Shabby is one of our trusted tour leaders and she took the time to tell us why she loves French food and why you, as a traveller, would love it too. You can look her up on Instagram (@shabbyhistoreat) for some food and travel inspiration!
In France, as noted by Julia Childs (who introduced complex French food to America), “cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” There is no overstating how important food is to your average French man or woman. Birthplace of haute cuisine at a time when the rest of Europe were still eating gruel, any vacation to France is bound to end with an expanded waistline but satisfied soul.
(If you want to get to know the French culture (and cuisine) up close and personal, take a look at our regional Taste of France tour. Travelling to destinations like Burgundy, Paris and the Loire Valley, you will find all the dishes listed below and much much more!)
Literally meaning ‘high cooking’, haute cuisine was brought to the fore in France in 1900 by a chef and restaurateur called Georges Auguste Escoffier, through his book ‘Le Guide Culinaire’, still to be found in most professional kitchens throughout the world.
The country is home to more Michelin stars than any other, and this is down to stunning restaurants like ‘Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée’ in Paris and ‘Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge’ in Dijon. Make sure you set a decent travel budget for food alone – gourmet cuisine does not come cheap. But, for a taste of properly executed French classics like Duck a l’Orange or a tender Steak Diane, sometimes you just have to splash the cash.
Just as synonymous with French cooking as haute, are the regional classics that really bring the food alive on any tour of this diverse country.
Paris – Aside from the lip-smacking, garlicky joy that is escargot (snails) smothered in garlic and butter, Parisian classics I would highly recommend include Coquille St. Jacques (a beautiful scallop and cream dish referencing the Pilgrimage of St James that sets off in the City of Lights) and Steak Tartare (minced raw beef prepared with brandy and Tabasco then topped with an egg… much more delicious than it sounds).
Burgundy – The Burgundians, being a famous wine region, are all about the good life. Their food is hearty, absolutely drenched in the local beverage and one of the best offerings in all of France. Top picks would be Oeufs en Meurette (eggs marinated in red wine), Boeuf Bourguignon ( a succulent beef stew cooked with oodles of vin rouge) and Cuisses de grenouille or Frog’s Legs to the Anglo-tongue… generally served with a dash of parsley and tasting somewhere between fish and chicken.
French Riviera – Being right on the azure coast, you’d expect that the dishes of this region would focus mainly on what can be found beneath the waves, and you’d be right. The Bouillabaisse (a soup of fish and saffron) is an absolute classic, but make sure not to miss out on a platter of Aïoli Garni (a selection of vegetables and seafood to be dunked into garlic eggless mayonnaise).
Bordeaux – This area may border the Atlantic, but meat is the main love of the locals here. Entrecote À La Bordelaise (a show-stopping gravy of shallots, local wine, marrow and herbs coating a succulent rib steak), Confit de Canard (duck poached in its own fat) and the gorgeous local asparagus are the main players in this gorgeous wine-growing region.
Ex-president Charles de Gaulle once said, “How can anyone be expected to govern a country with 264 varieties of cheese?” I’m sure the governor would be utterly horrified to discover that today, the country is producing around 450 distinct types of France’s favourite dairy product.
French cheeses are split into three very distinct types: soft, blue and pressed cheeses. Around 40 of them certified by the ‘Appellation d’origine contrôlée’ as protected recipes and evidence of their local origins.
Camembert, by far the most internationally renowned, is from Normandy and well-deserving of its place on the world’s table. With its edible rind, this soft cheese can work for both fans of the more mature or mild taste, with a flavour that deepens as it ripens.
In the fromageries of Lourdes, you will likely be able to get your hands on one of the best pressed cheeses in the whole country. Named Barousse, after the valley from whence it came, this cow’s milk beauty is one for those who like their cheese packed full of complexity and edge.
Cousin of the more renowned Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne comes from a mountainous region in the South of France. It is an absolute winner despite its lack of notoriety. Much milder than you’d expect from a blue cheese, it is also soft, salty and unbelievably moreish.
In France, the sweet is just as important as any other course, and boy, don’t they show it. Pastries, cakes, sorbets, tarts… you name it, the French do it better.
Crêpes – As French as a Breton-striped beret, crêpes come in every sort of guise imaginable. But for a real local experience, get your chops around the Crêpes Suzette – an insanely decadent flambéed riot of sugar, butter, citrus and Grand Marnier.
Crème Brulee – deceptively easy to make considering the glory of this particular dessert. A thick vanilla custard awaits you under a butane-torched hard caramel layer… what’s not to like?
Macarons – The trendy darlings of the Gaulish dessert scene, macarons may not be exclusively French, but nobody does it better. Available in a multitude of colours, sizes and flavours, the French macaron is usually much lighter and sandwiches a cream filling. Basically, heaven in every bite.
Île flottante – Literally meaning ‘floating island’, this delightfully juvenile dish features meringue on a sea of vanilla custard. Quality varies throughout the bistros of France, but get a good one, and you’ll be a fan for life.
Bet your mouth’s watering by now! If you’ve not been to France and you’re planning to travel to this beautiful European country in future, take a look at our Multi-Country tours of Europe.