French Cuisine – France and food are like inseparable twins. Eating & drinking in France has a long tradition and is almost an art. It is not for nothing that many good chefs come from France, one only needs to remember Paul Bocuse, pioneer of nouvelle cuisine, one of the best chefs in the world.
Many French words relating to French food and drink – such as gourmet, restaurant, croissant, baguette – have also conquered the German-speaking world. In addition, some typical French dishes, products and ingredients are known and popular in Austria. These include the herbs of Provence, crêpes, croissants, baguettes, camembert or tarte flambée. Of course, we also know and like French wines or aperitifs.
You will find these topics in our culinary travel guide:
- French cuisine – La Cuisine française
- Culinary in France – Culinaire en France
- A matter of taste – exceptional specialties
- French cheese and sausage specialties
- Different types of bread – baguette & Co
- Sweets – Doux ou desserts
- Drinking in France – Boire en France
- Everything takes time – Tout prend du temps
- Where can you eat something? – Où peux-tu manger quelque chose?
- Small “Restaurant Etiquette – Comment je me comporte?
French cuisine – La Cuisine française
The French attach great importance to food and spend more money on it than comparatively Austrians or Germans. They would rather do without other things like a bigger apartment or new furniture than a good visit to a restaurant. Those who cook themselves attach great importance to good food quality and product freshness. Priority will be given to regional products bought in the market. Eating has always meant a high quality of life in France.
Eating and drinking together implies mutual conversations: You talk about food, its preparation, but also about politics and the world. Real French meals, which can consist of up to seven courses and more, take hours.
Culinary in France – Culinaire en France
Culinary art in France means a varied menu. It is by no means possible to write a single culinary travel guide, as recipes, dishes and products differ depending on the landscape or region. While you come across Mediterranean dishes in the south of France, inland, for example in the Auvergne, hearty stews are often predominant. In Alsace, typical Alsatian cuisine is inspired by the neighboring country and refined with French finesse. The offer is extensive. Therefore, here is just a small selection of what you will find in food & drink in France in the different regions as typical French specialties:
In the northernmost region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais there are various French specialties. Here, where the endive salad is mainly grown, this healthy salad is also often on the menu. Typical is the combination of sweet and salty, such as poultry meat with plums or apples.
In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, in the land of the Cht’is, the Maroilles is a cheese that is popular across borders, as the postman in the film “Welcome to the Cht’is” celebrated his meals with this very “voluminous” cheese. It is not only eaten as a topping on bread but also in the form of melted maroilles with fried eggs or as a maroilles tart here in the north. The popular Mont des Cats cheese from the Abbaye de Mont des Cats monastery of the same name is much milder. The andouillettes and andouilles are also popular (more on this under “A matter of taste – exceptional specialties”. As a neighbor to Belgium and the sea, moules frites – mussels with french fries – are often on the table.
Culinary art in France, especially in this region, also means drinking the numerous Trappist beers and consuming the Bêtises de Cambrai, delicious caramelized sweets whose original taste is mint due to a misunderstanding more than 180 years ago. Today they are made in different flavors.
A good culinary guide also mentions “La Lucullus” for the Cht’is region, a specialty with beef tongue and foie gras served in the terrine.
Picardy is located between the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and the Île-de-France. The gastronomy here is very much influenced by the Flemish cuisine of neighboring Belgium. Many dishes are rather hearty, with potatoes, cabbage, leek, beetroot and other vegetables being the ingredients. Mushrooms and game from the Ardennes enrich the menu as well as fish and seafood from the region on the English Channel or from one of the many rivers.
Special French delicacies are the spicy lamb dishes from animals that graze on the salt marshes of the Somme Bay, which gives the meat the spicy note of “pre-salé”. They also love other meat dishes as well as offal and frog legs.
The special French specialties also include the Ficelles Picardes, pancakes filled with mushrooms and ham, as well as the eels from the Somme, which are served with a vinegar and egg sauce, or delicious macarons with almonds from the city of Amiens.
