When in France, eat like a local. France is a country which made us feel as if we were in a food wonderland. We spent two amazing weeks in France, worth of gluttony! The delightfully old-fashioned bistros in the quite alleys in the French countryside, were one of my favourite places to relax. We experimented with many kinds of immensely enjoyable French food all over France: both rustic and posh. We got to see and taste quite a lot of local ingredients that were new to our palate. We will always remember that first taste of local grub off the Le Wilson Restaurant’s menu in Trocadero (near the Eiffel Tower). We used to take unplanned evening strolls down the streets, stopping by either a café, patisserie (bakery), boulangerie (bread shop), brasserie, restaurant, or sometimes even a crepêrie or an ice-cream joint, to get the actual flavour of French cuisine. France is the place to be, for any sweet-toothed foodie. I loved the patisseries the most: they serve pretty darn great pastries! As I took a bite of a delicious éclairs in Paris, and watched these eateries buzzing with activity, I understood why French food is so famous all over the world!
Paris is a busy place and a big tourist destination, of course. Among others, the quintessential experience here is to go on the Seine river cruise, and I am glad that we did that. We used to hop off at any point on the cruise, not only to visit the local attractions there, but also to explore the eateries. Some cafes and bistros have a real laid-back vibe, with comfortable outdoor seating: something that I always love. In restaurants, especially in touristy places, things can get chaotic sometimes. People usually call ahead to reserve a table in popular restaurants, though we never did that. There are so many eateries everywhere that you can get a place for yourself at many of these, even without a reservation.
What we ate in France
Well, we didn’t venture into any of those expensive Michelin-starred restaurants, still we ate like a king! We tried out something new every day, and wow, there’s actually no end to the variety of the food and wine they serve here! But the touristy places are not cheap, and beware, some eateries serve awful microwaved stuff. Although there is a real long list of what we ate, here are a few French foods that we would always like to remember.
We lost count of how many croissants we ate throughout our trip. We did not miss any opportunity to grab a croissant, actually. From a mini to a giant croissant, France has it all. So flaky, light and buttery, it is a totally addictive breakfast option with the beverage of your choice. Whether croissants are really French, is a debate, though. Around 1683, the croissant was what is known as the Austrian Kipfel, but became extremely popular when much later, the French began to make it with puffed pastry, giving it crumbly lightness.
2. Foie Gras
Foie Gras is a prized food in French cuisine. These fattened livers of duck and geese are very popular here, and are protected by the French law as they regard it as a part of their cultural and gastronomic heritage. Duck or goose are fed on a rich diet of corn, so that their liver becomes saturated with fat. Goose foie gras is very expensive, as compared to the duck (Foie de Canard). We had high-quality Foie Gras quite a number of times. Every bite of the fatty duck liver delivered rich, buttery delight. The chefs here can do innovative masterpieces with this. There are many ways to serve this. Foie Gras is served at room temperature and as a starter, and often comes with a slice of green apple or sweet bread. For me, a sweet and sour chutney to go along with it, is perfection.
Even if you get macarons in your country now, colourful macarons are a must-try in France. My personal favourite is the raspberry-flavoured one, as it is not very sweet and has an interesting texture, owing to raspberry seeds in it. You get so many flavours and sizes, ranging from mini to jumbo! Macarons from the Ladurée Boutique in Paris, are very popular, and so are those from Pierre Hermé. I also loved the cream-filled and fruit-flavoured macarons from Fauchon in Place de la Madeleine, Paris. I had tasted a few dozens of macarons from different local patisseries in France and some of them were outstanding! In France, even McDonald’s sells macarons, but these are just okayish, I would say. The big-sized Chocolate and Pistachio Macarons from Paul were a bit soggy, though tastewise, these were good.
4. Croque Monsieur
The French version of classic ham-n-cheese sandwich can make your breakfast an unforgettable and fulfilling experience. Topped with stringy Gruyère cheese with that perfect nutty flavour; and soft, salty jambon blanc (white ham), the crisp and buttery bread is just wow. I liked this so much that I don’t mind making this for myself on every single weekend!
I had never had this before, until one day, while returning from Versailles, we stopped by at a relatively inexpensive food joint called Class Croute, to try their Canelé. The pastry, which originated in the Bordeaux region of France, looks rather plain in front of dressy French desserts. Although somehow the kids did not like it, I was hooked on to its flavour. The thick caramelized sugar crust with a soft, spongy, custard-like cake interior smelled of rum and vanilla. A perfect Canelé is the one which doesn’t have a burnt or soggy exterior. The inside should be soft and spongy, but not sticky. I am sure, next time I visit France, I will make room to eat many more Canelés.
