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With its international reputation for fine dining, few people would be surprised to hear that French cuisine can certainly be very good. Unfortunately, it can also be quite disappointing; many restaurants serve very ordinary fare, and some in touristy areas are rip-offs. Finding the right restaurant is therefore very important to try asking locals, hotel staff or even browsing restaurant guides for recommendations as simply walking in off the street can be a hit and miss affair.

There are many places to try French food in France, from three-star Michelin restaurants to French “brasseries” or “bistros” that you can find at almost every corner, especially in big cities. These usually offer a relatively consistent and virtually standardized menu of relatively inexpensive cuisine. To obtain in a greater variety of dishes, a larger outlay of money is often necessary. In general, one should try to eat where the locals do for the best chance of a memorable meal. Most small cities or even villages have local restaurants which are sometimes listed in the most reliable guides. There are also specific local restaurants, like “Bouchon Lyonnais” in Lyon “creperies” in Brittany or in the Montparnasse area of Paris, etc.

Chinese, Vietnamese, even Thai eateries are readily available in Paris, either as regular restaurants or “traiteurs”(fast-food). They are not so common, and are more expensive, in smaller French cities. Many places have “Italian” restaurants though these are often little more than unimaginative pizza and pasta parlors. You will also find North African(Morrocan, Algerian, Tunisian) as well as Greek and Lebanese food. The ubiquitous hamburger eateries are also available; note that McDonald’s is more upmarket in France than in the US.

In France, taxes 19.6% of the total and service usually 15% are always included in the bill; so anything patrons add to the bill amount is an “extra-tip”. French people usually leave one or two coins if they were happy with the service.

Menu fixed price seldom include beverages. If you want water, waiters will often try to sell you mineral water (Evian, Thonon) or fizzy water (Badoit, Perrier), at a premium; ask for a carafe d’eau for tap water, which is free and safe to drink. Water never comes with ice in it unless so requested and water with ice may not be available.

As in other countries, restaurants tend to make a large profit off beverages more especially in my country. Expect wine to cost much more than it would in a supermarket.

Ordering is made either from fixed price menus (prix fixe) or à la carte. A typical fixed price menu will comprise:

  • an appetizer called entrées or hors d’oeuvres

  • the main dish called plat

  • dessert or cheese (Fromage)

Sometimes, restaurants offer the option to take only two of three steps, at a reduced price.Coffee is always served as a final step though it may be followed by liquors. A request for coffee during the meal will be considered strange.

Not all restaurants are open for lunch and dinner, nor are they open all year around. It is, therefore, advisable to check carefully the opening times and days. A restaurant open for lunch will usually start service at noon and accept patrons until 13:30. Dinner begins at around 19:30 and patrons are accepted until 21:30. Restaurants with longer service hours are usually found only in the larger cities and in the downtown area. Finding a restaurant open on Saturday and especially Sunday can be a challenge unless you stay close to the tourist areas.

In a reasonable number of restaurants, especially outside tourist areas, a booking is compulsory and people may be turned away without one, even if the restaurant is clearly not filled to capacity.  For this reason, it can be worthwhile to research potential eateries in advance and make the necessary reservations in order to avoid disappointment, especially if the restaurant you’re considering is especially advised in guide books.

A lunch or dinner for two on the “menu” including wine and coffee will cost you 70Euros to 100Euros in a listed restaurant in France. The same with beer in a local “bistro” or a “creperie” around 50Euros. A lunch or dinner for one person in a decent Chinese restaurant in Paris can cost as little as 6Euros if one looks carefully.

Outside of Paris and the main cities, prices are not always lower but the menu will include a fourth course, usually cheese. As everywhere beware of the tourist traps which are numerous around the heavy traveled spots and may offer a nice view but not much to remember in your plate.

Bread

All white bread variants keep for only a short time must be eaten the same day. Hence bakers bake at least twice a day.

  • The famous baguette – a long thin loaf

  • Variants of the baguette- la ficelle even thinner, la flùte

  • Pain de Campagne or Pain complet – made from whole grain which keeps relatively well.

Pastries

Pastries are the large part of French cooking. Hotel breakfasts tend to be light, consisting of tartines (piece of bread with butter or jam) or the famous croissants and pains au chocolat, not dissimilar to a chocolate filled croissant but square rather than crescent-shaped. Pastries can be found in a pàtisserie but also in most boulangerie’s or bakeries.

Regional dishes

Every French region has dishes all its own. These dishes follow the resources (game, fish, agriculture, etc.) of the region, the vegetables (cabbage, turnip, endives, etc.) which they grow there. Here is a small list of regional dishes which you can find easily in France. Generally, each region has a unique and widespread dish.

  • Cassoulet( in South West of France) Beans, duck, pork, and sausages

  • Choucroute or Sauekraut (in Alsace) Stripped fermented cabbage and  pork

  • Fondue Savoyard (central Alps) Melted/hot cheese with alcohol

  • Fondue Bourguignonne (in Burgundy) Pieces of beef in boiled oil, usually served with a selection of various sauces.

  • Raclette (in the central Alps) melted cheese and potatoes/meat

  • Pot-au-feu boiled beef with vegetables

  • Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundy) slow cooked beef with gravy

  • Gratin dauphinoise (Rhone-Alpes) oven roasted slices of potatoes

  • Aligot (Auvergne) melted cheese mixed with a puree of potatoes

  • Bouillabaisse (fish and saffron) (Marseille and French Riviera). Don’t be fooled. A real bouillabaisse is a really expensive dish due to the amount of fresh fish it requires. Be prepared to pay at least 30Euros per persons. If you find restaurants claiming serving bouillabaisse for something like 15Euros per persons, you’ll get a very poor quality.

  • Tartiflette (Savoie) Reblochon cheese, potatoes, and pork or bacon.

