A city trip to Paris, a romantic excursion to the lavender-scented Provence, or a beach holiday in Nice: no stay in France would be complete if you didn't try French food as well.
A fresh baguette with almost every meal, the smell of delicious cheese flavor, and a nice glass of wine within reach … is that what the “haute cuisine” of France looks like in your opinion? You are quite right. But between Rouen in the north, Normandy and Marseille bordering the Mediterranean south, between Bordeaux to the west, and Lyon to the east, there is much more to experience. Depending on the region, one could choose between the vegetarian ratatouille, a hearty onion soup, or the classic Coq au Vin. There are also delicacies based on sea products, such as a fresh salad with tuna or moules fries consisting of mussels and french fries.
History of French cuisine
As we know it today, the French national cuisine is based on what is known as “haute cuisine.” The term was forged in the 19th century and once dedicated to the upper social class. In time, the historical background shaped the different regional cuisines we know today. Depending on your French travel destination, the influence of the coast, the forests, or the plains will have an impact on what ultimately ends up on your plate. Overall, French cuisine is considered to be very varied and of high quality.
The famous cheese alone is available in more than 400 types and different preparation methods. There are also numerous wine-growing regions from Provence to Champagne, producing sparkling wine with their names on the labels. When it comes to French cuisine, do not think of cheese and wine only. French sauces, such as Hollandaise sauce or Béarnaise sauce, are used worldwide – they are some of the reasons why anyone should try French cuisine while on holiday.
Typical eating habits of the French
For the French, eating is more than just eating. The high quality of the meals and their enjoyment play an important role and are inseparable from their culture. It is therefore not surprising that a “classic” meal consists of more than just three courses:
- starter / aperitif
- salad or soup
- main dish
- coffee shop
If you want to have this or a similar restaurant menu, after entering the restaurant you should wait for a waiter that will help you get a table. It is not customary to choose a table yourself. Usually, there is a free carafe with tap water on the menu, refilled if necessary. Sometimes you have to ask specifically about it.
French cuisine starters & soups
The French often divide their starters into several courses. A crispy baguette or a light galette is consumed as an aperitif. Only then comes a salad or a soup. Of course, you don’t have to adapt their mixing preferences – you can also only order one (more generous) starter in the restaurant.
A baguette always works in France – whether as a starter, side dish, or small intermediate course, the locals like to treat themselves to fresh baguettes several times a day. Baguettes are usually baked using wholemeal flour, which can make them very filling.
Galettes (meat or vegetarian)
Galettes originally came from Brittany but are now common across France. The thin and salty pancake mixture consists of buckwheat and is traditionally filled with ham, cheese, and eggs. It is offered in variations with a so-called “andouille” – a sausage made from beef and pork. There are also galettes in significantly lighter versions, suitable for vegetarians or as a starter.
Goat cheese on brioche (vegetarian)
Brioche is a yeast dough usually topped with either sweet or savory. With goat cheese, it becomes a delicious starter. Cheese is placed on top of a slice of the brioche and baked in the oven.
Escargots (containing meat)
Escargots can be just as much a starter as a main course. The snails are prepared in a buttercream refined with parsley. Then, the tender snail meat is served in the original snail shell. You eat the Escargots using a small hook, used to pull the meat out of the dwelling.
Moules fries (containing fish)
Are you looking forward to mussels on your holiday in France? Then try the moules fries! The mix of mussels and fresh French fries could be a very hearty starter or a main course. The mussels are cooked in melted butter with onions and garlic. Broth or white wine is added until the mussels open in the cooking process. When that happens, it is a sign your food is cooked.
Salads, soups & stews
As a second starter, the French mainly choose a fresh salad or a hearty soup, as required.
Salade niçoise (containing fish)
In France, the world-famous Nice salad is called “Salade niçoise.” Of course, you won’t find it only in Nice’s eponymous city or along the Côte d’Azur. It consists of black olives, tomatoes, onions, tuna, and boiled eggs.
Bouillabaisse (containing fish)
The bouillabaisse originates from the southern part of France. Fish, noticeable in this dish, comes from the booming fishing-trade industry on the coast. In the traditional recipe, there are processed around seven different types of fish and/or seafood. But the spicy soup can also score with less fish – tomatoes, mustard, egg yolks, and various aromatic herbs are added to provide the typical taste.
Good to know: Bouillabaisse is usually enjoyed as a starter, while it can also be served as a main course, together with potatoes or bread.
Soupe crémeuse petits pois-menthe (vegetarian)
This light soup consists only of peas, mint, as well as cream, salt, and pepper. Makes a great choice for vegetarians. It is often enhanced with fennel or thyme.
Onion soup (containing meat)
The typical French onion soup consists of lightly caramelized onions, processed cheese (Gruyère cheese), and homemade beef broth. And then, the baguette, cut into slices, is served again – unless it was served as the first starter.
Cassoulet (containing meat)
Cassoulet is a bean stew, regionally enriched with goose or pork. The corresponding meat simmers on the stove with white beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and various spices before slowly cooking in the oven. The slow method of preparation gradually creates the stew’s thick consistency and a crust that is repeatedly skimmed off and stirred again. Finally, the cassoulet is burned off with white wine.
Fun fact: Seven crusts are ideally needed before serving to achieve the perfect taste experience.
French main courses
Some may feel full after these rich starters. But the main courses are also varied and delicious! French food offers vegetarians just as much choice as meat lovers and friends of a good, fresh dish with seafood.
