Beyond Croissants: What to Eat in France
France is one of the food heavens of Europe. Whilst I had managed to control my eating and choose relatively healthy meals in Spain, my three weeks in France were not a healthy three weeks. Hence I’m now an expert on what to eat in France!
There is no doubt that French food is rich, heavy and full of fat. Whenever I’m in France I always wonder how the majority of French people I meet are not overweight. Talk about good genes.
Before making a trip to France, most people know at least a little bit about French cuisine. Croissants, baguettes, crepes, duck and escargots (snails) are all things that typically come to mind when you think of eating in France. But France food is much more than these dishes.
Hence I’ve put together a guide on what to eat in france which is basically a list of some typical French dishes you can aim to try while travelling through the foodie paradise that is France.
What to Eat in France- the Savoury
This dish is not for everyone, mainly vegetarians. Foie Gras is a pate made out of duck’s liver. I find it super delicious, but for some people it is an acquired taste.
You’ll find this typical dish on the menu of most restaurants in France, but typically French people make their own foie gras around Christmas time. The best foie I’ve ever had is still what the foie my host mother made when I was on exchange in Normandy back in 2009.
Foie Gras is typically served on crunchy bread as an entrée. It’s definitely something you need to try at least once!
All of the Cheese…. Especially Baked Camembert
French people are crazy about their cheese. In fact on any trip to France I could live off baguette, cheese and wine and still be perfectly content.
My first experience with real French cheese was in Normandy, a strong Camembert region. It’s no surprise then that it’s one of my favourite cheeses.
But it only gets better when it’s melted and served with homemade potato frites. Camembert is one of those cheeses that is perfect as a hot dish. This dish is still one of the best things I’ve eaten during all of my trips to France.
Mussels, or moules as they are known in France are particularly popular, especially in coastal towns like Nice . Whilst I preferred the moules I ate in Belgium (where they are even more popular than in France), I still managed to eat some delicious servings during my time in Nice.
They are always served moules frites, with fries. But if I feel like a lighter option I usually skip the fries and just eat the super large bowl of moules that is typical of most restaurants in coastal France.
Terrine is another French dish that many people hate. The closest way I can describe it is a cold meatloaf.
It’s similar to a pate but made with vegetables that are usually coarsely chopped. But the thing that puts most people off is that they are typically made with a large amount of meat fat. Combine the fat with the cold consistency of the dish and I don’t find this is be the tastiest French dish.
Galette refers to the proper French way to eat savoury crepes. The crepes that most people know about (made with white flour) are traditionally meant to only be served with sweet toppings.
When it comes to a savoury crepe, the most traditional version is the Galette. Galette is a crepe like dish that originates in Bretagne. It’s made from buckwheat flour so it’s usually the perfect dish for all of the celiacs and gluten intolerant people out there.
I also find it 100x more delicious than your standard crepe. Typically galettes are filled with egg, ham and cheese. But most galette restaurants will have a wide variety of fillings.
You don’t want to be eating Galette just anywhere, make sure you seek out a Bretagne style restaurant (hint: they’ll be selling a lot of cider and probably only specialise in Galette).
Thanks to Julia Child, this is another one of France’s more well known dishes. Unfortunately a lot of restaurants do this dish, but a lot of them don’t do it well. Many of the touristy restaurants are reheating what is a bastardised version.
Boeuf Bourginon is a slow dish, so a lot of restaurants don’t have the time to do it properly. It’s one of those situations where the best place to eat Boeuf Bourginon is at home. But there are some places where you might find a spectacular one, look for places that have it listed as the meal of the day (menu du jour) as the guarantee of selling the dish means they can put the proper time and ingredients in to cooking it properly.
French Onion Soup
I’m not sure I’ve had a spectacular French onion soup. I’ve had a lot of average ones but never one that has made me absolutely fall in love with this dish. But I can see the potentially there, the sweetness of caramelised onions that have been cooking for a long time could certainly be delicious if done the right way. Combine that with bread coated in melted cheese and you might just have a match made in heaven.
My mission for the next time in France is to hunt out a good one!
Cassoulet is a dish that is typical of the south of France. It’s a slow cooked dish consisting of some form of meat, haricot beans and usually meat skin. I don’t like it at all, but that’s probably because I don’t like haricot beans.
But it’s a favourite of many. If you are going to give it a try I’d recommend getting it with confit duck, it’s much better than the pork sausage option.
Speaking of duck, you can’t really leave France without eating it. It’s one of my favourite things to eat in France. I actually don’t have a photo of this dish because every time it’s put in front of me I get too excited and start eating before I can take a photo.
Duck can be served a number of ways, with the most famous version being duck a l’orange (duck cooked in orange). Whilst duck orange is usually delicious, I’m a fan of a plain old confit (when the duck is cooked in it’s own fat), especially when it comes served in a pool of it’s own juice.
Speaking of sauce, the French are simply the best at creating a delicious concoction to pare with a meal. My Australian friends who watch My Kitchen Rules might even understand my reference to Manu’s constant ‘where is the sauce?’ question. French people love their sauce and it can seriously make or break a meal.
By far the best I had was this dish from a bistrot in Lyon. The mashed potato and perfect confit meat was taken to another level of deliciousness by the out of this world sauce.
Paupiette is a French roulade. It consists of meat that is rolled with vegetables and like all of my favourite French dishes it originates from Normandy.
