Skip to main content

More than food in France

People in France consider food a pleasure and cooking an art.

A French cook tries to bring out the flavor locked inside each simple vegetable and piece of meat, adding a little of this spice or that herb when food tastes too bland, balancing all the ingredients so no flavor overpowers the other. The French cook knows food also enters through the eyes and assembles the plate so that shapes and colors are arranged in the most attractive way.

Typical French food

The kind of food available in a region depends very much on the geography, so all regions of France have different dishes and cooking styles.

Apples, cream and cheese feature often in the cooking of Normandy, a region on the northern coast with many fields where cattle graze and orchards providing fresh fruit.

The land in Brittany, on the northwest coast, is not fertile. No much grows on Brittany's fields and there are not many plants or grazing animals to use for food. Brittany has access to an ocean rich in fish and seafood. Cooks in Brittany prepare soups and other dishes using all sorts of seafood, including lobsters, shrimp, mussels, and fish from the close by sea.

The French side of the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France borders Spain. The cooking of that region would make you think of North East Spain by its use of tomatoes, peppers, and sausages.

Provence -southeast France- touches Italian land and Provencal cooking is influenced by Italy. Olives, as well as many herbs, grow on Provence's smooth hills. In the cooking of Provence, you will find plenty of olive oil and herbs such as basil, thyme, and rosemary- the same ingredients used in northern Italian cuisine.

A French food day

Climate often shapes eating habits. In cold countries, many people eat hearty breakfasts of hot cereal, eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes. But in France, which has a fairly mild climate, breakfast is generally very light. A typical French breakfast might include a pastry and strong coffee or hot chocolate.

In the countryside and small towns of France, the main meal is served around noon. The small meal is usually served in the evening, between 7 and 8 P.M. People who live m the large cities of France often have their small meal in the middle of the day as many western countries do.

The custom in France is to have a mid-afternoon snack of very strong coffee and
a pastry or bread. Brioches are yeast breads rich in eggs and butter. They make delicious snacks and are generally eaten warm with unsalted butter and jam.

A French table

The food served should be the focal point. The appearance, smell, and taste of carefully prepared foods are the main concern of the French cook, keeping decorations and extra dishes on the table to a minimum; less is more in this case. Simplicity will be the rule: simple place settings and cloth napkins -no paper, please- on plain, embroidered, or checked cloths.

A French table will likely display a small collection of condiments consisting of olive oil and vinegar in cruets, French mustard in a bowl with a small wooden spoon to serve it, salt and pepper –often peppercorns in a mill; also salt might come in crystals. Not only such seasonings enhance the meal, but their containers double as table decoration, as well. You will not find a centerpiece made of heavily scented flowers because their fragrance will hide the aroma of the food and diminish the pleasure found in the meal.  

Around the French table

Nowhere like in France is eating considered a pleasure. Those who transformed cooking into an art also made a ceremony of dining -and some of their dinning rituals date back hundreds of years. Meal times will find the families gathered around the table, sharing not only food, but also conversation and an account of their day. Afterwards, all family members will carry on their daily routines with the feeling of well-being only well prepared food and pleasant conversation can bring. Anyone will enjoy cooking and eating French recipes and will do so more when the meal is shared with family in a relaxed atmosphere.

French cooking

You will find two kinds of cooking: haute cuisine, developed by the chefs who worked for the kings and queens of France, and cuisine bourgeoise.

Haute cuisine

This highly sophisticated gourmet cooking was born in France and exported to other countries when the French revolution finished with the nobiity and the French chefs who createred it scattered everywhere. This is cooking grand style. It involves specific carving and dicing techniques, rich sauces -plenty of cream- and highly crafted garnishes, often using expensive ingredients -truffles, foie gras, exotic fruits or vintage wine.

Complex dishes taking hours of preparation are a feature of haute cuisine. This kind of cooking is still practiced in elegant hotels and restaurants.

Cuisine bourgeoise

This is home cooking. The kind of food preparation practiced everyday on French households -with recipes handed down mother to daughter for generations- or small restaurants in France. This is the one you would associate with home cooking. This kind of cooking offers simple but delicious recipes. Even this kind of cooking can be considered an art.

French recipes

Brioche with chocolate, chocolat mousse, crepes with strawberries, croque monsieur, croque madame, French style peas, glazed carrots, ham and broccoli crepes with Mornay sauce, hot chocolate, green salad with garlic vinaigrette dressing, pears Helen, potato and leek soup, pork chops Normandy style, quiche Lorraine, salade Nicoise.

Most of the French recipes selected are easy to prepare; an example of daily French home cooking.

A little history

The written history of French foods is one which actually begins as far back as 1400s, when the first French cookbooks imitated Moorish cuisine and sugar, which was still considered very much as being a luxury, was what was used to sweeten the various dishes.

During the 1600s it was Royal patronage which truly promoted French cooking, with various dishes of fish and fruit being the most popular. There are many examples, particularly from this time that go to show just how important food has always been in France. For instance a butler once killed himself because his lobsters arrived late.

It was also during this time in French history that Dom Perignon invented the art of making champagne, as he began storing his wine in bottles that were strong enough to contain the petulance of secondary fermentation. Coffee was also introduced around the same time, in 1644, while in 1686 the development of the croissant celebrated a true Christian victory in Austria over the crescent banners of the Turks.

The 18th century also played a great role in the history of French foods, and it was really during this time in particular that the appeal of French food began to grow with the prestige of French culture. The restaurant movement also began around this time and there was a new journalistic breed coming about, namely including food critics and restaurant reviewers.

Although the 19th and 20th centuries also had their influences on the history of French foods, it has been the 21st century more than either of those which have played a role. French cuisine is now renowned around the world more than ever before and held high in regard and respect. There is really no other country in the world that takes its cuisine as seriously and significantly as the French, and French cooking is really not a monolith, but rather it ranges from the olives and seafood of Provence to the butter and roasts of Tours.

Cruets - glass bottles.

Some French cheese

Brie, camembert.

Speaking French

Most countries welcome any attempt to speak the local language, but French are very particular. You had better not try to speak French unless you are fluent. However, you cannot assume either everyone you meet will speak English –if you barge into a restaurant speaking English even those able to answer you in the like might not make the effort- ask politely “Parlez vous Anglais?” –Do you speak English?- to overcome this prickly situation.

Food shopping, shopkeepers will try to answer in English, but don’t be surprised if this turns to be only a honeymoon period and their answers revert to French when they decide you already had a decent period to learn the language.

When you want to explain your French experience, experience, describing food, describing aroma or food places are the resources to use.