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French food

Food in France

Cooking and eating out in France is treated as an art, and eating and drinking are considered a serious and complex business. Restaurant standards have grown more uncertain in recent years, especially in Paris, but they are still the highest in the world. Quite humble families treat an evening out in a good restaurant with the sense of occasion or fun that the English might feel in going to the pantomime.
And, because the French care more for food than for decor, the smartness of a restaurant is no guide to the cuisine. Some of the noblest cooking in France is still served in the humblest of surroundings. French food is relatively expensive, because the raw ingredients are so; but, whereas Maxim's or Lasserre in Paris may well cost you 80 francs a head, in thousands of lesser French restaurants you can still get a good meal for to or 12 francs. On main roads, the routiers restaurants (carrying a prominent R sign), used by lorry-drivers, offer excellent, copious meals at only io francs or so.
French cooking is based on an unbroken tradition, and its hallmark is regionalism. The greatest regions, gastronomically, are the Lyonnais, Burgundy, Normandy, Perigord, and Provence.

The Basque country, Brittany, the Loire, Alsace, and Savoy also have their own interesting dishes. Even in Paris, many of the best restaurants are run by provincials who get produce fresh every day from a farm at home. But in Paris a new, imported tradition is beginning to assert itself, with snack bars and cafeterias. Everywhere and Paris has some of the best restaurants in the world. You can find anything you want to eat in Paris at almost any price you wish to pay. Lunch is a two to three-hour affair involving several courses. The cheese is wonderful, hors d'oeuvres are usually superb, sauces are a national specialty, pate de fois gras is different from anything you've had in tins.

Coffee is strong but can be ordered to approximate the American taste. Try puree de marrons, chestnuts cooked with celery, spices and chicken consomme. Wonderful snails in garlic sauce and saddle of spring lamb done in white wine with chopped tarragon. There are hundreds of other magnificent dishes and regional favorites. The wines range from ordinary to superlative, depending upon price and taste. They are served with all meals. The French rarely drink water, but it is entirely potable. Pastries are famous, as are the potages, or thick soups. The French also do well by fish and salads. Milk is usually safe to drink, but make sure it's been pasteurized.
Lunch still tends to be a bigger meal for the French than dinner. Hors d'oeuvre is more usual than soup at lunch, soup is preferred at dinner. The French as a rule eat their vegetables separately from the main dish, especially if this has a rich sauce - they do not like the vegetables to muffle its taste. And they always eat cheese before the sweet or fruit course, not after.
A very short list of good dishes (common to many parts of France) would include moules marinieres, artichaux vinaigrette, salade de cruditis, pates, escargots, coq au vin, canard d l'orange, escalope a la creme, and, for sweets, profiteroles, diplomate, and souffles. The French cook richly, using plenty of butter, cream, and wine, and are not afraid of garlic and other herbs that add subtle flavours.

French wines, champagnes and brandies have no peer in the world. Liquor is now taxed in France, so drinks run higher than they used to. Whisky is rather expensive. Brandy is really the national drink, but you can name your brand only in the best restaurants. But even the "bar brandy" in other spots is better than you often get at home. Vouvray and Mousseux are similar to Champagne, but cheaper. The Champagne name, of course, is patented and is applied only to wines from a certain district, just as Cognac applies only to the Cognac district. Best try a few wines and brandies and liqueurs for yourself and make up your own mind. Table wine (vin ordinaire) varies in quality but is usually drinkable, red better than white, and cheap. In a wine-growing area, local vin du pays en carafe is always good value. The better bottled wines are little cheaper than in London; the best years are 'S3, '55, '57 (for Burgundies), 'Sg, '6i, '62, and '6q.. Muscadet, from the Loire, is a fine light wine to go with shellfish, while Fleurie, Julienas, and Brouilly are Beaujolais with a more narrowly defined appellation, and therefore more to be trusted. Before or after meals, the French drink Scotch whisky, but never gin and rarely sherry; sweet red Cinzano, Dubonnet, Pernod, Pastis, and Ricard are popular aperitifs. French beer is sharp, without much body, but is served ice-cold. Diabolo menthe (lemonade and green peppermint syrup) is a good thirst-quencher. There is no substance in the myth that you cannot drink tap-water in France.
A service charge of 12 or 15 per cent is almost always added to bills, and there is no need to give more than a few centimes by way of tip.

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