“Cuisine resembles the person who creates it, reinvents it, embellishes it over time and through the seasons, who puts into it the best of themselves.”
M. Alain Ducasse, Top Michelin Chef, 2020 (21 Michelin Stars)
To understand French food culture you must first realize that four of the top 10 chefs in the world, based on Michelin Star ratings, are French born. Alain Ducasse is currently a citizen of Monaco for tax reasons, but his cooking is quintessentially French. The chef with the most Michelin stars ever (31), Joel Robuchon, was also a Frenchman. Coincidence? We think not. Good French food represents the epitome of haute cuisine (literally, high cooking).
Which is surprising in a sense, since France has a much more recent culinary history than places like Iran, India, China, Greece or Italy. However, the natural flair of the French has come to be embodied in their food culture. It is no wonder that in November 2010, French gastronomy was added to UNESCO’s list of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage”.
The Evolution of French Food Culture – Origins, Influences and Traditions
French food culture, as we know it, did not start to develop before the Middle Ages. There have always been strong influences from a number of other countries, among them Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, as well as strong regional flavors. The evolution of French cuisine can be viewed through the lens of the following eras:
- Middle Ages: One of the earliest books of French recipes, Le Viandier, was written in the 14th century, from Chef “Tailevent”, which was a nom de plume adopted by Guillaume Tirel – whose 66-year long and distinguished career included his service to King Charles V. the fundamental theme of French cooking during the Middle Ages remained the reliance on big, extravagant meals that were produced and consumed by the aristocracy. Presentation was key, with brilliant gold (aided by saffron), green (spinach), red (sunflower) and other colors. Actual gold and silver leaf were often used as well. In terms of actual cooking, game was scarce, but beef and pork could be had, along with fishes that were cultivated in ponds. Meat was often served in thick pieces with heavy sauces and eaten by hand. Spices were available, but very expensive – including pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg. A lot of vinegar, honey and sugar was used for preservation. The origins of French pastry and desserts can be traced back to this time.
- Ancien Regime (late 15th Century to mid 18th Century): During the period of the Old Kingdom of France, one of the principal movements was the development of guilds – those who supplied raw materials (butchers, fishmongers, farmers etc.) and those who prepared foods (bakers, sauce makers, poulterers, pastry cooks and caterers). Though people did both, this was frowned upon. Many believe that the training and structure provided through the guilds was responsible for setting specific traditions and methodology that led to the development of standardized styles for French food. The 16th and 17th centuries also saw the introduction of new food items and spices from the New World, along with the continued tradition of lavish banquets in the French courts of Catherine de’ Medici and others. Several gastronomical books were written during this period, including Le Cuisinier Francois by La Varenne, who is credited with the introduction of the term “haute cuisine“.
- Late 18th Century to Early 19th Century: This short period enveloped the times of the French Revolution in 1789 and the reign of Napoleon the Great. The French court, especially during the time of Louis XV and his Polish wife, Queen Marie Leszczynska, developed some distinctive dishes, including bouchees a la Reine and Polonaise garnishing. Queen Marie also introduced lentils to France. A number of prominent chefs, including the likes of Francois Pierre La Varenne and Marie-Antoine Careme, were instrumental in reinventing the traditional, regional cuisine of France. The guild system was destroyed post the French Revolution, which further advanced the ability of common people to express themselves. Chef Careme became known for a number of dishes, including pieces montees, an extravagant confection of pastry and sugar, but his main contribution to French cuisine was the development of “mother sauces”, which combined regional traditions into French court cuisine.
- Late 19th Century to Early 20th Century: This era saw the rise and flourishing of modernized haute cuisine under the stewardship of Georges Auguste Escoffier, who plied his trade at the Savoy Hotel and then headed up the iconic Carlton kitchen from 1898 until 1921. One of his major innovations, followed in modern kitchens as well, was the “brigade system”, where the kitchen was divided into five separate stations preparing (a) cold dishes, (b) starches and vegetables, (c) roasts, grills and fried dishes, (d) sauces and soups and (e) pastries and desserts. In 1903, Escoffer published Le Guide Culinaire, which outlined the foundations of French cuisine which has carried forward for the next 100+ years. Recipes included ones that went back to the 14th century, borrowed from the post Renaissance period and were updated by the master chef himself.
