French cuisine and traditional French foods and dishes
Odd classic French dishes: snails, frog legs, goose liver pâté
We, the French, may have more culinary common points with the Chinese, than we think: we eat pretty much anything, in particular things that foreigners may consider off-putting.
Escargots de Bourgogne (Burgundy snails) are pretty common in supermarkets and restaurants. What do they taste like? Chewy, like rubber. Escargots are drowned in a rich butter, parsley and garlic sauce. If you've had garlic bread before, you get the idea.
Cervelle de mouton (mutton brains)? They start feeding it to you in primary school and most of us never develop the taste.
Tripes, langue de bœuf (beef tongue), pied de porc (pig's trotter) have fairly sizeable following, not just in the countryside, but also among Parisians.
When was the last time we had cuisses de grenouille (frog's legs)? Not that common, and not a particularly sought after dish, despite the myth.
There are about half a dozen boucherie chevaline still standing in Paris. Again, cheval (horsemeat) has not been a favourite for a couple of generations.
What about foie gras (goose liver)? Now, we'd have foie gras everyday if it weren't for the price and the cholesterol. It cannot be summarily dismissed as "just" liver pâté. If you've never had it before, here's your chance to eat what the locals eat. Foie gras comes in can, but can also be purchased from delicacy shops. Higher end restaurants and cuisine du Sud Ouest (southwest), where foie gras originates, will likely offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy a typical French delicacy.
Aside from these odd French dishes, you're safer sticking to classic French cuisine and the plats du terroir (regional dishes) that we list on our pages.
French cheeses (fromages)
One can spend a year in France without eating the same cheese twice. There are by and large the same number of cheeses as days in a year. Your French cheese odyssey should not begin with the maroilles, whose pungent smell can knock you off your socks if not wearing a gas mask, and don't wait for your Corsican brocciu to be infested with white worms.
Start with cheeses that are soft and easy, or hard and easy, with a simple Bordeaux red wine and some bread. Check whether it is made with lait cru (raw milk) or lait pasteurisé (pasteurised milk).
You need wine with your cheese, and cheese with your bread. There starts the cycle: there is never enough wine, cheese or bread...
We list in the right column of travel tips to Paris and French foods about a dozen mainstream cheeses that you can find in most good Parisian refrigerators. If somebody has the nerve to inquire "fromage ou dessert?" (cheese or dessert?), reply swiftly and with much aplomb "les deux!" (both!).
French wines (vins)
In volumes, France has been consistently ranked as one of the top producing countries in the world.
Your average French drinks more than a bottle a week. Come to think of it, it's not that much, about a glass a day. Enough to keep fit.
France exports a lot of wine, and no doubt in your corner of the world you've had a few gulps. But when we travel abroad, the prices people pay for the plunk we drink every day is... sadly laughable.
For a totally drinkable smaller Chateaux, estate bottled, great vintage year... 5 euros is what Parisians are used to paying at the corner mini-mart. If you buy by the box from a supermarket, or take the train out to Bourgogne (Burgundy) to see the producers, the prices are unbeatable...
You should make your stay in Paris, a wine tasting holiday.
Start with wines from Bordeaux, the largest wine producing region of France, located in the southwest (Sud Ouest), of course also a great home for hearty food. Go into any supermarket and look for the following on the bottle: mis en bouteille à la propriété (estate bottled), and a vintage of at least 3 years old. If you have extra cash and want to brag a little, get a grand cru classé (great classified growths). The classification has changed little since 1855. Not only is it official, it's also legal... mess with it and you mess with the law. Only 61 wines from Bordeaux have made it to the list. You find good wines from Bordeaux everywhere in Paris.
For wines from Bourgogne (Burgundy), you have to look harder and pay a little more. But they're well worth it. Beaujolais is famous abroad, thanks to good marketing, but it's really an everyday wine for us. Unlike Bordeaux, wines from Burgundy focus on terroir (area of origin and geographical location). Start with Appellation d'Origine Controlée (AOC controlled appellation of origin), and drink all the way to the premier crus (first vintages) and the legendary grand crus (great vintages). There are only 34 grand crus in Burgundy.
The cost of a meal in Paris
These days, you have to look hard for good food at good value in Paris. Unless you come from Nordic Europe where a root and herring salad will cost you the price of a house, you will find it expensive to eat out in Paris.
If you cannot find a decent restaurant in your adventures, just head for the closest boulangerie, or bakery. It will have plenty of tasty sandwiches, take away dishes and cakes to eat. Alternatively look for grocery stores since they are bound to be loaded with delicious foods as well, and they usually have a deli section. You can easily survive in Paris on croissants, chocolate éclairs, wine and cheese alone.
The Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) offers plenty of deals since impoverished students inhabit the area. The Champs Elysées are a tourist trap and usually avoided by Parisians. We have put up a list of French culinary specialties that you ought to taste. Enjoy hearty French classic dishes.
Expensive (cher): Above 20 euros for a main dish
Average (moyen): Around 15 euros for a main dish
Not expensive (pas cher): Less than 10 euros for a main dish
Escargots de Bourgogne - Burgundy snails
Foie gras - Goose liver
Huitres - Oysters (raw)
Quiche lorraine - Lorraine Quiche
Moules marinières - Steamed mussels in white wine sauce
Soupe à l'onion - Onion soup
Soupe de poisson avec la rouille - Fish soup with rust sauce
Traditional French main dishes (plat principal)
Boudin - Blood sausage
Bœuf bourguigon - Burgundy beef stew
Carré de porc - Roast pork loin
Cassoulet - Beans and sausage stew
Coq au vin - Rooster braised in red wine
Daube de bœuf - Beef and wine stew
Gigot d'agneau - Roast leg of lamb
Pot au feu - Beef stew
Crème brulée - Caramelised custard
Charlotte - Sponge cake
Profiterolles au chocolat - Puff pastries served with melted chocolate and ice-cream
Tarte tatin - Caramelised fruit tart