French specialties in the field of beverages are the different types of beer from the numerous breweries in the region as well as the Genièvre, a juniper schnapps, and in the border area to Normandy, where apple cultivation predominates, the cider.
In Normandy, full-bodied cheese and cream sauce is often used for cooking. The three Cs – calvados, cider and camembert – predominate. In addition to some meat dishes, fresh oysters as well as exquisite cheese specialties and sweet desserts are preferred.
Typical French specialties of this region are, for example, the Bœuf braisé à la Normande, a roast beef marinated in cider and calvados, the Escalope de veau à la crème, a veal escalope in a cream sauce, or the gigot d’agneau présalé, the leg of salt meadow lamb. For many Normans, the Boudins noir – blood sausages on apple rings with roasted onions – are French delicacies. Tripes à la mode de Caen, tripe in cider and calvados are popular here, but not for everyone.
Marmite dieppoise, a delicious fish stew made from different types of fish, mussels, crabs, vegetables, butter and cream is offered especially near the coast. The Huîtres chaudes au pommeau – hot oysters in a sauce au pommeau – are a typical regional specialty. In general, you eat a lot of oysters, lobsters and mussels here.
The most popular cheeses include the regionally produced, genuine Camembert, as well as the spicy soft cheeses Pont L’Evèque, Neufchâtel and Livarot.
In Normandy, good French food also means sweet things. The most famous Norman desserts are the Crêpe Normande, a kind of flat pancake with sugar, cream and apple rings, which is flambéed with calvados at the table, as well as the Tarte Normande or also called Tarte aux pommes, an apple cake made from thin dough and crème fraîche.
In Normandy, drinking in France means Calvados – the typical apple brandy -, cider – a sparkling apple wine – as well as the lesser-known pear sparkling wine, the Poiré.
Crêpes or galettes with cider are typically Breton. Both are available in different versions. The difference between the thin “pancakes” is that the galettes are made from buckwheat flour and are traditionally filled with a hearty filling.
Of course, fish and seafood come first as typical French delicacies. The moules frites, mussels with French fries, Breton lobster, oysters – especially those from Cancale – or Coquilles Saint-Jacques, the scallops, which are seared or eaten raw here are popular. Most of the meat is lamb. When it comes to vegetables, the regional artichokes often have priority.
The Bretons also love desserts. Often these are refined with salted butter caramel, which gives them a slightly salty as well as a sweet taste. In addition to sweetly filled crepes, Far Breton – a type of pancake that is hot or cold – and the difficult to pronounce Kouign amann – a butter cake made of puff pastry covered with caramel – are eaten. The Gâteau Breton, a sand cake, is typically baked with salted butter.
In Brittany, drinking in France means having a cider or enjoying the delicious Kir Breton, a cider with a dash of currant liqueur, the crème de cassis.
The Périgord is located in the southwest of the republic and is the gourmet region of France par excellence. It is a kind of “natural supermarket” because most of the ingredients in local dishes grow here in abundance or are produced there. A real insider tip are the weekly markets in the region, where you can indulge in the abundance of local products: walnuts, figs, chestnuts, quinces and mushrooms, along with delicious sheep and goat cheeses, are a real treat for the eyes and the palate.
When you talk about food and drink in France, especially in the Périgord, you also mention foie gras, the controversial foie gras in German-speaking countries, the confit d’oie, goose parts cooked in their own fat, or the truffles, especially the black ones, also known as Périgord truffles.
Every tourist, every culinary guide raves about the truffle markets that are held between December and March, where specimens can be found that can weigh up to € 3,000 per kilo.
As for drinking in this region, there is an abundance of wines to choose from. The red and white Bergerac are popular far beyond the borders. Less known in Austria and elsewhere is the Pineau, a sweet-tasting aperitif made from unfermented grape must and the eau de vie de cognac. It is available as a red or white Pineau.