Gratin dauphinois (vegetarian)
The gratin dauphinoise is often served as a side dish, but also as a vegetarian main course. Usually, it consists of potato slices, sour cream, nutmeg, and milk. Modern recipes include some cheese.
The vegetable pan was once a kind of leftover food made of used vegetables from the previous day. Today, of course, we consciously rely on fresh ingredients. Zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes form the basis of the dish. They are cut into pieces and added in a pan together with peeled cloves of garlic, chopped peppers, onions, and finely chopped rosemary. Everything is then sautéed in oil. The ratatouille is seasoned with oregano, thyme, basil, salt, and pepper.
Coq au Vin (containing meat)
Coq au Vin is probably one of THE classics everyone has heard of. This is actually a relatively easy-to-make French dish: the chicken is seared and then braised with wine, bouillon, and thyme for about 50 minutes. Various side dishes such as shallots, mushrooms, garlic, and carrots are fried in the frying fat. Ultimately, everything goes into the roaster and is seasoned with salt, pepper, and sugar. However, the preparation methods and side dishes vary from region to region.
Boeuf bourguignon (containing meat)
A classic among the beef dishes in France is Boeuf bourguignon. The meat is cooked at a low temperature for around two hours. Then, they constantly add red wine to soften the meat up. It is served with various fried vegetables such as shallots, carrots, mushrooms, and onions, and seasoned with garlic, bacon, and herbs. The French like boiled potatoes or pasta as a side dish.
Mouclade charentaise (containing fish)
Bouchot mussels form the basis for the dish coming from the La Rochelle area. The mussels are cooked in alcohol (“Pineau des Charentes”). Other ingredients are garlic, shallots, eggs, and various herbs and spices.
After the main course, it’s time for dessert! Cheese occupies a special position in desserts: it basically comes between the main course and the (sweet) dessert. In restaurants, you are usually offered a small selection on the dedicated cheese trolley. You shouldn’t take more than two pieces of it – could seem impolite. Whether Camembert, Roquefort, or Livarot: the cheese choice differs depending on the region and personal taste. By the way, sweet delicacies are mainly found in patisseries in France and less in cafes.
The crème brûlée is made from vanilla, milk, cream, egg yolk, and caramelized sugar. Vanilla and milk are boiled, cream and egg yolks whipped cream with sugar is added. The mixture is placed in special refractory porcelain pots and baked in the oven for around 40 minutes. Before serving the sweet sin, brown sugar is sprinkled over the crème brûlee and flambéed. The dish is ready when a brown crust has formed. Breaking the crust with a spoon is a common thing.
Mousse au Chocolat
The delicacy, made from egg whites, sugar, and melted chocolate, is light and has an airy inconsistency – but that is deceptive because it is a real calorie bomb. But well, since you are on vacation, you can act courageously! The mousse is available in all possible variations, including white chocolate, for example.
The Tarte Tatin is an apple pie with a sweet caramel layer. Only certain apple varieties are used, such as the Delicious Gold.
Fun fact: Many French prefer to buy their cakes ready-made in the patisserie than to bake them themselves.
Crêpes (e.g. Crêpes Suzette)
Crêpes are basically just a dough made of flour, milk, egg, vanilla sugar, and a little salt. Think pancakes, but with a twist, not necessarily sweet – they get filled with various ingredients – like ham and cheese. You will find fillings like cinnamon and sugar, chocolate, or nut nougat cream as a dessert.
Various éclairs complete the range of sweet sins. There is Paris Brest, a choux pastry filled with buttercream and hazelnut brittle. Then, the classic, chocolate-covered, and whipped cream-filled variants, always there to tempt you to get a sweet snack, even though you are actually full.
Drinks in France
The typical French drink? You probably think of wine now – and you wouldn’t be wrong. With so many wine-producing regions, France is about wine and wineries. Wine is enjoyed with a meal – or at the end of a beautiful day. Red wine, white wine, or rosé? It’s up to you as well as the choice between dry and sweet wine. You can, of course, order champagne for special occasions.
Another drink of lovers in France is coffee. Be careful: when your order “café” only means an espresso, while the classic coffee with milk is called “café crème.” Arm yourselves with a French vocabulary while preparing for vacation – it will help you when ordering coffee! By the way: In France, coffee is preferably consumed in the morning or during work breaks throughout the day.
Vegetarian & vegan French dishes
Vegetarian choices offer flexibility in France, thanks to the possibility of adding different toppings to dishes as galettes or crêpes. The typical baguette or a sweet croissant could, of course, be consumed to your heart’s content; the same goes for the usual desserts.
A pan of Ratatouille is again vegan. Then you have vegan patties, tofu variants of famous main dishes, or a fresh salad without meat, cheese, and eggs. These are all suitable for holidaymakers who want to avoid animal products and live vegan completely. Large cities’ supermarkets offer a wide range of vegan choices for self-caterers looking to indulge in a holiday home during their holiday in France.
- French baguettes: croogle - Pixabay
- French escargot plate: J. Patrick Fischer - Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
- Salade niçois: cyclonebill - Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic
- Onion soup: RitaE - Pixabay
- Ratatouille: PetiaS - Pixabay
- French desserts: Julie Kertesz - Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Generic
- Crêpes Suzette: Darren Foreman - Flickr | CC BY 2.0 Generic
- French wine: 139904 - Pixabay
- Food while traveling to France: Shenxin - Pixabay