What do you think of first when you hear “French cuisine”? Frog legs? Mussels? Foie Gras? Yes, all of these are indeed typical French dishes and may not be to everyone’s taste. But don’t worry, the selection is so diverse that you’re guaranteed to find something you like even in one of the traditional French restaurants.
Here, we present to you five specialities of French cuisine and culture that you definitely must try!
Naturally, France (rightfully) is famous for its seafood, snails, and more.Oysters sold on the streets are not uncommon.
However, the real extravagance comes in traditional French restaurants, such as La Coupole, for example. It’s called a brasserie, but is more of a Parisian institution! Established in 1927, it attracted VIPs from all around. Anais Nin frequently mentions it in her diaries, and Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Picasso dined here. Even today, the grand hall hosts glamorous revues and dance evenings.
Whether you like lobster or not, treating yourself to a glass of champagne in the Art Deco ambiance is a must. Watching native Parisians clear the opulently arranged platters and tiers is better than a movie!
Tip 1 Seafood
Not a fan of seafood? Then get your protein fix with an omelette or Eggs Benedict! Both are popular choices for lunch or brunch in Paris.
The restaurant Eggs & Co. specializes in these dishes. Here, you can customize your egg dish with all imaginable ingredients. This tiny restaurant in Paris is also quite a unique place. The steep, narrow staircase to the dining room is a real “chicken ladder,” there’s a miniature chicken coop under the sloping roof, and humorous decorations adorn the walls.
Tip 2 Omelette
Another French delicacy that (unjustly) leads a somewhat shadowy existence: onion soup. Allegedly, even the ancient Romans ate it. In the 18th century, it made its way to Paris and was initially considered a meal for the poor because onions were cheap and easy to obtain. Whether the delicious, thick layer of cheese that it’s served with today existed back then is questionable… With the cheese, you work your way with a spoon to the savory soup with the soaked baguette slices.
Especially enjoyable in cooler weather and an affordable meal, as even when served as an appetizer, it’s so filling that you can move on to dessert right after. You can get a good onion soup, for example, at Brasserie Flottes (2 rue Cambon), very close to the Louvre.
Tip 3 Onion soup
On your Paris to-do list, you should definitely include tasting as many French cheeses as possible! There’s a saying that there are more French cheese varieties than there are days in a year, so we hope you didn’t just book a weekend trip 😉
In France, cheese is traditionally eaten before dessert, but you can also order a cheese platter for the apéritif.
In a good Fromagerie (cheese shop), they will always offer you a taste before you buy. Take the opportunity to visit one of the many Parisian markets where local cheese shops have their stands. In addition to the markets that take place once or twice a week, there are also covered markets like the Marché St. Quentin near the Gare de l’Est (open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm, Sunday 9 am to 1 pm). Fromagerie Ferme St. Quentin has excellent cheese on offer! Be sure to try the Comté, but beware, you’ll never want cheese slices from a package again!
Tip 4 Cheese
France isn’t exactly a country for vegetarians… besides fish, meat also plays a significant role. Here’s some background on the two most well-known meat dishes:
Do you know the song “Le Coq est mort”? In this case, you’re better off making Coq au Vin 😉. This dish originated in Burgundy and is traditionally prepared with Burgundy wine. However, many regions now have their own variations, which may use white wine or even rosé. For example, in Alsace, you can find Coq au Riesling.
The meat is marinated in wine overnight, then seared and flambéed with a local spirit (such as Cognac). Originally, a whole rooster was used, but as they are increasingly hard to come by, restaurants often use chicken or chicken thighs and breasts.
Another original dish from Burgundy, also featuring a wine marinade, is Boeuf Bourgignon. The region is famous not only for its wines but also for its cattle farming. Typically, a mixture of different cuts, such as shoulder, rib, and neck, is used for the meat. After marinating for 24 hours, it needs to simmer for several hours, making it quite time-consuming. Carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms are also part of the dish. And, once again, a touch of Cognac to finish it off.
You can find both of these dishes, for example, at the classic French bistro À la biche au bois. They don’t have a website, but they do have a recommendation from the Michelin Guide – their focus is clearly on cooking. Besides the two classics, steaks are also very popular and are often served with pepper sauce or Béarnaise sauce.
But beware: “Steak haché” is a hamburger patty. And the French generally prepare their steaks a bit bloodier; “au point” (the equivalent of “medium“) might still be quite rare, so “bien cuit” (“well-done“) is the safer choice.
Tip 5 Meat
Yes or no? Snails
Snails – Escargots – are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you should give them a try at least once – you can always share the portion, right? Usually, it’s only 6-9 snails anyway…
However, I must say the following: I’ve tried snails in various restaurants in France and Spain, but the best ones are still made by my grandma. One of my twins agrees with me on that now. 😉
Of course, not everyone can come over to taste these snails at our place, so you’ll have to visit a restaurant. While I haven’t quite enjoyed Spanish snails anywhere yet, the ones in French restaurants are usually more delicately flavored. My grandma makes them with garlic herb butter – delicious. The taste of garlic dominates in this case, of course… but I’ve also had other variations – some prepared with walnut butter were excellent. So, give them a try and see what happens!