The south of France
Even in the south, where the sun and the sea determine life, food and drink in France keep body and soul together. Here, too, culinary in France means a variety of exquisite dishes.
Many French specialties of the south have tomatoes, garlic and herbs from Provence (consisting of, for example, marjoram, thyme, oregano, rosemary and lavender) as ingredients.
Of course, Mediterranean fish and seafood dishes predominate on the Côte d’Azur. The best known in and around Marseille is the Marseiller bouillabaisse, a fish stew with spicy, reddish garlic mayonnaise. The traditional fish ingredients are gurnard, John’s fish, scorpionfish, monkfish, sea bass, conger eel and red mullet. Solid pieces and broth are also served separately.
In Languedoc, people tend to eat hearty French food such as the famous cassoulet, a stew made from white beans, meat, duck, bacon and herbs. The salade niçoise, the nice salad, is also known. The main ingredients are lettuce, tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, olives and anchovies. There is also a vinaigrette.
In the past it was more of a poor people’s meal, but today the ratatouille has worked its way up to the fine restaurants as a typical French meal. This stew consists primarily of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. The whole thing is refined with herbs from Provence and garlic.
The couscous from North Africa found its way across the sea to France. It is made from chicken and merguez, various vegetables and couscous semolina. Usually everything is spicy. In autumn, many French delicacies in this region are based on chestnuts or chestnuts, such as chestnut jam or candied chestnuts.
The tapenade – an olive paste with capers, anchovies (anchovies) and lots of olive oil – and the aioli, a garlic cream, are no longer an insider tip.
The Tarte Tropézienne, the St. Tropez cake, a yeast cake filled with buttercream, was also made known to us by Brigitte Bardot.
Both before and after eating, there is also goat cheese in different variations.
Of course, the wine that has matured under the warm sun of southern France predominates among the drinks. The southern French also love to have a pastis in a street café.
Burgundy – French Bourgogne – is known above all for its excellent wines, so it is not surprising that numerous French specialties are prepared with wine here, such as Bœuf bourguignon (beef in Burgundy wine). In general, beef dominates here, especially that of the Charolais cattle of this region. But also poultry, such as the famous Bress chicken from southern Burgundy, are “drowned” in red wine. In Austria, too, people appreciate the coq au vin, which has almost become a kind of national dish throughout France.
Burgundy is also known for its snails. Who does not know them, the snails with herb butter, the Escargots de Bourgogne !? You can also find mustard from Burgundy, especially Dijon mustard, in our supermarkets.
In addition to numerous red and white wines, the Crémes de cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur, is a special drink in France. It is also used to mix the famous Kir or Kir Royal. Like most regions of France, Burgundy also has French delicacies to offer in the form of tens of different types of cheese.
Culinary in France in Alsace – in France under the name Alsace – means hearty French specialties. Many of the dishes are made from meat, especially pork. People like to cook with sauerkraut, which is offered in all variations – from mushy to biting cabbage. Every culinary guide around the world names the Choucroute garnie, an Alsatian sauerkraut platter with sausages and salted meats, as a typical Alsatian specialty. Potatoes are served as a side dish.
Real French delicacies in the form of horse meat are increasingly rare in restaurants in Alsace.
The typical stew, consisting of lamb, beef and pork with vegetables, marinated in white wine for a long time and then cooked, is also quite hearty. Pig’s feet are often added to this dish, known as “Baeckoeffe”.
Here, too, the Alsatian Flamkuchen, the Flammekuech, is becoming increasingly popular. It is a kind of thin pizza dough with crème fraîche, bacon and onions or leeks.
The Fromage de Munster dʻAlsace from Munster is known. You can smell it from afar, this strong soft cheese, which is often served with tarte flambée or potatoes. One of the cake specialties is the Gugelhoupf, a yeast cake with or without raisins.
