Get Your French Nosh On
France has a well-earned reputation for fine dining, and also for readily available fresh food. You won’t need to go long while backpacking there without a croissant, baguette, or some cheese and ham. Oh, the cheese. So much cheese.
If you’re on a gap year in Paris or another big city, save some cash by just buying a few essentials from the local shop and taking it for a picnic in the park, rather than paying for expensive sandwiches and the like. Steer clear of the massively touristy restaurants as you’re pretty much sure to be disappointed, and massively ripped off.
If you have the cash, there’s a huge range of Michelin-starred restaurants on offer. If you’re having to travel on a budget you’re better off asking in your hostel for local recommendations.
A meal out in France will usually involve a bistro or a brasserie. You should also check out a creperie or two. There’s a whole range of Asian eateries about, whether you prefer Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai. You’ll also find plenty of Greek, Lebanese, Moroccan and Italian options, although thankfully not too many Americans.
The French have a more eloquent, and some would say ‘respectful,’ way of eating that can last for hours. So prepare to sit back and enjoy it – there really is no rush.
In France tips and service are included in the final bill so there’s no need to go adding any more on. Just remember: the tip is compulsory.
One of the best tips for saving money on decent meals in France is to look out for the Plat du Jour – the plate of the day. You’ll normally get two or three courses included and they work out as very good value. If you want to go all out follow it up with coffee, and then liquors. Remember, you have time.
In France, especially in the countryside, you need to be wary of the opening and closing hours. Many restaurants are literally open from 12 noon to 1:30pm and that’s it. If you don’t arrive during those times then there’s no lunch for you. Dinner can be the same with a serving time of 7:30-9:30pm. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and Sunday in the more rural areas can also be problematic.
Every French region has its own unique dish depending on the resources of the area. Check these out…
- Cassoulet (in south west) : Beans, duck, pork & sausages
- Choucroute, or sauerkraut (in Alsace) : stripped fermented cabbage + pork
- Fondue Savoyarde (central Alps) : Melted/hot cheese with alcohol
- Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy) : Pieces of beef (in boiled oil), usually served with a selection of various sauces.
- Raclette (central Alps) : melted cheese & potatoes/meat
- Pot-au-feu boiled beef with vegetables
- Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy) : slow cooked beef with gravy
- Gratin dauphinois (Rhone-Alpes) : oven roasted slices of potatoes
- Aligot (Auvergne) : melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes
- Bouillabaisse (fish + saffron) (Marseille and French Riviera). Don’t be fooled. A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires. Be prepared to pay at least €30/persons. If you find restaurants claiming serving bouillabaisse for something like €15/persons, you’ll get a very poor quality.
- Tartiflette (Savoie) Reblochon cheese, potatoes and pork or bacon.
- Confit de Canard (Landes) : Duck Confit, consists of legs and wings bathing in grease. That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called “French Paradox” (eat richly, live long).
- Foie Gras (Landes) : The liver of a duck or goose. Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price (because of their purchasing power) around the holiday season. It is the time of year when most of foie gras is consumed in France. It goes very well with Champagne.
Crazy foods to try…
- Frogs’ legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken. They are often served in a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab.
- Most of the taste of Bourgogne snails (escargots de bourgogne) comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic and parsley in which they are cooked. They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture favoured by escargot aficionados. Catalan style snails (cargols) are made a completely different way, and taste much weirder.
- Rillettes sarthoises also known as Rillettes du Mans. A sort of potted meat, made from finely shredded and spiced pork. A delicious speciality of the Sarthe area in the north of the Pays de la Loire and not to be confused with rillettes from other areas, which are more like a rough pate.
- Beef bone marrow (os à moelle). Generally served in small quantities, with a large side. So go ahead: If you don’t like it, you’ll have something else to eat in your plate.
- Veal sweetbread (ris de Veau), is a very fine (and generally expensive) delicacy, often served with morels, or in more elaborates dishes like “bouchees a la reine”.
- Beef bowels (tripes) is served either “A la mode de Caen” (with a white wine sauce, named after the town in Normandy) or “A la catalane” (with a slightly spiced tomato sauce)
- Andouillettes are sausages made from tripe, a specialty of Lyon
- Tricandilles are seasoned and grilled pork tripe from the Bordeaux region
- Beef tongue (langue de bœuf) and beef nose (museau) and Veal head (tête de veau) are generally eaten cold (but thoroughly cooked!) as an appetizer.
- Oysters (Huîtres) are most commonly served raw in a half shell. They are often graded by size, No1 being the largest (and most expensive).
- Oursins (sea urchins) For those who like concentrated iodine.
- Steak tartare a big patty of ground beef cured in acid as opposed to cooked, frequently served with a raw egg. Good steak tartare will be prepared to order at tableside. A similar dish is boeuf carpaccio, which is thin slices or strips of raw steak drizzled with olive oil and herbs.
- Cervelle (pronounced ser-VELL), lamb brain.
Hopefully that’s inspired you to try (rather than put you off) the food in France!