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


Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

When travelling through France ordering local dishes and drinks is always a good bet, so we're taking a virtual roadtrip through France, highlighting some of the must-try regional specialities.

Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

This section of our roadtrip takes in the central part of France, from the tourist hotspots of the Alps and west coast seaside resorts through the less well know (but wonderful) central regions. 

The following is just our personal recommendation for some of the areas we’re passing through – please leave your suggestions and foodie tips in the comments box below.

Savoie/Haut-Savoie – Extremely popular for winter sports, the French Alps are stunning all year round and a summer trip for hiking, cycling or water sports is also highly recommended. The long, cold winters and the popularity of sporty holidays means that many Savoie specialities tend towards the hearty, filling, cheese-based and calorific – fondue, raclette and tartiflette.

What to order: It has to be fondue – but this is really a winter dish. Although some tourist spots sell it in summer it’s best enjoyed after a hard day hiking or skiing while watching the snow swirl around outside your window. The basics of a fondue are always the same – a big pot of melted cheese and some bread to dip in – but there are many varieties based on cheese type. We prefer a mixed-cheese option to get the full flavour spectrum, in the spirit of going local let’s order the Fondue Savoyard.

To drink: Wine! Old Swiss and French grannies will tell you that drinking water with fondue can be fatal, as it causes the cheese to solidify and stick in your stomach. As far as we know this has never been proven with science, but it’s definitely true that a crisp white wine is perfect to cut through the rich, fatty cheese.

Opt for a local vin jaune for the perfect partner.  

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Alpina Eclectic Hotel**** (@alpinaeclectichotel_chamonix)

Lyon – you might think that the whole of France is a foodie destination, but to French people Lyon is the ‘foodie capital’, and for that reason it’s a highly popular staycation destination with the French. Definitely check out the ‘bouchon’ restaurants which specialise in the best in local cuisine. 

What to order: Brioche de pralines rosé. There are so many delicious Lyon savoury specialities that it’s hard to pick one so we’ve gone for a sweet treat here. Pink pralines (nuts in a sugar coating) are the city’s signature sweet and while they’re great on their own, for an extra indulgent treat you can get brioche (sweet bread) studded with pink pralines. A slice (or two) with a pot of coffee is quite possibly the world’s best breakfast.

And to drink:  Beaujolais. Stick with us here, there’s more to beaujolais than the much-derided beaujolais nouveau (although that is getting better these days). The wine appellation extends almost to Lyon and is home to hundreds of small vineyards all making beautiful wines, many of whom are taking up production of vins bio (organic) or vins naturel.  

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Chocolate Maker • Pralus (@maisonpralus)

READ ALSO: Bio, natural or biodynamic: 5 things to know about French organic wines

Auvergne – central France tends to get missed by many tourists, which is a real shame because much of it is stunning, as well as being quieter and cheaper than the coastal areas. The area is dotted with mountains and (extinct) volcanoes which give it a really dramatic character.

What to order: Auvergnat cuisine is quite meat-based, although the region is also known for good cheeses. To combine the two into one meal, we highly recommend aligot – a type of silky, creamy mashed potato with lots of stringy cheese stirred in – topped with a sausage. Have this at a restaurant with a glass or good wine or buy it from a street stall and go watch the town’s famous rugby team. Either way, the experience will be sublime.

And to drink: Volvic. Those volcanoes that we mentioned earlier give the name to one of France’s most famous mineral waters – Volvic. The water is apparently filtered through six layers of rock for five years, so give your liver a rest and sample some.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ambassade d’Auvergne (@ambassadeauvergne)

Corrèze – moving west takes us into Corrèze, one of France’s most sparsely populated départements and one that even some French people would struggle to point to on a map. Transport is not all that easy unless you have a car but if it’s well worth the effort to visit this hidden but lovely corner of France.

What to order: Savoury dishes often feature mushrooms (especially ceps) and chestnuts and freshwater fish such as perch are also popular but we’re going to pick a dessert – clafoutis. The baked fruit flan is hugely popular across France but is traditional in Corrèze – in the classic form it’s made with cherries, but lots of different fruit options are available.

And to drink: They grow a lot of nuts in Corrèze and as well as eating them, they’re often made into digéstifs as well. If by this stage of the roadtrip you are feeling a little heavy, try an after-dinner liqueur to help you digest (although, despite the name scientists claim that a digéstif doesn’t actually help digestion).

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Constance 💛🌸 (@sport_andlife)

Île d’Oléron – We’ve now reached the west coast, and just off the shore of the Vendée are two beautiful islands. Île de Ré is known as the ‘French Hamptons’ because it’s such a popular holiday destination for rich Parisians, while its smaller brother Île d’Oléron is less high profile but equally lovely.

What to order: This area is the centre of France’s oyster production and if you take a trip around the island (or on the mainland) you will see hundreds of oyster beds. Virtually all local restaurants serve them, but you’ll also see them piled high at markets, where the stallholders will shuck them for you if you’re afraid of losing a finger in the process.

And to drink: The island is known for its white wines which pair perfectly with oysters. Stop off at the market for a quick glass (and an oyster or two) when you’ve finished your shopping or buy a bottle, plus a platter of oysters and have a picnic. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Anne Bories (@anne.bories5)

Head to our Food & Drink section to find guides to the regional specialities of southern and northern France.