- Modern Era (Mid 20th Century to Current): The last period of development of French cooking saw the development of nouvelle cuisine – a lot of the fresh and light flavors and crossover with other world cuisines was developed during this phase. Several features emerged – such as the use of fresh ingredients, light as opposed to heavy flavoring and sauces, the reliance on steaming and lighter sauteeing rather than overcooking with most fish and meat-based dishes and finally, the reliance on regional styles of cooking rather than traditional haute cuisine. This last trend was reversed in the past 30-35 years, where a number of chefs reverted back to haute cuisine.
Throughout the evolution of French cuisine, some fundamental traditions remained – such as the rich tradition of cheeses and wines enjoyed by the French connoisseur and the flamboyant and colorful presentation styles that continue to this very day.
Traditional French Food Culture is Driven by Geography and Regional Cuisine Influences
As described above, French cooking revolves around haute cuisine, which is a centralized and stylized mode of cooking, along with a vast number of regional influences. Out of the dozen plus regions in France, the most well-known dishes come from a dozen or so regions.
As you can imagine, different French chefs are often influenced by the regions where they grew up. Here are a few facts about French food culture in relation to the regions that have helped influence French cuisine.
Some of the major culinary influencers, region wise, are listed below:
- Northwestern French Cuisine (Nord Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Normandy, and Brittany) – These regions, despite distinctive cuisines, have common food from the sea, such as oyster and scallops. Normandy is known for its apples, producing France’s best apple cider and for being the birthplace of Camembert cheese. Brittany features crepes and galettes (savory buckwheat crepes) and Breton butter, and of course traditional beer and mead.
- Northeastern French Cuisine (Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace) – Pork, Beef and Lamb are plentiful in this border region with Germany, where many types of sausages and ribs are served over sauerkraut. Stews with potatoes and vegetables are common, as are fish dishes served batter fried or over sauerkraut This region is famous for its white wines and Strasbourg lagers.
- Central French Cuisine (Paris and Ile-de-France): Michelin starred restaurants abound in Paris, the capital city, also the center of haute cuisine.
- Loire Valley Cuisine: Fresh fruit and wild game are a feature of Loire Valley.
- Burgundy and Franche-Comte Cuisine: Burgundy is one of France’s great wine regions, so the food often features meat dishes braised in wine, such as Bouef Burgandian and Coq au vin, both described below. Cheese and puff pastry are other specialties of the region.
- Lyon/Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Cuisine: The city of Lyon is where beef and poultry come together vegetables from the Rhone Valley. The Bouchon cuisine from Lyon is rich with duck, pork and sausages, gnocchi-like dumplings. A lot of wines are from the Beaujolais and Cotes du Rhone wine regions.
- Southwestern French Cuisine (Bordeaux, Perigord, Gascony, and Basque): Bordeaux is classic wine country, with its blended reds made from cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, Malbec, carmenere and petit Verdot. Fresh shellfish, lobster and scallop terrines are served here, along with plenty of red meat steaks featuring beef and lamb. The world-famous Bordelaise sauce made from bone marrow, shallots, butter and red wine, it can be poured over lamb or escargot. The iconic canels bordelaise cakes, soaked with rum and vanilla, are from here.
- Toulouse, Quercy, and Aveyron Cuisine: The Toulouse area is quintessentially rustic in style, its cuisine also reflects it. Cassoulet is from here, made with Duck Confit, Toulouse sausages, pork shoulder and haricot beans. Duck and goose dishes, including foie gras, are abundant, along with comforting garbure soup. Toulouse also has a history of confectionery.
