France is the ultimate destination for gourmands and food lovers. With a healthy appreciation for some of the most decadent food and wine in Europe, the French know how to eat well and enjoy all the best cuisine their country has to offer. Here are some can’t miss culinary experiences in France.
France has mastered the art of cheese and there’s no better place for a “fromage” fancier to indulge. French cheese is so regarded that its quality and production is regulated by the government. There are over 50 cheeses, such as Camembert de Normandie, Emmental de Savoie, Neufchâtel and Roquefort, that are classified under the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), the highest level of protection. In Paris and in smaller towns all over France, you’ll find shops that specialize in cheese and fresh cheese is sold at daily markets. Grab a few wedges and a crusty baguette and enjoy a cheesy picnic feast.
Foie gras (meaning “fat liver”) is a delicacy in France. Though it is controversial because its production often involves the force feeding of a duck or goose, it is considered a delicious and luxurious delicacy by many. Foie gras is most often served seared and hot, so that the outside is slightly crisp but the fatty inside melts in your mouth. It can also be served cold prepared as a terrine, mousse or paté. Many restaurants serve it as an appetizer with a sweet accompanying sauce, though you can also pick it up at many markets to eat with toasted bread.
Bouillabaisse originated in the Mediterranean city of Marseilles, but is now widely served throughout France. Essentially a fish stew, Bouillabaisse usually consists of different kinds of fish flavored with herbs like garlic, basil and saffron. Fish used generally include turbot, monkfish, mussels, crabs, octopus and scorpionfish. Vegetables like leeks, onions, potatoes and celery are also used. Bouillabaisse is most often made in large batches, making it an ideal dish to share amongst friends.
Only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, about 100 miles from Paris, can truly be considered Champagne. The region is home to both big names like Veuve Clicquot and Moet et Chandon as well as smaller producers who don’t do much exporting. Many production facilities are open to the public for tours and tastes, but if you can’t make it to the source, you can still enjoy authentic Champagne at almost any bar or restaurant in France.
Thin pancakes stuffed with sweet or savory fillings, crêpes are one of the most popular dishes in France. Savory fillings like cheese, ham, eggs, or spinach make for a hearty breakfast or lunch while sweet fillings of sugar or fruit are served for dessert. Crêpes originated in the Brittany region of France, where they are traditionally served with cider. But you can now find crêpes served around the country. In Paris, you can always find a crêpe stand from which to grab a sweet or savory treat to go.
Burgundy is France’s most famous wine-producing region. The region produces both red and white wines, predominantly from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Many wineries are open for tours and tastings, although you can find Burgundy wines anywhere in France. Many French dishes rely on Burgundy wines as well. Beef Bourguignon is a traditional dish of beef cooked in hearty red Burgundy wine. Coq au vin, a slow-cooked dish of rooster and vegetables, usually requires Burgundy wine as a base.
Pastries and Desserts
France offers a dizzying array of pastries and desserts. Crème brûlée, or burnt cream, is a dish of custard topped with a hard layer of caramelized sugar. Éclairs are pastries filled with cream and topped with chocolate icing. Profiteroles, or cream puffs, are pasties filled with cream and often served with chocolate sauce or caramel. There are also fruit tarts (Tartes aux fruits), madeleines (sponge cake cookies), macaroons (chewy cookies with frosting in the middle), Tarte Tatin (upside-down apple tart) and a million other permutations of sugary sweets. One of the best ways to enjoy an afternoon break in France is to stop at a café for some coffee and a few pastries.