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From crêpes to cassoulet: All you need to know about France's regional gastronomy

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From crêpes to cassoulet: All you need to know about France's regional gastronomy
Photo: The Local France/Rose Trigg
20:10 CEST+02:00
France means food, but to really get to the heart of French cuisine you need to know which region of the country all those delicacies and dishes come from. We take you on an easy to digest gastronomic tour of the country.
Where do we start? Why not out west?
 
Crêpes and cidre in Brittany
 
Brittany is home to some iconic cuisine, not least Breton crêpes. Eat them savoury (Galettes) or sweet, with a local Breton cider of course. 
 
Katherine Lim/ Flickr and Tavallai/ Flickr
 
Seafood lovers should continue their culinary journey with oysters (les huitres) in Cancale, sardines in Concarneau, Quiberon or Dournanez and scallops (Coquilles Saint Jacques) in the bay of St Brieuc.
 
For afters, try a slice of Kouign Amann. Not quite pastry, not quite cake, the buttery pudding needs to be sampled. 
 
Moules frites in Normandy
 
A visit to Normandy wouldn't be the same without some moules marinières, or moules frites. In the world famous mussels dish, the seafood is steamed in white wine and served with chips. 
 
Photo: archangel12/ Flickr
 
Seafood is a big part of Normandy cuisine, and fish stew from Dieppe, called Marmite Dieppoise as well as oysters and scallops are regional favourites.
 
Home to the famous Camembert cheese, you can learn about the cheese (and taste it) in the historic town of Camembert itself in southern Normandy.
 
For sweet, try the salted butter caramels, apple tarts and Tergoule, a local rice pudding. 
 
Waterzooï in Nord-pas-de-calais
 
Close to the border with Belgium, you'll see plenty of Flemish dishes on the menu, some classics are Waterzooï, a creamy fish dish and Potjevleesch jellied meat.  
 
Photo: Smabs Sputzer/ Flickr
 
Chantilly cream in Picardy
 
Though many cafés claim to serve Chantilly cream on their hot chocolates, it's rarely the real thing. When in Chantilly or Picardy area, it's a must to try the whipped cream that's historically associated with Chantilly castle and taste the difference.
 
If you stop at Amiens, seek out the popular duck pâté "en croute", which means it's cooked with a pastry crust. 
 
Flammekueche in Alsace 
 
Entering the colourful towns of Alsace you'll start seeing Flammekueche on the menu. This Alsatian pizza (though the locals might say pizza is Italian Flammekeuche) is made of very thin pastry topped with cream, red onions and lardons.
 
Photo: Lulu Durand/ Wikimedia
 
Some say Alsace's national dish is the Choucroûte garnie, the Alsatian version of the German sauerkraut "dressed" with cured meats and often potatoes. 
 
Also try: Backeoffe and Munster cheese. 
 
Pink biscuits in Champagne 
 
The city of Reims is home to the famous biscuit rose de Reims. These vanilla flavoured pink biscuits were originally meant to be white, but the crushed vanilla pods ruined the colour, so red colouring was added to disguise it, and so the pink biscuit was born. 
 
Photo: ADT Marne/ Wikimedia
 
If you've never been brave enough to try pigeon, here might be the place to do it. Marinated pigeons from the forests of Champagne are a regional speciality.
 
Also try: potée champenoise
 
Cacasse à cul nu in the Ardennes
 
The simple "poor man's meal" of potatoes and onions cooked in a pot rubbed with lard goes back generations in Ardenne cuisine. Now you can find it topped with smoked sausage and bacon. 
 
Also try: Mollet cake.
 
Madeleine cakes in Lorraine 
 
The famous little shell shaped cakes come from the towns Commercy and Liverdun in Lorraine, you can buy supermarket versions anywhere in France, but it's worth tasting the originals.  
 
Photo: Karen Booth/ Flickr
 
And of course the famous quiche Lorraine, which actually comes from German cooking, before what is now Lorraine was part of France.  
 
Also try: boudin blanc sausages, yellow plum jams and tarts. 
 
Boeuf Bourgignon in Burgundy
 
The Boeuf Bourgignon, (beef and potato stew marinated in red wine) is one of the cornerstones of French gastronomy, and where better to taste it than in Burgundy itself?
 
Photo: Alan C/ Flickr
 
Other Burgundy classics include include Escargots à la Bourgogne and Coq au Vin. 
 
Stop at Dijon to pick up some real Dijon mustard if there's room in your suitcase too.
 
Andouillette in Lyon 
 
Lyon is said to be the home of gastronomy in France but one of its most famous dishes might not be everyone's favourite. Andouillette, made of pigs intestines and colon is not for the fainthearted or weak-stomached.
 
Other well known dishes and delicacies from the city in central France include Rosette de Lyon, a cured sausage, coq au vin and of course quenelle, a creamed fix or meat kind of dumpling.
 
Fondue in Savoy
 
Photo: Camille Gévaudan/ Wikimedia
 
What meal is more Alpine than a Fondue? Order a Fondue Savoyarde, made with melted Beaufort, Emmental, Comté or other similar cheese, Savoy white wine garlic.  
 