A matter of taste – exceptional specialties
Not all French food suits our taste buds, which is sure to be the other way around. So the Austrian palate must, can or will – or not – the following dishes are certainly only slowly approaching the following dishes. Often these French delicacies only taste good after the second or third attempt:
- Oysters: Eating oysters (properly) has to be learned and skilled. It starts with opening the hard shell. There are usually a dozen of them. In some places – for example in Cancale – you can buy fresh oysters right by the sea from the oyster farmer and slurp them raw – i.e. alive. A little insider tip: If you drizzle a little lemon on the oysters, you can tell whether it is still alive and whether it is edible.
- Tripes à la mode de Caen: These are tripe in cider and calvados, i.e. rumen cut into strips as a kind of braised stew with vegetables, garlic, herbs and veal’s feet.
- Lucullus: Beef tongue is layered with foie gras in a terrine.
- Foie gras: This is foie gras, which we often reject because of its “production”, since the geese are stuffed within a very short time and their liver grows unnaturally in the process. In Périgord in particular, you can enjoy pâté de foie gras, a pate made from foie gras and other ingredients such as truffles.
- Escargots: These are Roman snails with herb butter and often garlic.
- Algae: In Brittany in particular, different types of algae are offered for consumption – for example as a salad.
- Sea urchins: The gonads, usually the size of a fingernail, i.e. the sex glands, are spooned out directly from the shell. Lemon can be drizzled on them. Opening the sea urchin takes some skill and practice. Sea urchins are relatively expensive. They are mainly offered in restaurants on the Côte d’Azur.
- Andouille and Andouillette: These are sausages that are made exclusively from offal.
French cheese and sausage specialties
Cheese – fromage
Even a particularly good culinary guide can hardly name the exact number of different types of cheese in France. There are just too many! Cheese can be eaten in France for a picnic, lunch or dinner. Mostly a cheese platter is served, on which different types can be found. This is served with baguettes.
One of the best-known cheeses here in Austria is Camembert, a white mold cheese that originally comes from Normandy.
In the south and in central France goat cheese is popular and often offered. It is available in slices or whole, as well as cream cheese. It is offered either pure or with spices, with herbs or, for example, with figs. Goat cheese can be enjoyed cold or warm. Sheep’s cheese is also often found in cheese counters in France.
In this country too there is the Fromage de Munster dʻAlsace, also known as Munster cheese. It is a soft cheese with red smear and a very strong taste and an even stronger fragrance. The Maroilles from the land of the Cht’is also has an extremely distinctive smell. This cow’s milk cheese can be recognized by its red rind.
The Roquefort, an aromatic sheep cheese from the Cevennes, is even known outside of Europe.
It would go beyond the scope here to name all types of cheese. You will find a very large assortment of cheeses on your holiday in France in large supermarkets and on the weekly markets. You can get it fresh in the fromageries, the cheese factories.
Sausage – Saucisse
The French eat far fewer sausage products than we do. Nevertheless, some typical ones should be mentioned, some of which have also found their way into our home. First there are the long-life French salamis, which are often refined with ingredients such as nuts, cheese, pistachios, olives, figs and other things. Like wild boar, donkey, goat and bull salami, they can be bought and tasted in France’s markets. An almost “normal” salami is the Rosette de Lyon, an air-dried pork salami in the shape of a rosette.
There is also ham (jambon). The best-known varieties are the Jambon de Bayonne, an air-dried ham from the French Basque Country, and the Jambon sec des Ardennes and the Noix de jambon sec des Ardennes, also dried ham.
Pates, also known as paté or terrine, are popular. This is a kind of spreadable sausage. The best known are le foie gras, the goose liver pate, or the rilettes, a spread made from pork, goose or duck breast with pieces of meat that comes close to the Austrian “meat”.
Merguez are red, spicy, coarse minced meat sausages, whose country of origin is Morocco. The andouille and the andouillette are sausages made exclusively from offal. While the andouille is usually eaten cold and sliced, the finer andouillette is eaten cooked.
Different types of bread – baguette
The typical street scene in France looks like this: people are walking through the streets with nibbled baguettes under their arms. What business in France will certainly never run out of is baguette. Every place has a boulangerie, and if not, a baker comes by in his car and honks loudly. The French buy a lot and several times a day the “stick”, as the baguette is translated.
