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Bon Appetit - Food in France

French Food - Delicious Bread and Cheeses

French Cheese & Bread are always popular

France is a nation of food lovers and its delicious cuisine is one of the many wonderful things that attract more than 60 million holiday makers every year.

It may well be that it is the mouth-watering food, as well as the spectacular scenery of France, that means that, whilst it is one of the most visited countries in the world, only around 12 per cent of French people manage to tear themselves away from their beloved country to holiday abroad themselves.

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to French food and restaurants (and, of course, there are also plenty of restaurants of other ethnic varieties) and we wouldn’t dream of interfering in the delights of your gastronomic discovery.

However, we thought we would include a few helpful tips so that you can really make the most of your French culinary experience.

It is no coincidence that, when it comes to language, it is the French culinary terms that survive into languages worldwide, rather than the English or American. After all, the French phrase ‘haute cuisine’ sounds far more appetising and exciting than the English equivalent, good cooking!

Meals

Meal times are very close to the hearts of the French, which is why it is important to be aware that many shops close for up to two hours at lunch time. (Supermarkets do remain open, however.)

Breakfast, or le petit dejeuner, is always of the continental style of bread, croissants and butter, jam and coffee or tea. Many hotels will also serve cheeses and hams, eggs, fruit and cereals.

Enjoying a meal with friends

Enjoying a meal with friends

French restaurants often open for lunch from around 11.30am and continue serving until after 1pm. There are likely to be options for starters (une entrée), main courses (le plat principal), a cheese course and desserts. Just like many other countries, some restaurants will offer extra dishes, or fixed price menus, as le Menu du jour.

Bread is always served with French meals and you will be offered coffee at the end.

Dinner (le diner) for the French, when at home, may or may not be the main meal of the day. The French tend to eat dinner from 7.30pm onwards and the main French television channels schedule their most popular programmes for 8.45pm onwards, after dinner has concluded. Not for the French are trays on laps in front of televisions. Meal times are important times when the family joins together to eat.

It is interesting to note too that, despite their love of bread, cheese, wine and other calorie-laden foods, the French have not suffered from an obesity problem in the past, probably because meals have always been traditionally cooked fresh and from scratch. It is only with the emergence of fast food outlets in France that this trend is starting to change.

Tipping

There is often much confusion about whether or not to tip in French restaurants.

Tipping in France is the norm but there is no expected fixed rate. You cannot add it on to the bill when paying by credit card. A normal tip, if service has been good, would be around ten per cent of the cost of the meal left in small notes or change on the table.

Snails and frogs legs

Beautiful French Cakes from the patisserie

French cakes from the Patisserie are a must!

There is much more to French cuisine than the traditionally-recognised snails and frogs legs. However, it is not too hard to find these dishes on the menu if you want them.

Both dishes belong to France’s deep rural tradition although, ironically, most of the frogs legs consumed in France are now imported. Frogs legs taste not dissimilar to chicken, although they are more fiddly to eat as they are so small. Snails can be delicious but the taste tends to come from what they are cooked in, usually garlic and butter.

Steak

Steak (bifteck) is very commonly found on French menus. If you are particular about how your steak is cooked, however, be aware that the French tend to like their steaks on the rare side. Therefore, make sure to ask for you steak to be well done (bien cuit) if this is not your preference.

Self catering in France

One of the many advantages of renting a French holiday home is that you can opt to enjoy the many delights of French markets and supermarkets and cook some lovely dishes at home as well as eating out.

This can make for a very economical holiday, particularly if you opt for food choices that are cheaper in France.

Food markets are abundant in France and the vegetables and fruits taste so much better when they are fresher and in season.

We love the selection of seafood and fish in most French supermarkets. We often pick up a kilo or two of large, tasty crevettes (prawns) from our local supermarket for just a few Euros. We would take them back to the UK by the tonne if we could.

If you opt for the French tradition of the daily baguette, you will need to buy fresh bread every day as they don’t keep very well. (However, sprinkle a little water on yesterday’s baguette, place it in the oven for a few minutes, and it will be as good as new.)

Regional specialities

Like most countries, different areas of France have their own specialities. Generally, seafood is cheaper in France than the UK or America and, obviously, cheeses are sold in abundance. (The French are the biggest consumers of cheese in the world, at 25kg per person per year.)

France is obviously also known for its wine production. Wine prices and quality vary but it is not difficult to find very drinkable bottles at very low cost. We have only ever managed to discover our favourite French red wine in our local supermarket so we always stock up when we visit.

South-West France

The specialities here tend to be the rich foods such as duck, foie gras, oysters, mushrooms and truffles, obviously washed down by a rich, red Bordeaux.

North-West France

This area is known for its apples, cider, calvados and seafood, especially mussels and oysters. Next door, in Brittany, you will find crepes galore, which can be eaten with sugar and lemon or butter and sugar.

North-East France

This area is renowned for its lovely vegetables, which are harder to grow further south where it is warmer. Cold meats are also popular and, of course, we cannot forget the region’s most famous export – champagne.

Eastern France

An area heavily influenced by German food, here you can find pickled cabbage and pork products, as well as savoury pastries and tarts.

Burgundy

Here you will find a preference for beef-based dishes such as boeuf bourguignon. Coq au vin is also popular and Dijon mustard comes from this region.

South France

This region is influenced by Spanish tastes such as spicy tomatoes and sausage. Cassoulet is the most popular dish.

South Central France

The Auvergne area is known for its cheeses, particularly Cantal and Bleu D’Auvergne.

South-East France

With its Italian influence, this region revolves around olives, olive oil and herbs.

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