Nine French eating habits you will probably find peculiar

The French diet is celebrated around the world for its high quality and health benefits. But some of the things they do with their food are enough to turn the stomach of many Anglos.

Nine French eating habits you will probably find peculiar
Photo: Bex Walton/Flickr

1. Chabrot

Photo: Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

It’s well-known that the French often enjoy a glass of wine with their meals, but you might be taken aback the first time you see someone tip it out of their glass into their soup bowl. Don't worry, they're not throwing a tantrum; it's an Occitanian custom still practised by some people in parts of rural southern France, called ‘chabrot’.

Traditionally, you would then drink the wine-soup mixture directly from the bowl in big gulps (the word 'chabrot' comes from a term meaning 'to drink like a goat') but these days it's more common to stick to using a spoon.

2. Eating pets and pests and horses

Photo: rawdonfox/Flickr

In the UK, there was outrage when it was discovered that some processed meat sold as beef had in fact come from horses. The French probably didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, and the distinction between animals to eat and animals to keep as pets is less clear, with horse and rabbit both commonly appearing on menus.

The French also tuck into animals which Brits might turn their noses up at, including pigeons and of course snails. 

3. Eating all parts of the animal

Most Brits won't be happy about replacing fish and chips with pig intestine and chips. Photo: LWYang/Flickr

The French attitude to meat is ‘waste not, want not’ and many organs or body parts that the French will quite happily eat for lunch would turn the stomach of squeamish foreigners. Every part of a pig from its snout to its trotters can find its way onto your plate, and each region seems to have its own specialty, for example lamb's testicles in Limousin and andouillette (pig's intestine and colon) in Lyon.

4. They love blood

Boudin noir mousse. Photo: Arnold Gatilao/Flickr

You might get a funny look if you ask for a ‘well done’ steak, as the French are happy for their meat to have a bit of blood in it. Or a lot of blood, in fact; it's a key ingredient in several French dishes, including canard à la presse, where duck is cooked in a sauce of its own blood mixed with cognac, lamproie à la bordelaise, where the lamprey fish are bled to death to make the blood and wine sauce, and of course, boudin noir (blood sausage).

5. Eggs on pizza

Photo: Nathan Yergler/Flickr

France and Italy's culinary rivalry has been going for centuries, so the French clearly couldn't resist taking a few liberties with this classic Italian dish. While there are strict rules among chefs in Italy as to what is and isn't allowed on a pizza (many of the best regarded pizzerias will only offer margherita or marinara – which is the same minus the mozzarella), egg is a bizarre but popular topping often added in France.

6. Women not pouring their own wine

Photo: Nan Palmero/Flickr

Whether you think it's charmingly chivalrous or outdated, French etiquette considers it a faux pas for a woman to pour her own wine. Instead, the man sitting nearest will pour her glass and top it up when needed.

7. They're obsessed about Burger King and McDo

Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Despite their reputation as culinary traditionalists, it turns out the French love cheap, no-fuss meals as much as the rest of the world and in recent years they have more than embraced the fast food trend. You won't have to go far to find a 'McDo', though naturally they have added a French twist so you can order a McCroque or choose from an array of pastries and even macarons in the McCafe. France is now McDonalds' second largest market, and rival fast food chain Burger King has swallowed up the one-time institution Quick.

8. Dunking croissants

Photo: Bex Walton/Flickr

Slathering a croissant with butter, as many foreigners tend to do, is baffling to many French people, since the croissant already consists of mostly butter. Instead, it's common for the French to dip their pastry in their morning tea or coffee. This can also be done with baguettes, to salvage yesterday's stale bread.

9. Trou normand

Photo: linmtheu/Flickr

This literally translates as “Norman gap” and is an old tradition from Normandy of drinking a small glass of strong apple liquor – the region is famous for its apples – between each course. Knocking back shots mid dinner might not seem like the best etiquette, but Norman recipes are generally quite rich, so taking a digestif between courses rather than at the end of the meal is supposed to aid digestion.


By Catherine Edwards

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

From home-made to made in France, organic to artisan, AOP to Red Label - French food and drink products have a bewildering array of different labels and quality marks - here's what they all mean.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

In France, there are many different types of étiquette to be aware of when purchasing food, drink or other products. However, this étiquette does not have to do with behaviour – rather it is the French word for label or sticker that might designate certain properties about an item being purchased.

Here are some that you might run into while shopping in France:

Wines and other beverages

French wine often has several different designations and labels that you might come across. In France, wine is labelled based on region rather than grape.

Cru – the word “cru” – translated as ‘growth’ – on a wine label signifies that it was grown in high-quality vineyard or growing site, and provides further proof to where the wine was produced. 

Vin Bio – this designates a product, and in this case, wine as being organic. You will also find a bio (pronounced bee-yo) section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio –  a market where all the products on sale are organic.

Here is an example of what the label looks like:

Photo Credit: Economie.Gouv.Fr

To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.

Vin natural – While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.  

This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.

Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.

Vin biodynamique – Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.

Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. 