The real French baguette measures 50-70 cm and weighs 240-340 g. It is not cut but broken. Originally it was used to pick up the sauce from the plate. Today it is eaten as a side dish or topped with pâté and cheese.
But not all elongated white breads are baguettes, the French make a distinction between baguette, pain – bread – and flûte. A flute is longer and thinner than a baguette, but weighs just as much as a baguette, while a pain weighs more, i.e. 400 g, and is thicker but just as long as a baguette.
Nowadays, in addition to these three typical breads, there are numerous other varieties in France. The “pain de campagne” is not only served over the counter in rural areas, a rather rustic country bread. “Le petit pain”, as the French call bread, is also available in some places. Whole grain breads are also becoming more common. However, one often looks in vain for black bread.
Sweets in french food- Doux ou desserts
The French like to have something sweet for dessert or coffee. Here are some examples of sweet food in France:
- Macaron: These are two colorful, stacked almond meringues with a filling. They are available in different flavors such as café, pistachio or raspberry.
- Croissant: This typical, croissant-shaped piece is also known to us. In France, it is eaten for breakfast.
- Pain au chocolat: This is a rectangular croissant filled with chocolate.
- Flan: This is a type of custard cake with a thin shortcrust pastry base and rim and a custard filling.
- Brioche: Brioche is a type of sweet bread, comparable to our butter or yeast plaits.
- Crêpes: These thin pancakes are filled with sweet or savory or topped.
- Crème brûlée: This is a dessert made from egg yolk, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla, which is caramelized with brown cane sugar using a special “fire pistol” before serving.
- Mousse au Chocolat: This is a fluffy chocolate foam that is prepared cold.
Drinking in France – Boire en France
Drinking in France means water, wine and coffee. There are also some refreshing, non-alcoholic drinks and various spirits.
Water – Eau ou Eau minérale
Water, primarily non-carbonated, mostly straight from the tap in the countryside, is on the table at every meal. In the Auvergne in particular, more than 100 top quality mineral or spring waters gush out of the earth. It’s no wonder that the best-known brands such as Volvic or Vichy, which can also be found on beverage shelves in this country, are produced here.
Wine, sparkling wine – Vin, Champagne
France is also the country of good wines. Red wine is often drunk. Depending on the food on the table, there is also white or rosé wine.
Every wine lover in Austria knows good Bordeaux wines from the region of the same name, which are mostly dry reds. In Alsace, however, white wines predominate, only the Spätburgunder, the Pinot noir, is a special case. The famous wines of Alsace ‘include the Sylvaner, the Muscat and the Gewurztraminer. The latter two are often drunk as an aperitif because of their fruity and spicy taste. The Edelzwicker is a composition of different grape varieties.
In Burgundy, the wine region par excellence, there are various high-quality white and red wines. Chablis, a white wine made exclusively from the world’s most famous grape variety, Chardonnay, is particularly popular with wine connoisseurs and is not cheap.
But other regions also produce good wines. The French mostly prefer wines from their own region.
In addition to wine, sparkling wine is also a kind of insider tip for connoisseurs beyond France’s borders. There is the traditional champagne from Champagne but also the sparkling wine from Alsace, the Crémant d’Alsace.
Many of the alcoholic beverages we consume come from France. These include the cognac – a brandy from the city of the same name – and the Calvados – an apple brandy from Normandy. The pastis, mainly drunk in southern France, an aniseed schnapps that is drunk in a ratio of 5-6 parts ice water and 1 part pastis, is less popular with us. The créme de cassis, a black currant liqueur, is used to prepare cocktails. The best known are the Kir (with white wine) and the Kir Royal (with champagne).
Of course, the French also drink beer, but not as much as we Austrians. Most types of beer come from Belgium, Holland or Germany. But there are also some French beer brands, such as Cht’i in the Nord department. Often one drinks panaché, a beer mixture.