- Southern French Cuisine (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur): Provencal cuisine is strongly influenced by the sun and sea of the Mediterranean, with succulent seafood and savory herbs. The fabled Bouillabaisse described below. There is also fresh-whipped aioli, vegetable-rich soups, flatbreads and olive tapenades. Meals often kick off with an aperitif of pastis, an anise-liqueur favored in the region.
The regions not covered by above, such as Roussillon, Languedoc, Cevennes Poitou-Charentes, Limousin, Corsica and French Guiana, each have their own distinctive cuisines as well.
French Food Influences/Imports from Other Cultures
As mentioned before, French cuisine was heavily influenced by the culture of the surrounding countries, including Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. Polish influences were strong during the reign of Louis XV due to Queen Marie Leszczynska. After the 16th century, the discovery of the New World introduced a whole host of new vegetables and spices, including such staples such as tomatoes, potatoes and corn – that have now become a staple of French cuisine. French colonies in Africa (especially Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria), India and the Caribbean have also created a flow of food culture both ways.
Food for Major French Holidays and Special Occasions
Traditional and holiday meals in France are often specialized based on regions. Some holiday meals do not have traditional foods attached to them, such as Bastille Day – when there are barbecues and meals, but no specific types of food are served. Others do include some featured dishes. Some of the commonly observed traditions include:
- La Chandeleur (Candlemas, February 2) is known in France and Belgium as Le Jour des Crepes (the “Day of the Crepes“). The tradition started back in 472 A.D. with Pope Gelasius I, who offered crepes to French pilgrims visiting Rome. There are a number of traditions, but the crepes themselves represent the sun and its rays.
- Easter Sunday meals in France feature herb roasted lamb, often served with gratin Dauphinois (described below) or navarin d’agneau (lamb stew).
- Epiphany or Twelfth Night (to celebrate when the three wise men visited the infant Jesus) is celebrated with baking the Galette des Rois or the Cake of Kings. It is a flat pastry cake with a sweet filling. The cake has a charm hidden inside, usually a ceramic figure. Whoever receives the piece with the hidden charm is the lucky person or child and becomes king or queen for the day.
- Christmas Eve, the main French serving is turkey with chestnuts. Other offerings may include smoked salmon, oyster, caviar and foie gras, followed by chocolates and cakes as part of 13 desserts to embody Jesus and his 12 disciples. Champagne is usually served with dinner.
List of 6 French Food Course Names and Meanings
The French are food connoisseurs, and as such, they have elaborate settings for the main meals of the day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The typical table setting for dinner involves the following stages (different wines are often served with each course, along with bread):
- Aperitif: A drink is traditionally served before the main meal to whet the appetite, such as a Pastis, Cremani d’Alsace, Creme de cassis, Cinchona, Vermouth or similar beverage. Beaujolais nouveau (red wine) may also be served, or champagne based drinks like Kir.
- Hors d’oeuvre or Entre (Appetizers or an Introductory Course such as Soup): Small appetizers came to the world from France.
- Plat Principal (Main Course): The main course is usually served with potatoes or other vegetables, and sometimes over rice or pasta.
- Salade (optional): A salad may be offered to clear the palate before cheese or dessert.
- Dessert or Cheese Platter: Besides the cheese platter, simpler fare of yogurt or fresh fruit may be served depending on the style and time of year.
- Digestif: The French enjoy an after dinner drink, such as Cognac, Amaretto, Armagnac, Calvados or any Eau de Vie – to aid their digestion.
List of 10 Popular French Cooking Styles, Customs and Preparations
The main types of food enjoyed by the French include:
- Steak, Barbecue and Saucisses (Grilled Dishes): Steaks and sausages are an integral part of French cuisine, including Steak Poivre and Andouille (both described below) and Steak Fritte (Steak with French Fries).
- Cassoulet (Casseroles): The famous casserole dish was invented as a part of French cuisine, examples include Cassoulet, Coq au vin, Poule au pot and Pot au Feu, all described below.
- Soupe and Bouillon (Soup and Broth): There are a rich variety of stews and soups including Bisque and Bouillabaisse, both described below.
