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FOOD & DRINK

The French ‘delicacies’ foreigners find hard to stomach

They might make your stomach churn but if you really want to experience all that France has to offer then these 14 "delicacies" need to be tried at least once.

The French 'delicacies' foreigners find hard to stomach
Raw meat anyone? Photo: William Kwan
While most foreigners won't go beyond a rump steak or a hamburger when it comes to eating beef, the French will pretty much eat every part of a cow, bar the hide, and what's more they'll call it a delicacy.
 
French chef Iman Bogen says we need to open our eyes and mouths to some of France's more stomach-churning delicacies.
 
“When I first tried snails (escargots) as a kid, I never wanted to taste them again. But once I tried them with garlic and parsley butter, I loved them and was addicted,” he said. 
 
Here's a list of 14 French delicacies that many Anglos can't stomach (while others are positively obsessed with them) and why we should give them a try.
 
Langue de boeuf
 
The thought of putting a cow's tongue in your mouth may seem revolting, but Bogen says the trick to cooking and eating cow's tongue is to disguise the fact that it is in fact a tongue. 
 
“Often the shape can put people off so you should cut the tongue into nice thin slices and it will really melt in your mouth,” the chef says.
 
Photo: Charles Haynes
 
Lapin 
 
Rabbit used to be quite a common dish in the UK until they made the film Watership Down. Then it just didn’t seem right to eat cute bunnies anymore. But the tradition lives on in France and Bogen says there are steps to take to get past this psychological barrier. 
 
“Make sure you buy it without the head,” he says. “Rabbit has a strong taste but it’s a lot like chicken. The traditional way is to have it with a mustard sauce, but don’t overcook it or it'll be too tough.”
 
Photo: Dominique Aribert
 
Tetines
 
Udders are another part of the cow’s body that perhaps suffer from an image problem. When it comes to persuading Anglos of the merits of getting your knife and fork into them, “You just have to open yourself up to new experiences,” says Bogen. “And remember it's very good for you.” 
 
So next time you’re in a restaurant in Paris and about to order a croque monsieur or a cheeseburger, why not live a little and go for 'an udder' option?
 
Photo: Omaka09/Flickr

 
Frogs' legs
 
They're hugely popular in France, where 80 million pairs are gobbled up every year. You can fry them, boil them, sautée them.. in fact you can eat them almost any way you like and they taste like a kind of chickeny fish. 
 
In fact, they're pretty delicious – you just need to overcome any initial squeamishness. 
 
 
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
 
 
 
Ris de veau
 
This is often translated as 'sweetbread' but ris de veau is basically the culinary name for calf’s pancreas. Doesn’t sound too appetizing to you? 
 
“Sear it in plenty of flour and butter and enjoy it with some mushrooms. It has a really nutty flavour,” says Bogen. Not convinced? Washing it down with a decent bottle of Burgundy might make eating a cow's pancreas slightly more appealing.
 
Photo: Le journal de maman
 
Pigeon
 
There’s not much love for pigeons in general and even less enthusiasm when it comes to the thought of eating them. But in France the tradition of eating game birds goes back centuries and it needs to be kept alive, says Bogen.
 
“There’s nothing better than stuffing a bit of foie gras in a pigeon or quail and eating it with some wild mushrooms in winter,” he says.
 
Photo: Charles Haynes
 
Tripe
 
While many Anglos wouldn’t even feed tripe to their pets, the French have long had a stomach for eating, well, stomach. Bogen says we should remember that eating edible offal from farm animals is good for your health, because of the high content of the protein collagen. 
 
“People are usually afraid of what it is but when you cook it for a long time on a low heat with a bouquets-garnier and white wine, it’s fantastic.”
 
Photo: Huang Yong
 
Escargots
 
Snails, the most famed French delicacy beside frogs' legs, are another of those things you wouldn't usually imagine on your dinner plate. 
 
So why should you eat them (besides for the experience, of course)? Well they're delicious as an appetizer, and they're also virtually fat-free, sugar-free, and carb-free. Thank us later. 
 
The great Gallic grub that's surprisingly healthyPhoto: Hafiz Issadeen/Flickr
 
Rognons
 
Although kidneys are by no means unique to France, the French do love a good rognon and they are a common sight on menus. Bogen says there’s no reason expats shouldn’t have the appetite for a few. 
 
“I've been eating these since I was a child. If you cook them right – nicely seared with a creamy mushroom sauce – they are delicious.”
 
Photo: Frédérique Voisin-Demary
 
Andouillette
 
This sausage has been frightening foreigners for years, probably because it's made with easily-identifiable pig’s intestines. Another turn-off for the more faint-hearted among us can be the pungent smell. 
 
But really there’s nothing to be afraid of, says Bogen. “The taste is not as overpowering as the smell suggests. It’s very sweet and goes really well with onion confit,” says the chef. And if you want the finest Andouillette in France then head to Lyon, Bogen advises.
 
Photo: Lwy/Flickr
 
Steak tartare
 
The sight of a Frenchman wolfing down a steak tartare, (chopped up or minced raw meat) has shocked many a newly-arrived foreigner in France. To many of us, steak tartare looks like it belongs in a polystyrene box on a supermarket shelf, not on a plate at a brasserie. But Bogen disagrees. 
 
“Steak tartare is really light, it’s like eating sushi. It’s easy to digest and you don’t get any the grease you get from cooking the meat,” he said.
 
Photo: William Kwan
 
Foie gras
 
It’s not so much the taste of foie gras that puts some people off, but all the force-feeding of geese and ducks that goes on before it ends up on our plates. Forget about all that, says Bogen. 
 
“It’s natural for the livers of ducks and geese to get fat. Foie gras is the result of a natural process, it’s not the result of a disease or anything. And it tastes so good,” he says. Not many would argue with his last point.
 
Photo: Stu spivack
 
Tête de veau
 
Cows are not known for being the cleverest animals, but once their brains end up on a plate, they come alive, especially with the help of a Gribiche sauce. Bogen has an easy solution for those who are not fans of eating veal's brain. 
 
“Just put it in your mouth and you’ll get used to it,” he says. “Tête de veau is very good for people with arthritis. It is full of goodness and all the nutrients we need to have healthy skin and bones,” he says. 
 
Photo: Amy Ross
 
Oursins
 
Just as the French will eat pretty much any part of the cow’s body, they’ll also eat almost anything that comes out of the sea, including 'oursins', or urchins as we call them. 
 
“Oursins have a really creamy texture and bring the taste of the sea to your mouth, just like oysters,” Bogen says. “People might find them slimy but you'll quickly get used to the taste and then won’t be able to resist. Don’t forget that they're also good for you.”
 
Photo: AFP
 
Another version of this story first appeared in 2013. 

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FOOD & DRINK

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: www.economie.gouv.fr

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”. 

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