Coffee – cafe
The French understand “café” as an espresso. Our coffee is more like “café crème”. “Café au lait” is a milk coffee.
The little black one, the “café”, is always drunk in between; often standing at the counter of a bar or café.
Non-alcoholic drinks – Boissons sans alcool
Of course there are also drinks such as cola in France, but when ordering in the bar, typical French delicacies are preferred. This includes the orangina, a lemonade with pulp but no preservatives or additives. The original orangina is served in a small, orange-shaped bottle.
Syrup in different flavors that is drunk diluted with water is very popular. Drinking a drink with syrup in France is supraregional. Preferred mixtures are the grenadine – pomegranate juice syrup – or the diabolo menthe – syrup with a peppermint flavor. More precisely: Diabolo menthe consists of peppermint syrup and soda, the simple grenadine is mixed with water, the diabolo grenadine with soda and the lait grenadine with milk. They are always served with a straw and ice-cold.
Everything takes time in french cuisine – Tout prend du temps dans la cuisine française
Eating & drinking in France has a long tradition and takes longer than here. The most important meals are dinner together and eating together on Sunday. Lunch and dinner usually consist of three courses. However, there are also five or more course menus.
A typical culinary daily routine looks something like this:
1-Breakfast – Le petit déjeuner
In France you start the day with something sweet, with a croissant, a pain au chocolat, a piece of brioche or with a baguette, honey, jam and / or nut nougat cream. Cookies are eaten in some families. You can also drink café au lait or espresso.
2-Lunch – Le déjeuner
French lunchtime food has changed over the years. This is due to the employment of many women. The typical French lunch takes place between 12 noon and 2 p.m. and consists of three courses and an espresso. Baguette serves as a side dish.
The three courses are as follows:
Starter: salad, pate or a cheese platter
Second course: meat or fish, vegetables (potatoes are considered vegetables). Rice or noodles are less common, but baguettes are always available.
Dessert or cheese: A piece of baguette is always served with this.
Non-carbonated water is drunk, sometimes a glass of wine. At the end there is an espresso.
With a five-course meal, an entremet (snack between meals) in the form of small sweet or salty snacks is served between the starter (aperitif) and the main course (plat principal). A seven-course or multi-course menu includes, for example, one hot and one cold starter and two entremets. In general, the entire portions are kept smaller.
3-Afternoon – Le goûter
You can have a small snack between 4 p.m. and 4.30 p.m. That is the time when the children come home from school who have already eaten in the school canteen. Coffee, cocoa, milk or juice are drunk with chocolate croissants, cakes or biscuits.
4-Dinner – Le dîner ou le souper
The French eat very late, around 8 p.m. The family likes to sit down or sit together with friends a little longer. Like lunch, le dîner consists of three courses or more. However, the individual dishes are easier to digest. Soup is only available for dinner.
5-Celebrations and Holidays – Les fêtes
On public holidays and family celebrations, the French often sit together for hours at main meals, with five, seven or even more courses. In between there is always a little break for lunch and there is a lot of conversation.
6-Picnic – Pique-nique
The French like to picnic a lot. Especially when the weather is nice, the whole family drives into the countryside or to one of the numerous specially designed picnic areas in the country. In addition to crockery and cutlery, a tablecloth as well as cheese, wine, water and corresponding dishes are always included. It is “dined” long and extensively.
7-A specialty – L’apéritif
In Austria, we don’t know L’apéritif. Literally translated it means “starter”. However, it is more of a small snack. At this “meal” you meet – whether planned or unplanned – with neighbors, friends, or acquaintances in the evening before dinner and have an aperitif in alcoholic form, champagne, wine, and/or other alcoholic beverages. In addition, small items such as olives, nuts, small tomatoes, saucisson – air-dried sausages – or canapés are served. You chat a lot and for a long time so that there is often a smooth transition to dinner.
More about french cuisine in Ultimate French Restaurants Guide.