The fine wines and rich cheeses served over long, lazy lunches are synonymous with French life, as are the light white breads and cakes such as the freshly baked baguettes bought daily from a boulangerie (bakery) and sweets from the patisserie (cake shop). The French are possibly the most cuisine conscious nation in the world, so one can expect good quality even at cheap restaurants.
Across France, there is not a lot in the way of world cuisine. The French are both fond and proud of their own cuisine which has travelled and influenced almost every other nation’s plate.
It may be hard to cater for certain dietary requirements and preferences — the French don’t really “do” vegetarian, and the iconic white baguette is usually laden with gluten. Expect your menu card to feature plenty of meat and fish and unusual specialties like snails, frog’s legs and horse meat. Arriving with an open mind and a hungry belly are a must!
For great produce at cheap prices head for a local market. In major centres such as Paris they run Tuesday to Sunday. Here you’ll find fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and even BBQ chickens. The prices undercut the supermarkets and the quality far outstrips them, and they’re great places to people watch.
The gourmet local market in Rennes is reputedly the best open market in Northern France. If you have to learn one phrase in French it should be “ou est le marche?” meaning “where is the market?”.
The French are known globally for their coffee and pastry habit. For many travellers it often comes as a big surprise that all the posh names used at the local Starbucks like ‘café au lait’ and ‘latte’ mean nothing to the local café owner in France.
To the French ‘café’ simply means an extremely strong tiny coffee – an espresso to Italians and Americans. Ordering a “café crème” will get you close to what an American would call a ‘latte’; to get a big steaming cup of coffee order a ‘café American’.
When it comes to wine, few places in the world can even come close to the options you have in France. As with most food and drink, it is best to do as the locals do. For an easy and fuss-free experience, ask your waiter to bring you something suitable: “Un vin qui conviendrait”. Otherwise, most restaurants serve a small selection of wines by the pichet (glass or caraffe).