- Des Fruits and Des Noisettes (Fruits and Nuts): The French prefer fresh fruit and nuts as snacks, as ingredients in sauces and sprinkled on salads. Different versions of nuts are often found in different regions. Pine nuts, almonds, chestnuts and hazelnuts are popular. Among fruits, apples, melons, cantaloupe, pears, strawberries, cherries and kiwis are common, along with clementine, lemon and a wide range of citrus fruits.
- Des Legumes and Salade (Vegetables and Salads): A wide variety of vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, beans, carrots, zucchini and other squashes, bell peppers, mushrooms and assorted leafy and salad greens are common for use in French dishes, either as core ingredients or garnish. Vegetables can be served in the broth (Poule au pot style) or au gratin. There are many types of fresh salads, one of which – Salade Nicoise, known to be one of the finest summer salads in the world, is described below.
- Riz (Rice) and Pates (Pasta): French cooking does not depend on rice or pasta as much as some other food cultures, it’s equally common to have vegetables in the broth or on the side. However, some dishes, especially in South Eastern France, are served with rice.
- Patisserie and Tarte (Pastries and Tarts): Puff Pastries and Tarts are some of France’s major contributions to world cuisine. Two prime examples, Bouchée à la reine and Quiche, are described below.
- Pain (Bread) and Crepe: French Bread styles vary, but the classics remain Baguette, Brioche, Pain au noix, Fougasse and Pain perdu. Crepes, described below, are a unique French style pancake.
- Fromage (Cheeses): France, along with Italy, boasts some of the most famous cheeses in the world – there are over 1,500 varieties of French cheese. Cheeses are often served on a flatter as one of the main courses at a meal. The fondue, or melted cheese, is a delicacy in itself. Acclaimed cheese types include Beaufort, Brie, Calllebasse, Camembert, Faisalle, Munster and Roquefort.
- Desserts and Creme: The rich desserts from France, including chocolat, mousse, creme brulee, eclair and macaron are now popular all over the world. The French also gave us creme, special types of whipped and other creams, such as Creme Chantilly, to be used on coffee.
List of 16 Italian Spices, Ingredients, Sauces, and Condiments You May Need
French cuisine thrives on certain features – cooking in a mix of olive oil and butter, using salt and pepper to taste, along with fresh herbs (usually a mix of garlic, thyme, parsley and pearl onions) in a stew or to brush meat, a lot of baking and boiling etc.
Heavy use of spices is more common in haute cuisine, but even that is usually more delicate than elsewhere in the world. To understand French cooking, then the easiest method is to look for groups of spices that are consumed for different parts of the meal or with meat, poultry and seafood, along with some premier sauces/spices and cooking media. That is how the outline below is organized.
- Le sel and Le poivre (Salt and Pepper): No French dish is complete without the use of salt and pepper. Fleur de sel (Sea Salt) is used for dishes from Brittany and Southern France.
- Epices de Volaille (Poultry Spices): Chicken dishes are most often prepared with garlic, ginger, mustard, paprika, thyme, basil, bay leaf and cayenne pepper. Mustard is used liberally for turkey, along with garlic and parsley. Cumin is an important seasoning for orange duck.
- Epices de Viande rouge (Red Meat Spices): Beef French style is always flavored with bouquet gami, described below, along with garlic, ginger, saffron, mustard and rosemary. Lamb is prepared with cumin, tarragon, cayenne, mint, thyme, basil, parsley, ginger, coriander and clove. Roast pork recipes usually include nutmeg and laurel.
- Epices de Fruit de Mer (Seafood Spices): Fish dishes are prepared with paprika, saffron and ginger. Scallops are cooked in butter, with basil, thyme, white pepper and garlic. Herbs de provence, described below, is often used in cooking seafood.
- Epices des legumes (Vegetable Spices): Spices include those for zucchinis and other squashes such as cloves, cinnamon, basil, garlic, parsley, chives and nutmeg; thyme and bay leaves used for potatoes and garlic, parsley, oregano, thyme, basil and brewer’s yeast for tomato dishes.