  • Confit de Canard (Landes) Duck Confit, consist of legs and wings bathing in grease. That grease is actually very healthy and, with red wine, is one of the identified sources of the so-called “French Paradox” (eat richly, live long)

  • Foie Gras (Landes) The liver of a duck or goose. Although usually quite expensive, foie gras can be found in supermarkets for a lower price because of their purchasing power around the holiday season. It is the time of year when most of the foie gras is consumed in France. It goes very well with Champagne.

Unusual foods

Contrary to stereotype, snails, and frog legs are quite infrequent foods in France, with many French people enjoying neither, or sometimes having never even tasted them. Quality restaurants sometimes have them on their menu if you’re curious about trying new foods, go ahead.

  • Frogs’ legs have a very fine and delicate taste with flesh that is not unlike chicken. They are often served with a garlic dressing and are no weirder to eat than, say, crab.

  • Bourgogne snails Most of the taste comes from the generous amount of butter, garlic, and parsley in which they are cooked. They have a very particular spongy-leathery texture that is what is liked by people who like snails. Catalan style snails (“cargols”) are made a completely different way and taste much weirder.

  • Rillettes sarthoise A sort of potted meat, made from finely shredded and spiced pork. A delicious specialty of the Sarthe area in a north of the Pays de la Loire and not to be confused with rillettes from other areas, which are more like a rough pate.

  • Veal sweetbread (Ris de Veau) is a very fine and generally expensive delicacy, often served with morels, or in more elaborates dishes like “bouchee a la Reine.”

  • Beef stomach (tripes) is served either “A la mode de Caen” with white wine sauce or “A la catalane” with a slightly spiced tomato sauce.

  • Andouillettes are sausages made from tripe, a specialty of Lyon

  • Beef Tongue (langue de boeuf), beef nose (museau) and Veal head (Tete de veau) are generally eaten cold but thoroughly cooked as an appetizer.

  • Oyster are most commonly served raw in a half shell.

  • Oursins (sea urchins) for those who like concentrated iodine.

  • Steak Tartare a big patty of ground beef cured in acid as opposed to cooked, frequently served with a raw egg.

  • Cervelle, pronounced (ser-VAYL) lamb brain.

Cheese

 


France is certainly the country of cheese, with nearly 400 different kinds.  Indeed, former president General Charles De Gaule was quoted as saying “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?.”

Breakfast

Breakfast in France isn’t the most important meal of the day and is usually very light. The most typical breakfast consists of a coffee and a croissant or some other “viennoiserie”, but since it implies going to the baker’s store early in the morning to buy fresh croissant, it’s typically reserved for somewhat special occasions. On normal days most people have a beverage coffee, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice and either toasts” tartines” made of baguette or toast bread with butter and jam, honey, Nutella that can be dipped in the hot beverage, or cereals with milk. People who eat healthy may go for fruits and “yoghurt”. As a general rule, the french breakfast is sweet only, never savory you’ll never see people eating eggs or sausage.

Dietary Restriction

Vegetarianism is not as uncommon as it used to be, especially in large cities. Still, very few restaurants offer vegetarian menus, thus available are salad and vegetable side dishes.

There may still be confusions between vegetarianism and pesce/pollotarianism. may Vegetarian/organic food restaurants are starting to appear. However, “traditional” French restaurants may not have to pick something “a la carte”, which is usually more expensive. Veganism is still very uncommon and it may be difficult to find vegan eateries.

Drinks

Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, the Loire Valley France is the home of wine. It can be found cheaply just about anywhere. Beer (lager) is also extremely popular, in particular in northern France, where “[Biere de Garde]” can be found. The alcohol purchase age was recently raised to 18 for all drinks, but this is not always strictly enforced, with stiff penalties.

Wine and liquors may be purchased from supermarkets, or from specialized stores such as the Nicholas chain. Nicolas offers good advice on what to buy specify the kind of wine and the price range you desire. In general, only French wines are available unless a foreign wine is a “specialty” with no equivalent in France such as port, and they are classified by region of origin, not by grape.

Never drink alcoholic beverages especially red wine or strong alcohol such as cognac directly from 75 cl bottle. Such behavior is generally associated with bums and drunkards. Drinking beer from a 25 cl to 50 cl can or bottle is ok.

Café prices depend heavily on location. Remember, you’re not paying so much for the beverages as for the table spot; and accordingly, in general, it is cheaper to drink at the bar than seated at a table. Cafés in touristic areas, especially in Paris, are very expensive. if your intent is simply to have a drink  you’ll be better off buying beverages from a grocery store and drinking them in a park.

There are a couple mixed drinks which seem to be more or less unique to France, and nearly francophone countries.

  • Panaché is a mix of beer and lemonade, basically a beer shandy

  • Monaco is Panaché with some grenadine syrup added.

  • Kir is a pleasant aperitif of white wine, in theory, Bourgogne Aligoté or less frequently of champagne then named Kir royal and about twice the price of regular kir and cassis blackcurrant liqueur or Peche (peach) or mure (blackberry)

  • Pastis is an anise-based (licoric-flavored) spirit that is more popular in the South but is also available everywhere else. Served with a small pitcher of iced water that is used to dilute the drink and turns the yellow colored liquid cloudy.

  • There is a variety of bottled water, including Evian, Thonon, Contrex, mineral water

  • Perrier, fizzy water

  • Badoit slightly fizzy and salty water.


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Tap water is safe to drink apart from exceptional cases remote farms, remote rest areas, in which case it will be labeled “eau non potable”. Tap water may be obtained in restaurants by asking for a “carafe d’eau” it will not come with ice. In some cities, it may have a taste such as that of chlorine.

Cooking and drinking is a notable part of the French culture, take time to eat and discover new dishes.


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