6. Chaussons aux Pommes
French bakeries have a range of baked goodies with apple filling (a French version of applesauce): Crumble aux Pommes, Strudel aux Pommes, Tartlette aux Pommes et Amandes and Tourte aux Pommes are just a few of them. We picked up a flaky Chaussons aux Pommes (French apple turnover using puff pastry sheets) from a Casino Shop, which was very cheap and tasted yum with that sweet apple filling oozing out with each bite! Chaussons aux Pommes is a traditional pastry, invented in 1580 at Saint-Calais, Northern France.
7. Charcuterie (cold meats)
Although cold meats are very popular in the North-East France, you can taste these all over France in almost every restaurant. We tried this Charcuterie dish at one of our favourite restaurants called Le Toucan in Montparnasse. They served Jambon de Pays (country ham), Terrine de Champagne (country-style terrine) and Saucisson Sec (dry and chewy sausage). AN and I loved the Terrine the most. While AN disliked the sausage, I loved the texture. Country ham was great!
Yes, snails. If you happen to visit Burgundy, eat snails for sure, as they cook snails perfectly! We didn’t go there but we ate escargots in Paris itself, beautifully cooked and heavenly in flavour. If you are a first-timer, head on to Le Toucan in Montparnasse, where the friendly serving staff will even show you (and they understand English) how to take out the meat from a snail! A Spanish flavour to cherish.
9. Boeuf Bourguignon
This speciality from the region of Burgundy has bold flavours of melt-in-the-mouth beef slow-cooked in red wine. We ate this in Paris, and it was really an unforgettable Beef dish. The restaurant called Les Depart Saint Michel overlooking the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris has oh-so-good Boeuf Bourguignon! Being a Bong, I always love potatoes in my meat and luckily, they added some. I am in love with this dish forever.
10. Rabbit Terrine and Duck Terrine
We had this in Roussillon, a village in Luberon (Southern France). A terrine is a loaf of meat, served cold or at room temperature. I ate rabbit meat for the first time in a homely restaurant. Duck Terrine is much smoother, compared to the rabbit one. We enjoyed a delicious Duck Terrine near Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris, in a restaurant called Le Notre Dame, just near the Cathedral.
Profiteroles are choux pastry filled with cream, custard or ice cream. We had the ones with ice cream in Hippopotamus, Axn Provence, and they were lovely! These ice-cream-sandwiched crunchy pastries were a great hit with kids too!
Eric Kayser in Montparnasse has divine mini Financiers, made with ground almonds and French butter. These are not rectangular, but circular, and are a must-try.
13. Paris Brest
We picked up few Paris Brests on our way back to the hotel in Montparnasse and enjoyed these ever after. This Paris Brest is from Le Quartier du Pain in Montparnasse. This is a choux pastry cut into half and filled with whipped cream. The pastry is topped with flakes of almonds. The Paris Brest, traditionally in the shape of a bicycle tyre, was born to celebrate the four-yearly bicycle race from Paris to Brest.
We gorged on lots of blue mussels in Nice. The most popular blue mussel dish in France is Moules Frites (mussels with fries). Here, mussels are also served in seafood soups, pasta and Spanish Paella. Mussels are also served on their own.
15. Salade Nicoise
The Salade Nicoise served in French Brasseries in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is the best! The main ingredients in this salad are tuna, anchovies, egg, capers, tomatoes, olives and lettuce. When in Nice, you must try this salad. We tried it in Cours Saleya, Nice.
16. Provençal Seafood Stew
Seafood stews are rather expensive. The Marseille specialty Bouillabaisse is one of the best seafood dishes of French Provençal cuisine. We tasted another seafood stew a bit cheaper than Bouillabaisse in a lively restaurant in Cours Saleya, Nice, called La Pizza du Cours. The stew is called Assiette du Pêcheur (Fisherman’s Plate). When it came to me, it was a giant pot of seafood stew, apt for two people. Big chunks of salmon, mussels, prawns, etc., along with other kinds of seafood, made this stew an overwhelming experience. The bed of potato at the bottom made it a complete meal in itself.
Do try the breads in France. Baguettes are awesome here. Try the ones with pointed ends, which means that these are handmade. The baguettes with rounded ends means that these are generally machine-made and hence, the latter taste okayish. Eating the end of the loaf – le quignon – before actually trying the bread, is a common practice here and this is one of the things that I learnt from the French locals in Paris.
This decadent dessert (meaning a thousand leaves) with amazing textural contrast, consists of atleast three tiers of thin and crisp puff pastry, sandwiched with the help of two layers of pastry cream. Almost every patisserie in France has their own versions of Mille-Feuille. We loved the Raspberry Mille-Feuille at Fauchon, as well as in two other local Parisian patisseries. Mille-Feuille should always be eaten freshly made, otherwise the sheets of the puff pastry become soggy. The latest trend with chefs worldwide is to experiment with making savoury Mille-Feuilles.
19. Steak Frites
Oh, a good steak with French fries… France loves this simple yet droolworthy dish! We had Steak Frites at a few places in France, but this steak in the picture tasted the best, which we ordered in Pizza Vesuvio in Champs Elysses, Paris. The huge steak was topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and was yum! At few places though, including chains such as Hippopotamus and Flunch, we got overcooked and rubbery steaks, inspite of telling the staff that we preferred the medium-cooked ones.