If you haven't had quite enough cheese, try a Tartiflette, a potato, lardons, onions and of course cheese gratin whose name comes from the old local word for potato "tartifle". 
 
Also try: Gratin dauphinoise.
 
Ratatouille in Provence
 
Those yearning for a meat-free dish at this point in the journey will find comfort in the classic Provençal dish of Ratatouille vegetables, which combines onions, peppers, tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines and spices.
 
Also try: Niçoise salad, tapenade, Soupe au pistou, daube and lavender flavoured foods from the lavender fields.
 
Bouillabaise in Marseille
 
Bouillabaise started as a humble fisherman's seafood stew in the port city of Marseille. But beware of tourist traps while you're there as cheap bouillabaisse versions might leave a bad taste in your mouth. 
 
Photo: TummyRumble/Flickr
 
Instead, check out the restaurants that have signed up to the "Bouillabaisse Charter" to serve it the traditional way.
 
Aligot in Auvergne
 
if you are in the Auvergne region of central France then Aligot is a must. It's basically is cheese -  normally a local Tomme de Laguiole or Tomme d'Auvergne, blended into mash potatoe and served with a Toulouse sausage. It used to be prepared for hungry pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella.
 
 
The ever popular French semi-soft Saint-Nectaire is produced in the rural Auvergne region. Try the farmhouse version made with the milk of the Salers cows that feed on the rich volcanic pastures of former Auvergne. 
 
If you want something a little healthier by this point in the journey, try Puy lentils from the town Le Puy-en-Velay in a salad or soup.
 
Photo: Phil and Pam Gradwell/ Flickr
 
Roquefort in Aveyron 
 
The pungent Roquefort cheese is made in the town of Roquefort in Aveyron, which is worth a visit on your way. It's matured in special humid caves and sowed with Penicilium rocquforti fungus to give it its distinctive black spots and flavour. 
 
Cassoulet in Castlenaudary
 
Moving further south west and into the old region of Occitan and the hearty dish Cassoulet is the pride of the area.
 
The white bean stew is believed to have first been concocted in the town of Castlenaudary, between Toulouse and Carcassonne. It typically contains pork sausages, goose or mutton and pork skin. The town's version uses duck confit instead of mutton. 
 
Also try: fouace and croustade aux pommes. 
 
Espellette pepper in Basque country 
 
Straddling France and Spain, Basque country is full of the kind of flavours you wouldn't normally see in France. Chilli peppers from Espelette are renowned for their smokey, paprika-like taste. 
 
Photo: Nathan Gray/ Flickr
 
You can taste it cured on Bayonne ham, or in a tomatoey pipérade sauce, arrive at the end of October and you can even go to the festival dedicated to the pepper in the town of Espellette. 
 
Truffles in the Dordogne
 
It's time for a bit of fine dining in this region.
 
The Dordogne is home to Perigord black truffles. They're said to be some of the best in the world and are called the "Diamonds of Périgord", so make sure you arrive between December and March when it's truffle season. 
 
Duck in Gascony
 
Duck confit and foie gras are some of the most famous culinary offerings from the region.
 
Photo: Crisco 1492/ Wikimedia
 
The confit is made with duck legs stewed in fat with seasonings, marinated and baked sometimes months or even years later. (Not one for the diet conscious). 
 
Also try: wild peaches, duck gizzards. 
 
Tarte Tatin in Loire-et-Cher
 
Invented by the Tatin sisters in Lamotte-Beuvron, the apple tarte Tatin is known the world over.
 
The story goes that while preparing a classic apple tart, one of the sisters poured the apples into the dish first by accident, to cover up her mistake, she put the pastry on top and so the upside down tart was created.
 
Petit Buerres in Pays de la Loire
 
The humble Petit Beurre biscuit originates from this region. Though you can buy the original LU branded biscuits, whose factory is in Nantes, all over France, it's not quite the same as eating them in the region itself. 
 
An equally renowned regional product is Guérand salt. For centuries, the Guérand salt marshes have produced the coarse, slightly sweet salt. If you go between April and September you can watch the harvest first hand on one of the many tours.
 
Photo: Christian Muertes/ Wikimedia
 
Croque Monsieur in Paris 
 
Many of the typical foods we associate with France are linked to the Paris and its region Île-de-France: saucisson, the Parisian baguette, brie de Meaux, and the lunchtime staple, the croque Monsieur toasted cheese and ham sandwich. The name first appeared in a Paris café in 1910 according to some sources.
 
Photo: Gail/ Flickr
 
But other less well known delicacies exist in the capital. Paris button mushrooms for example, once cultivated in the catacombs tunnels under Paris. 
 
Brocciu in Corsica
 
Heading across the water to Corsica, fresh mediterranean food won't be hard to find. Corsican cheese like Tomme and Brocciu cheese, similar in texture to ricotta, enjoy them with Corsican honey and fruits which are renowned for their flavour. 
 
Also try: wild boar, chestnut flour cakes, sea urchins.
 
Apologies we just didn't have enough time on the tour to get everything in, but if you want all the dishes and delicacies on one map, here it is.
 
 
By Rose Trigg

 

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