- Other Common Herbs and Spices: Other common flavorings, herbs and spices used in Italy include lemon, lime, pine nuts, fennel, celery, rosemary and turmeric.
- Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise was based on a long line of oleos that were used in France well before the name was formalized in French cookbooks in the 18th century. The formula for the thick dressing sauce – using a mix of oil, egg yolk and either lemon juice or vinegar, along with other flavors to taste – is now universally known.
- Moutard de Dijon (Dijon Mustard): This is the traditional mustard of France, named after the town of Dijon in Burgundy. The principal ingredients are locally grown mustard seeds mixed in white wine, or a mix of wine vinegar, water and salt. A mix of Dijon Mustard with mayonnaise is called Dijonnaise.
- Bouquet Gami (Spring Herb Mix): This mix of parsley (3 sprigs), Thyme (1 Sprig) and Bay Leaves (2) is used as garnish or spice in a number of French dishes such as coq au vin, described below.
- Sauce a la Polonaise (Polonaise Garnishing or Polish Style Garnishing): A vegetarian sauce and garnish, this sauce became popular in France in the 18th century. The sauce is melted butter, boiled eggs, bread crumbs, salt, lemon juice, mixed with basil, thyme and parsley. It is often poured over cooked vegetables, such as wax beans, cauliflowers, asparagus and broccoli.
- Rouille: A Provencal sauce with an olive oil base, mixed in with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper. It is used as a garnish with seafood and fish dishes such as Bouillabaisse, described below.
- Herbs de Provence (Provencal Herbs): Used for seafood in the south of France, there are two types of mixes thyme, marjoram, rosemary and savory are mixed in with tarragon, chervil, fennel and lavender.
- Olio d’oliva (Olive Oil), other oils, butter, margarine, vinegar: Olive oil (Regular, Virgin and Extra Virgin) and butter are fundamental parts of French cuisine along with wine (red in many regions, white in Alsace). Sunflower Oil, Corn Oil and others are sometimes used, as is margarine and other oleos at times. Balsamic Vinegar is used in Southeastern French cooking.
- Epices de Fruit (Spices for Fruit): Favored spices on fresh fruit include mint and vanilla. Apple often uses cinnamon while bananas are cooked with ginger and rum extract.
- Epices de Dessert (Dessert Spices): Rich French desserts are often spiced with vanilla, almond extract, lemon and orange zest, nutmeg, cardamom, salt and even pepper.
- Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic Vinegar): Like olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette is an essential part of Italian cooking. It is used in bases and drizzles.
All of the ingredients above are condiments to be used in the preparation of pastas, stews and regular dishes, or used as garnishes, or served mixed in with other ingredients.
List of 21 Popular French Dishes Around the World
French cuisine, with its list of haute cuisine and regional fares, has too many variations to capture in one list. The ones listed below are representative fares that many will recognize.
1. Salade Nicoise (Nice Salad)
This salad, made with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Nicoise olives and anchovies or tuna (lightly seared ahi tuna is the preferred international version) and dressed in olive oil, originated in the city of Nice. It is usually served as a composed salad, though it may be tossed. It has been called one of the finest summer salads in the world. Here’s a recipe.
2. Bouchée à la Reine (Puff Pastry)
Bouchee a la reine was inspired by the Polish Queen Marie Leszczynska, supposedly as an aphrodisiac to keep her husband King Louis XV faithful. The dish has evolved some since her day, but this delicious starter pastry is usually made with chicken, quenelle, sweetbreads or seafood stuffed into a puff pastry. The thick sauce is garnished with chopped button mushrooms (champignons de Paris).
3. Quiche (French Savory Tart)
A savory custard and pieces of cheese, meat, seafood vegetables is stuffed into a pastry crust. Among the main ingredients are eggs. Quiches are popular the world over, the best-known being quiche Lorraine made with bacon.
