Horse meat butcher shops in Paris

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How selling horse meat was made possible whilst it was considered a taboo food until the 19th century? When discovering the French capital, you may have encountered a few shops called ‘boucheries chevalines’. They are no more, no less traditional horse meat butcher shops. If eating horse meat (ie. hippophagy) is common in France, this has not always been the case. Far from it.


Changing the mindsets about eating horse meat

Horse Meat Butcher Shops

Horse Meat Butcher Shop in rue Cadet, Paris © French Moments

Since the Ancient Times, horses have been associated as companions at work and/or of war. Eating horse meat was inconceivable and forbidden by the church and by law. But the mindsets of the French started to change in the 19th century.

During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, horse meat was served to the lower classes and starving soldiers at war.

In 1825, a member of the Health Committee of the Préfecture de Police was convinced that horse meat was useful to feed prisoners and the poor. Then, in 1847, French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire declared that eating horse meat (ie. hippophagy) was good for human consumption. More and more influent people became devoted to the cause of legalising the sale of horse meat. They organised banquets with the goal to change the mindsets and to popularise horse meat. These events tried to make horse meat part of the culinary traditions of France. In support of their arguments, they presented horse meat as slightly sweet, tender and low in fat. Needless to say they faced opposition: ordinary butchers selling pork and beef. They felt threatened by this unfair competition. Indeed, the price of beef meat was twice as high as horse meat.


1866: the first Paris horse meat butcher shops opened

In 1866 the French government passed a law authorising the selling of horse meat for human consumption. With the high cost of living, many Parisians from the working-class were too poor to buy pork or beef. The first Paris horse meat butcher shop opened on the 9 July 1866. A horse meat butcher shop had already opened in Nancy on 15 June 1866, being the first in France. However there were many conditions attached to the new law. Sales had to be seriously supervised: veterinary controls were strictly followed. And the stores had to be clearly identified. This is why up until today, Paris’ horse meat butcher shops are not to be confused with ordinary boucheries (butcheries). You will find in Paris the signage elements of horse meat butcher shops with a horse head surrounded by neon tubes.

1bis rue Cadet in the 9th arrondissement of Paris:

Horse Meat Butcher Shops

Horse Meat Butcher Shop in rue Cadet, Paris © French Moments

3 rue Poncelet in the 17th arrondissement of Paris:

Horse Meat Butcher Shops

Horse Meat Butcher Shop in rue Poncelet, Paris © French Moments

Corner of rue Vieille-du-Temple and rue du Roi-de-Sicile in the 4th arrondissement:

The bright-red storefront of a former horse meat butcher shop.

Horse Meat Butcher Shops

Former Horse Meat Butcher Shop in rue Vieille du Temple, Paris © French Moments

Other horse meat butcher shops in Paris:

Typical shops with one or several horse head(s) above the red awning:

  • 9 rue des Petits-Carreaux in the 1st arrondissement
  • 72 rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arrondissement
  • 7 rue Jeanne d’Arc in the 13th arrondissement
  • 10bis rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement
  • 89 rue Cambronne in the 15th arrondissement
  • 7 rue du Poteau in the 18th arrondissement
  • 14 rue des Gâtines in the 20th arrondissement

And also a former shop at 7 rue Fizeau in the 15th arrondissement (mosaics representing a horse head)


From Franco-Prussian War up until today

Hippophagy in Paris

Hippophagy during the 1870-71 War

After the legalisation of horse meat consumption, it took a little while for the population to accept it in its cuisine. The Franco-Prussian War contributed to change the mindsets. During the Siege of Paris (1870-71) the French capital went through a shortage of fresh meat. The starved Parisians were given horse meat to eat. By the end of the war the meat had finally become popular.

In 1905 there was 311 horse meat butcher shops in Paris and 200 market stalls. Since the 1950s, the consumption of horse meat has gradually decreased in France. Only horse meat butcher shops (boucheries chevalines) were allowed to sell horse meat. In the 1990s, the law made this more flexible and it is now possible to find horse meat in French supermarkets and other shops.

Have you seen these horse meat butcher shops in Paris? Leave a comment below and let us know!


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

1 Comment

  1. For Paris to be such a progressive and refined area of Europe (and the world), I find the accepted practice of horse meat consumption to be abhorrent. To each their own, but the information contained in this post left me seriously disturbed. I had no idea this was a common and acceptable practice in highly civilized nations…. so sad!

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