20. Pain au Chocolat
The awe-inspiring Pain au Chocolat (literally, chocolate bread) is a croissant with chocolate chunks inside. As it is always great for breakfast-on-the-go, we had Pain au Chocolat almost every alternate day from local bakeries. Want to taste the best? Try the ones from Angelina Patisserie, Pierre Hermé, Blé Sucré or Eric Kayser.
Going to Brittany? Then you must try a variety of crêpes there (mostly sweet), which is famous for this. Not going to Brittany? No worries. All over France, including Paris, there is no shortage of crêperies. The take-away crêpe stands are great because you can watch the whole process of making crêpes right in front of you. But we had our first crepe called “Belle Epoque” in the restaurant Les Depart Saint Michel near Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris. This had banana inside and was oozing with chocolate sauce. Topped with whipped cream, toasted almonds and vanilla ice cream, it was yum! For a variety of authentic Breton crêpes and galettes, you must visit Ti Jos in Montparnasse, Paris, which is regarded one of the best. If you don’t like sweet crêpes, try their savoury Roquefort Galette and the Complète Provençale Galette.
22. French Cheese
We tried a few cheeses in Provence. There, we saw cheese varieties like never before: Picodon, Banon, Brousse du Rove, St. Maure, St. Marcelin, Peraldou, Bouguyette, Morbier, Roquefort, Camembert and Brie. Many restaurants across France have a selection of cheeses in their menu. In a restaurant in Normandy, we were served a melted cheese sauce with our French Fries…it was simple, but the flavour still lingers!
Éclairs fall in the dessert category, but we had eaten them for breakfast too. These are mind-blowing. With cream filling and a glossy topping, this crunchy pastry is just perfect in every sense. Reputed patisseries in France have their own innovations with Éclairs, which are worth trying. L’Eclair de Génie is very popular in France, for their gourmet éclairs. You will find Éclairs in most of the French bakeries, especially in Paris.
This reminded me of our popular Indian cashewnut-based sweet called Kaju Katli, if I don’t consider the candied-fruit aroma in Calissons. These candies are small, bite-sized pieces of pure delight and are made using almond paste and candied fruits with Royal icing on the top. We bought a boxful from a beautiful village called Roussillon in Southern France.
25. Tarte Tatin
When served with crème fraiche (sour cream), this traditional French apple tart is my absolute favourite. This is a must-try dessert if you are visiting France. In 1894, Stephanie and Caroline Tatin discovered this sweet, while making an apple pie. Accidentally, one of them overcooked the apples for the pie, and so, they had to put the pastry sheet on top. They baked it upside down and served their clients, who loved the new dessert. A lesson learnt: kitchen experiments and accidents can make destiny!
26. Tarte au Citron
If you are not fond of sweet tarts, this citrusy tart is something that you might love. With delicious lemon curd topped with sweet meringue, this tart is very refreshing to the tastebuds.
27. Teurgoule (Riz au Lait de Normandie)
This traditional milk-based rice dessert from Normandy, reminded me of the Indian payesh or kheer. Teourgoule is a rustic dessert cooked in a special earthen pot for hours, resulting in a brown caramel crust at the top. If you visit Normandy, you must try this dessert.
28. Crème Glacée (Ice Cream)
If the Italians have Gelato, the French have their Crème Glacée! With a huge variety of colours and flavours, like framboise, lavender, coffee, pistachio, praline, passion fruit, etc., these are a hit with kids and adults alike!
Yes, butter. Made with superior-quality milk, this yellowish goodness has an aroma and taste to die for. French butter tastes the best because it has a high amount of butterfat.
30. French Beverages and Drinks
In France, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing your drink or beverage. Start your morning with an espresso or a French-press coffee and later, make sure you have the awesome Chocolat Chaud (hot chocolate). Drink syrups like grenadine and mint are also very popular here. Of course, in addition to a huge selection of premium-quality le vin (wine), you must try some other gorgeous drinks while you are in France. People enjoy apéritif (before-dinner drink) like Pastis and Kir Royale. Kir Royale, a classic French drink, is amazingly light and refreshing. This French drink is made with dry white wine, Champagne or any other sparkling wine, along with Crème de Cassis .
Each French wine is unique and there are many wine regions, like Champagne, Alsace, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Loire, Provence, Côtes du Rhône, etc., having their own distinctive wines that are popular worldwide. Then there are Le digestif drinks too (like Cognac, Almagnac and Calvados), although I doubt if they really help in digestion.
This list can go on and on. In addition to these, we also visited a Provencial local market, which made us drool with their fresh produce and local food. We bought back few food souvenirs and ate and saw foods that we never heard before. In one of my upcoming posts, I will share my experience of a typical Provencial market with you. Till then, au revoir!
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