4. Foie Gras (Duck Liver Pâté)
Fattened duck liver, which can be served hot, cold or in pies (though usually not in France) is a major delicacy. Pate de Foie Gras is a traditional delicacy. The liver is often flavored with black pepper and fleur de sel – sea salt that is traditionally collected off the Brittany Coast. Foie gras with mustard seeds and green onions, in duck jus is another popular presentation in French restaurants.
5. Escargot (Cooked Snails)
Edible snails are a delicacy that started in Roman times, then was popularized in France – it has now spread all around the Mediterranean. The three species of snails usually eaten in France include Helix pomatia, Cornu aspersa and Helix lucorum. In the French style, the snails are killed, removed from their shells, cooked with garlic butter (or chicken stock) and wine, then placed back on the shells to serve. Other garnishes, including garlic, parsley, thyme and pine nuts can be sprinkled on top.
6. Terrine (Meatloaf)
Traditional meatloaf was cooked, pate style, in a covered pottery mold called a terrine. This dish is now cooked in other vessels as well. The typical dish has pork or game meat (pheasant and hare), fat (though not as much as traditionally) – healthier versions can be made with mushrooms or pureed fruit. It is usually served cold, often with garnishes on the side.
7. Bisque (French Soup)
We are all familiar with various versions of the bisque, which originated in Northern France, where fishermen used the portions of crustaceans that could not be sold profitably. The popular forms are bisques made of lobster, crab, shrimp, langoustine or crayfish. The crustacea are chopped into pieces, sauteed lightly in their shells and then cooked in wine and aromatic spices. Once ready, the mixture is strained, and cream added to the base. Vegetable bisques can also be prepared – tomato and red pepper bisque being a popular variety.
8. Bouillabaisse (Provencal Fish Stew)
This stew originated in the Port of Marseille. It is a stew made with three types of fishes, red rascasse, sea robin and European conger. Other fishes, such as monkfish, mullet or hake can also be used, along with shellfish, crabs, sea urchins, mussels and octopus. An array of vegetables, such as leeks, onions, celery, tomatoes and potatoes are simmered together with the fish. The broth is traditionally served with a rouille mayonnaise or grilled bread.
9. Beef bourguignon (Beef Burgundy)
This is a classic beef stew cooked in wine (often red Burgundy, hence the name) and beef stock. It includes carrots, onions, garlic and bouquet gami, then garnished with bacon, pearl onions and mushrooms.
10. Steak au Poivre (Peppered Steak)
This classic French steak is typically made with rump roast pieces, sprinkled with salt and white peppercorn, then fried in a mix of butter and olive oil. It is garnished with scallions or shallots, then beef stock and brandy are poured on top. The dish is served with sauteed potatoes or other steamed vegetable. Cream sauce may be added on top occasionally.
11. Cassoulet (Meat Casserole)
This traditional dish originated during the time of Catherine de Medici. The rich, slow-cooked casserole usually features meat (Pork sausages, goose, duck or mutton), pork skin and the main ingredient – white “haricot” beans. Other herbs added include garlic, parsley, cloves, onions and tomatoes. Bread crumbs and goose fat are often added. The towns of Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne are well known as the original proponents of this dish.
12. Coq au Vin (Chicken braised in Wine)
The original French recipe called for a rooster, though any chicken can be used. The traditional wine used is red, though the Alsace region preparation uses the local Riesling. The recipe calls for bacon or pork, pearl onions and garlic. The chicken is braised in the pork fat, placed in a casserole dish, brandy poured on top and set on flame. Once the flames burn out, some bouquet gami and red wine is poured over the dish and the contents cooked for 45 minutes. Mushrooms are sauteed on the side in butter and olive oil. Flour is then added, and the mixture is cooked for another 15 minutes. After that, salt and pepper are added to taste, and a final round of cooking (10 minutes) is completed. The dish can be served with vegetables, beans, garlic mash or pasta.
13. Poule au pot (Chicken and Vegetables)
This dish became famous during the reign of Henri IV, who declared that all his subjects should have chicken in a pot for their Sunday meals. The chicken and vegetables are cooked together in a big pot – with the vegetables flavoring the meat and a rich broth formed from the mix with the chicken. The dish uses pearl onions, garlic, cloves, carrots, leeks, mushrooms, celery, cabbage, peppercorn, parsley, nutmeg and bay leaves. The broth is created by adding water to the chicken and vegetables and boiling in a casserole dish.