Champagne (capital C) – The sparkling wine known as Champagne can only be produced in the French Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. In fact, the Champagne industry has a skilled team of lawyers tasked with insuring that the name “Champagne” is not being used inappropriately or incorrectly. Champagne is a famous example of the French AOC (more on this below).

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Geographic designations and traditional techniques

In France, there are three different labels that determine where a product comes from and whether it was made according to certain traditional standards.

L’Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) – This designation can either indicate that a product comes from a specific geographical area or that it was produced following a certain traditional technique. Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body.

You can see an example of the label below:

Photo Credit:

The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

It is worth keeping in mind that simply being considered an AOC product does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better than a non-AOC product, as it is focused on either geographical location or technique used when cultivating the product. The AOC designation is typically applied to certain wines and cheeses, though it can be extended to other products too.

READ MORE: What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) – the European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

The two labels are pretty much the same, but the AOC is French and older, while the AOP is recognised on a European level. 

In most cases, in order to apply for AOP designation, the product must already have an AOC recognition at the national level and then it is later registered with the European Commission. 

For France, the AOP concerns certain dairy products – specifically, 45 cheeses, 3 butters, and 2 creams – other foods like “Grenoble walnuts” are also listed as AOPs.

As for non French products, Gorgonzola cheese is an example of an Italian AOP.

La Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie (STG) – In English this would be referred to as the “Traditional Speciality Guarantee”. This is another European-wide label. It attests that a food product has been manufactured according to a recipe considered traditional.

The first French STG was “Bouchot mussels” which are collected using a traditional aquaculture technique. 

Quality labels

Label rouge – This French label allows you to identify superior quality products. It has been in existence for over 60 years – according to the French ministry of economy, Landes chicken was the first food product to be awarded the label. Label rouge can be applied to food products as well as non-food agricultural products, such as Christmas trees or flowers.

For example, a Christmas tree might qualify for the Label rouge if it is: from the Nordmann or Spruce species, free from parasites (fungi and insects); fitting the proper aesthetic criteria for shape, colour, symmetry and density; and fresh – meaning cut down after November 21st.

Nutri-score – this five letter label designates food products based on their nutritional value. This is regulated by public health authorities. The logo is on packaging and ranges from A (dark green, most nutritious) to E (dark orange, least nutritious).

Artisanale – this is a protected “appellation” (title) that was created in 1998, and it regulates ‘craft’ products according to French law – the most common usages are for bakeries and breweries but it’s used for a wide range of products. 

People running the business must be able to prove a certain relevant education and qualification level and register with the trade organisation or guild for their craft.

For example, bakery owners must register the boulangerie with the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat and take a preparatory course.

Typically, artisan producers promise to use non-processed materials and they must also follow certain quality rules. For example, bread sold in these artisan boulangeries cannot have been frozen.

French bread and pastry designations

When buying your baguette at the boulangerie, there are some differences to be aware of.

Baguette Tradition – As suggested by the name, this designation means that the baguette was made using the traditional ingredients – only flour, yeast, salt and water. These were decided upon as part of the French government’s ‘bread decree’ of 1993. It also indicates that the baguette is free of any additives or preservatives. 

Baguette – A regular baguette could contain extra ingredients like grains, cereals or nuts – or any chemical additives or preservatives.

Boulanger de France – This label is relatively new in France – it was launched in 2020 in order to help differentiate artisinal bakeries from industrial ones. In order to obtain the label, then the bakery must respect certain quality regulations (eg. salt dosage used in bread, and specific recipes and manufacturing methods). Also, boulangers who apply for this label also commit themselves to favouring seasonal products.

Other French labels you might come across

Fait maison – this means ‘home made’ in French, and the logo for this type of dish looks like a little house.

You might see this label when at a restaurant or when buying food. In essence, it means that the dish was cooked on the spot. It also means that the dish was made with unprocessed ingredients, and that the only processed ingredients are those listed HERE.

Made in France (or Fabriqué en France) – It may be a bit misleading, but the label “Made in France” does not mean that 100 percent of the manufacturing steps for the product were carried out in France, but it signifies that a significant part were indeed done in France. This label is applied primarily to “consumer and capital goods”, but it can also be attributed to certain agricultural, food and cosmetic products, according to the French ministry of economy.

In order to qualify for this label, a part of the French customs body (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes or DGCCRF) must authorise the label. If a product simply contains colours associated with France or a French flag, that does not necessarily mean it was entirely produced in France.

The penalties for falsely using a “Made in France” label, which are laid out in the French consumer code (article L. 132-2) are up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €300,000, which may be increased, depending on whether there were benefits derived from the offence.

Origine France Garantie – This label is awarded by the “Pro France association” to both  food and non-food products that can prove to have had the majority of manufacturing operations (at least 50 percent of its per unit cost) carried out in France and that the parts of the product that constitute its ‘essential characteristics’ were manufactured and produced in France.

Terre textile – This label attests that at least 75 percent of the textile product’s manufacturing was carried out in the French geographical area that it references – for example the label would indicate a part of France, like Alsace, and then below it would say “Terre textile”.