to – admittedly, the variety is limited as 3 of these involve sandwiches.
So, for when you visit Toulouse this summer, here are those 4 best to-go lunches because your picnic by the Garonne awaits…
The Perfect To-Go Lunches in Toulouse
The incredible value for money: Le Détaillant
I could write reams about Le Détaillant, and in fact, I already have here, and also here – what can I say, I’m this place’s groupie. Fan-girling comes very naturally to me when there’s good food on offer. Best of all, my bank balance gives only the merest shrug as this place is affordable. If you’re on a budget, Le Détaillant has got your back.
Le Détaillant is a deli selling cured meats and incredible sandwiches. Inspired by Spain a mere stone’s throw away, Le Détaillant harmonises French and Spanish flavours. Baguettes are ripped open and stuffed with meats – ham, chorizo, saucisson, rillettes – and maybe some cheese too. Some can be grilled, and the bread might be rubbed with tomato and garlic. I’m a girl of simple pleasures though, no need to rock the boat people, as my favourite is the jambon et beurre avec cornichons. France is famous for their ham sandwiches. No need to adulterate something so perfect. Wrapped in red-and-white checked paper, your bounty is safe and you can escape to the nearby river to rip open your lunch.
Find Le Détaillant’s website here
The one with the queue: Boui Boui
Boui Boui is something of a legend down the streets of Toulouse. Gaylord and I had heard the whispers, but every time we passed their shop down a discreet alleyway, it was already closed. That’s because Boui Boui is popular. They are open for 2 hours only. Most often, they sell out in less time.
But what is Boui Boui you may be wondering? Boui Boui is a kebab shop. (Did you know a French ‘boui boui’ is (rough translation) a greasy spoon?) Ok, it’s been gentrified, that goes without saying, and they proudly wave the French flag – after all, there’s tarragon aioli and the kebabs are served in brioche pitas. But oh, those buttery brioche pitas. Choose from the four options on the menu including beef keftas or chicken doner, choose your sauces, and it’s all bundled into a pita with roasted peppers and courgette, feta and salad. Get there early then escape to the river with your prize. The riverbanks of Toulouse will be jealous.
Best eat them straight from the wrapping so the kebabs stay intact – don’t do what I did and cut them in half. The result is complete carnage.
Find Boui Boui’s Instagram here
The noodles: Wok to Walk
The only non-sandwich to-go lunch on this list is the best noodle bar in Toulouse. So, if you’re trying to avoid bread (although France will try to force you to eat baguette), this is a great alternative. And believe me, I was surprised it was Wok to Walk, a chain restaurant that churns out hundreds of bowls of design-your-own-noodles every hour. Toulouse is home to a lot of noodle restaurants – some better than others – but in my opinion, Wok to Walk is the best value for money. And Gaylord and I love our noodles.
There are two branches of Wok to Walk in Toulouse, both with the chefs in the window over their stoves of fire, woks in hand, tossing together noodles and sauces. You queue, select your fillings and flavours – my usual is udon noodles, chicken, pak choi, red onion and teriyaki sauce with coriander – and it’s made to order. On a hot day, you wonder how those chefs are still standing, flame literally fanning their faces, but somehow, within 5 minutes, your noodles are piled inside a carton, and you’re strolling to the river for lunch. Those chefs are not only immune to heat, but they rustle up a great stir-fry.
Find Wok to Walk’s website here
The two-course meal: Prosciutteria Toulouse
Out of the to-go lunches on this list, all have filled and satisfied me. This is the only one I couldn’t finish, the one that Gaylord couldn’t finish either (I don’t know why I say that as I usually eat more than Gaylord) and so we had the second half of each panini for dinner.
These paninis are humungous. You may think I’m exaggerating, but honestly, just look. They don’t call them XXL for nothing.
Prosciutteria Toulouse is an Italian restaurant serving bruschetta pizzas, salads and charcuterie boards. With their surplus pizza dough, they fashion foot-long paninis. The menu lists a range of 15 different filling options, so if you’re an indecisive person like myself, you could be there for a while – hopefully getting hungry. Once the sandwich is pushed under the panini press, the bread becomes tantalisingly crisp on the outside, soft in the centre, soaking up the tomato juice and the stringy cheese.
Unwrapping our sandwiches, we felt like kids at Christmas, with eyes much bigger than our bellies. But, with Prosciutteria, you at least have an afternoon snack in case you get peckish later.
Find Prosciutteria’s website here
With a river like the Garonne, and with restaurants and delis like these, Toulouse does summer picnics very well, and they are the best lunch option if you are on a budget. Just don’t forget the wet wipes. These to-go lunches are messy and finger-lickingly good. No manners are necessary by the river.