14. Pot au Feu (Red Meat and Vegetables)
Pot au Feu is the red meat version of Poule au Chicken, except it is usually made with two cuts of red meat – one lean cut of brisket or oxtail along with leg on bone pieces (beef, mutton or lamb). The exact same vegetables as above are used for this as well, and the cooking style is also the same (boiled to create a foam, then the foam taken off the top, leaving the broth). The dish is usually served with coarse crystal salt and French mustard. The bouillon from this dish can be served separately as another dish.
15. Ratatouille (Stewed Vegetables)
This stewed vegetable dish from French Provencal is usually made with a mix of tomatoes, aubergine, courgetti, bell peppers and onions) and flavored with garlic, marjoram, basil, fennel (or bay leaves) and thyme.
16. Andouillette (Andouille Sausages): Andouille Sausages are unique to France – a coarse-grained sausage made from pork (or veal, or a mixture) and chitterlings (intestines, sometimes tripe is used). The main spices used are onions, pepper and other seasonings such as parsley, thyme, garlic etc. to taste). The sausage is usually cooked in a red wine.
17. Gratin dauphinoise (Potatoes in Cream Sauce)
Potatoes au gratin has become a popular style of serving sliced potatoes baked in cream and cheese all over the world. This original dish came from the Dauphine region in south-eastern France.
18. Confit de Canard (Duck Confit)
This world-famous dish consists of cooking the whole duck in its own fat, after rubbing the meat with salt, garlic and other delicate aromatic herbs such as thyme and refrigerating for up to 36 hours. The spices are strained before cooking and then slow cooked over 4 to 10 hours. This dish from Gascony is a favorite at epicurean restaurants, with each portion of the duck being made into a different course of the meal, served with different wines. The last course is usually fried and chopped duck’s feet, which is much more delicious than it sounds.
19. Tarte Flambee (Flame Cake, Pie Cooked in a Oven)
This is a specialty from the North-Eastern Alsace region – a French-German collaboration (it’s called Flammekueche in German). A thin bread dough, usually rectangular or oval, is topped with fromage blanc (white cheese) and creme fraiche, lardons and thin-sliced onions. The cake is not usually flame broiled but cooked in a wood-fire oven, similar to a pizza.
20. Crepes (Pancakes)
Crepes are thin pancakes that can be made sweet or savory. Sweet crepes, usually eaten at breakfast or afternoon coffee, are usually made with wheat flour (farine de froment) and topped with Nutella spread, fruit preserves or spreads, confiture, custard, whipped cream or plain sugar. Savory crepes or galettes, usually eaten for lunch or dinner, are made with buckwheat and stuff with cheese, ham, other meat products, eggs or ratatouille.
21. Tuber Melanosporum (Black Perigord Truffles)
This is a species of truffles (edible mushrooms) native to Southern France, close to the Italian border. It is one of the most expensive mushrooms found in the world. Truffles can be served either fresh or dried, as garnishes or as an integral part of meat or fish dishes, or on top of fluffy omelets.
22. Creme Brulee (Cream Custard with Caramelized Sugar)
This rich French dessert, with a top of brown sugar glazed by a flame, is a famous dish worldwide. The main dish usually consists of a vanilla custard with a hot seared top and a cool middle. Fruits are sometimes added to the mix.
There are regional variations of many of the dishes outlined above, though most of the major recipes are nationalized if not internationally known by now.
The Verdict … French Food Culture is ‘Magnifique!’
French haute cuisine is tres magnifique (very beautiful), as food connoisseurs will tell you, but hopefully the discussion above will encourage you to try some of the gorgeous regional dishes in their original form. Remember that smothering with spices or sauces is often wrong with French food – freshness and subtlety is the key to enjoy the flavors and subtlety. Bon appetit!