But the best one I had was in a little restaurant in Albi, in the south of France. Usually I prefer it when it comes swimming in sauce, but this simple dish in Albi was served with pureed beetroot instead. It was a surprisingly good combination, especially considering I hadn’t eaten a hell of a lot of vegetables in Spain.
You’ll find a variety of tarts, both sweet and savoury. Some are made with a pastry base, some are made with a biscuit crumb base and others don’t have a base at all.
My favourite version is the baseless tart, especially when made of tomatoes. When I was recovering from a case of food poisoning in Avignon, this was one of the first meals I could stomach. Caramalised cherry tomatoes cooked in some sort of delicious balsamic vinaigrette and topped with a small piece of pastry.
It’s simple French cooking at its best.
I first ate escargots or snails back in 2009 during my first trip to France. This time around I didn’t actually get around to eating them again. Leaving France without eating escargots is kind of like leaving France without seeing the Eiffel Tower. You simply need to try them at least once.
My verdict? They are actually pretty delicious. They are typically cooked with lots of garlic, so for me they kind of just taste like garlic bread with a sort of seafood vibe to it.
I saved the best for last. No one does bread like the French. Everytime I return to France I’m reminded of how much I love baguette. You’ll always be served quality baguette on your table when eating out in France (seriously if you sit down at a restaurant and are served stale baguette just get up and leave!).
The best types of cheap and easy lunches in France are those that you can get from a boulangerie. Stop by and pick up a baguette filled with delicious fillings like French cheese, vegetables or ham.
What to Eat in France- Sweet Things
Of course it wouldn’t be a trip to France if you didn’t indulge in the sweet things. If there is one thing that France is good at, it’s creating amazing pastries and
I’ve got a confession. I don’t actually like croissants. I just find them sort of plain.
But everyone else seems to absolutely love them, so you should probably eat them while in France.
Pain au Chocolat
Although I don’t like croissants, I’m obsessed with pain au chocolat. Pain au chocolat is basically croissant pastry filled with chocolate. Do I really need to say any more?
Tarte aux Pommes
If a dessert or sweet thing consists of apples, chances are I’m going to love it. But no apple based dessert tastes as good as the French tarte aux pommes. Whilst they vary in quality, you have a 99% chance of getting an amazing one from any patisserie or boulangerie in France.
What I love about the French version, other than the awesome pastry it is made with, is that they rely on the sweetness of the apples and the buttery pastry without adding too much or any sugar.
I’ve been told by my friend Sam that I absolutely have to put this on the list because it’s his favourite dish.
Tarte Tartin is an upside down tart. It’s usually made with apples that are caramalised in butter and sugar before the pastry is put on the top and it is baked. I’ll admit, it’s pretty yummy.
“Let them eat cake!”. It’s no surprise that this famous phrase was uttered by a French Queen. And after stuffing my face full of French cake during my three weeks in France, I kind of see where Marie Antoinette was going. I’d almost think of giving up a revolution for French cake!
By far the best cake I ate my whole time in France was from an amazing tea house in Toulouse called Le Flower Cafe. They had a huge range of cakes, and even some crumbles. Between my couchsurfing host constantly bringing pieces home after work, and my numerous visits to the teahouse I managed to try at least six of them.
My favourite was the chocolate raspberry tart. Although the lemon meringue was a close second!
If you asked me what my absolute French dessert is, I’ll always answer with crème brulee. It’s a classic for a reason; it’s damn tasty. I love the simplicity of the ingredients of a crème brulee, you can’t hide behind any other flavours or ingredients. A good crème brulee is a good crème brulee.
Mille Feuille translates to “a thousand leaves”. It’s what most of us would know as a French vanilla slice. A good mille feuille is made up of lots of layers of delicate puff pastry combined with a vanilla pastry cream. Growing up, this was one of my favourite desserts to eat, even in Australia. So I always eat my weight in mille feuille when I’m in France.
One of my favourites was a not so traditional one that I got in Lyon. This mille feuille was hazelnut flavoured. So yummy!
I’ve only really just started to like macaroons. And I’m still incredibly fussy about them. A lot of macaroons you’ll find in France are below average. They are even more sweet than a typical macaroon is meant to be and often taste artificial, especially the fruity flavours.
The only place you should be eating macaroons is La Duree! My personal favourite flavours are chocolate, salted caramel and Marie Antointee tea (it sort of has an earl grey taste).
What to Eat in France- Drinks
When I first arrived in France I was completely shocked at the price of tea. An afternoon stop for a pot of tea can sometimes cost as much as €7, with the average cooking €4. But the high price is usually because the tea is really good quality.
You won’t find Lipton at any of the proper tea shops in France.
Any other sweet thing in France
I could go on all day about all of the pastries and sweet things that you can eat in France. The best advice I can offer is to just stop in at a patisserie and pick whatever looks like the most tasty pastry!
What to Eat in France- All of the wine and champagne
Finally, you can’t leave France without indulging in Champagne or French wine. A good glass of Bordeaux or other good French wine can be picked up without breaking the bank, but chances are you’ll have to splurge a little on some good champagne.
Make sure there is room in your budget for it, because it’s absolutely essential.
Any other advice on what to eat in France?
If you have any other tips for what to eat in France comment below and I’ll add them to the list!