It doesn’t come as a surprise to many to learn that the French have managed to perfect their cuisine incredibly well, and they can put their name on some of the most sumptuous dishes on the planet. Anything that’s rich, completely indulgent, and leaves you feeling like you just want to slip into a food coma probably originated in France. How the majority of the citizens don’t die of heart attacks very early I don’t know, but I’m certainly not complaining because during our short visits to the country the food has been one of the best highlights.
Furthermore, even though French cuisine can be found worldwide, it really isn’t quite the same until you try the local real deal. On menus all over the world you’ll find French dishes that we have kept the names of, and a supermarket is never really complete if it doesn’t sell brie. However, these dishes that you find actually within France are still likely to be the best you have ever tasted.
To me the starter is as important as the main event. It prepares you for all the goodness that is coming up in round two. The French do starters very well, almost as well as the main course. Here are just a few classic French starters to get you drooling.
French Onion Soup
If there’s a soup that classically signifies France, it’s got to be French onion soup – they’ve even left their name in the title just to make sure that everyone knows they’ve claimed ownership over it. Having said that, onion soup that isn’t prepared in the French way is nothing short of lame, so really the label is entirely justified. Any soup served with plenty of croutons and cheese on top is a winner in our book.
Soufflé is commonly considered to be a dessert dish, but there are savory versions that the French invented. And the favorite ingredient of a savoury soufflé? Yep, cheese. Ordering it in France is a lot easier than trying to make a vague impression of it yourself, so tuck into the fluffy and light (by French standards) dish as a starter in a French restaurant.
A small seafood platter is also a very popular starter at French restaurants. You will often find mussels on the menu, although there is a certain amount of debate that Belgium was the one that came up with that one. Regardless of ownership, seafood such as mussels, shrimp and other little delicious bites are common starters in France.
If you want to try something a bit more luxurious and very typically French, tuck into some foie gras for your starter. The dish is made from fattened duck or goose liver, and is supposed to be rich and buttery in texture. It can be prepared in a variety of different ways, and certain restaurants will have their own specialties.
While the French may be better known for their exquisite dessert menu, they also know a thing or two about the main course. They have a way of cooking meat and seafood to perfection. And the flavors are like little pieces of heaven for your taste buds.
Coq au Vin & Beef Bourguignon
There are a few French meat dishes that you no doubt would have heard of and possibly tried before. Coq au Vin and Beef Bourguignon are two that fall into that category, both being 100% French to the very core. The essential ingredient to preparing either of these dishes very will is the wine – which happens a lot with French cooking. The French use wine in cooking like no other country, and a healthy splash of good wine in a meat dish goes a long way in terms of fantastic flavors.
If you’re looking for something simple that is a sure fire hit for deliciousness, the French cook up a mean piece of steak, and served with fries its known as ‘Steak Frites’. We experienced this meal during our stay at Mövenpick Paris and I can still remember the melt-in-your-mouth steak I was served. Even though the dish is simply meat and fries, there is just something about the way that they cook in in France that is hard to replicate anywhere else. Signature French steak is a must-try for any meat lover.
Desserts and Pastries
If you manage to get through a starter and a main course in France, you’re doing pretty well so far. Having said that, even if you are full it’s hard to resist a French dessert menu as they’re always packed with delicious treats.
The French are very good at their tarts or ‘tarte’, so anything like that on a dessert list is worth trying. They can come with all kind of fruits on top, nestled in rich yet crumbly pastry, or you can indulge in a chocolate tarte creation. Either will undoubtedly be fabulous.
Crepes & Croissants
No article on sweet bites from France would be complete without mentioning two things – crepes and croissants! Both of these are the perfect snacks to grab on the go, and there are many bakeries or street vendors where you’ll find them – just follow your nose. Traditional French crepes will come with all kinds of topping for you to choose from, but the classic chocolate sauce combination is a sure fire hit. As for croissants, walk into any French bakery and they’ll be stocked up to the rafters with them. While you’re there, don’t forget to have a peek at the other delicious pastries on offer, such as pain au chocolat and éclairs. Good luck being on a diet in France- it’s not possible.
Breads and cheeses
Let’s not forget that some of the best food in France doesn’t need to be whipped up in a restaurant kitchen for it to be the best of the best. The country is also extremely famous for the simple things you can buy in any supermarket, most notable incredible bread and cheese.
The ‘baguette’, which simply means ‘wand’ or ‘baton’ in French, took the world by storm many years ago. Baguettes are now found in almost every major supermarket, but you can thank the French for its simple creation. Apparently, the reason why bakers started to make long thin loaves of bread was because they took less time to bake and they could therefore get more of them made in time for the bakery to open.
Camembert, Brie, and Roquefort are all cheese we can thank the French for, and those three really are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how exquisitely France produces cheese. It would be impossible to list every kind of cheese from France, but there are numerous regional cheeses that should be tried when you’re in the right areas, and plenty of markets that sell them. Make sure you try your old favorites as well as new cheesy discoveries when you’re traveling around France. You will definitely not be disappointed.
We couldn’t miss an honorable mention to France’s favorite tipple – wine. France produces 7-8 billion bottles of wine per year, and there are wine regions dotted all over the country. It is one of the best places on the entire planet to sample wine, and you certainly won’t be short of different varieties to find all over the country as there are over 27,000 wineries in France.
We recommend that at least once on your journey through France you should eat at a restaurant with a high quality chef to cook those classic French recipes for you. Furthermore, we also think that any trip to France would not be complete without picking some local wines, recommended by the nearest Frenchman, choosing some bread and cheeses from a supermarket, and creating your own little French picnic in the sunshine somewhere. Whether you’re in a restaurant or making your own makeshift meals, the food in France will never disappoint.
Any other recommendations?