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The A-Z of dining in France

The Local France
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The A-Z of dining in France
Going out for a meal in France? Here is what you need to know. All photos: AFP

Food etiquette breaches such as eating a croissant with cutlery or tackling the cheeseboard incorrectly can spark a strong reaction in France.


In one of the more light-hearted moments of recent years, one French woman said she was "close to fainting" when she saw pictures of what tourists had done to French cheese. So to avoid making Frenchwomen faint, here's the A-Z of eating in France.

A is for andouillette - In a country famed (rightly) for its cuisine, the andouillette forms something of a low point. A type of sausage made from animal intestine. Some people love it though, and claim it doesn't taste as bad as it smells (which is of animal bowels and urine).

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B is for beer - although France is of course synonymous with wine, beer is rapidly becoming the drink of choice, especially among younger people. There is a booming craft beer scene in France and une pinte (a pint, rather than the traditional French serving of un demi - 250cl)) is becoming more common, especially in the cities. Beer is not traditionally drunk with food, although this is becoming less of a hard-and-fast rule.


C is for cheese - of course. Served before dessert in France, rather than after, there are plenty of strict rules around cheese, from the etiquette of the cheese course to what type of cheese is permitted in a fondue.

READ ALSO Best briehaviour: A guide to French cheese etiquette

D is for déjeuner - lunch time is rather more strictly observed in France, especially in smaller towns. Many places only serve lunch between 12 and 2, so if you're looking for a late lunch you may be disappointed. Any café or bar that has a sign saying service non-stop, means it serves food throughout the day.

E is for elbows - keep them off the table. French children are raised to keep their hands on the table, and elbows on the table are considered impolite. If you are dining in a city café there is likely to be quite limited space, so once you've shimmied past the other diners to your table, make sure you keep your elbows in to avoid hitting your neighbour. 

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F is for foie gras - considered a bit controversial by many Anglos because of the production method which involved force-feeding geese, it is nonetheless widely served in France, especially in the south west Périgord area when something is barely considered a meal unless there's a slab of foie gras on it. The ethical considerations are of course a personal choice, but it is delicious. Just don't try and spread it like paté, its supposed to be served as a slice on top of some toast.

G is for grenouilles - considered a mainstay of French culture by 'les Anglos' in fact frogs legs are not a common sight on French menus at all. They are a north eastern French thing, so you'll virtually never see them in the south, but if you're a fan the town of Vittel has a festival of frogs legs every year. Due to a hunting ban in France, the vast majority of frog served in the country is actually imported from Indonesia.

Reader question: Do the French really eat frogs, snails and horses?

H is for haché - if you see 'steak haché' on the menu, don't expect a slab of meat. This is actually a burger and in restaurants other than McDonald's you'll generally be asked how you want it cooked. They're much nicer when they're still pink in the middle.

I is for ice - if you want ice in your drink your need to ask for it. Unlike in the USA, where it's the norm for soft drinks to be served with ice, French waiters will not add ice to your Orangina unless you ask for it avec glaçons.

J is for les jeunes - Children are welcomed in pretty much all restaurants in France and French families consider it perfectly normal to take their children with them when they go out to dinner. They will be expected to sit up at the table though, French restaurants don't go in for kids play areas or having children running around the restaurant.

K is for ketchup - it goes with frites and frites only in France. Ask for ketchup with your steak, omelette or salmon and expect appalled looks.

L is for lawyer - Hopefully you won't need any of these to go out for dinner, but 'salad of lawyer' is a common mistranslation on English menus in France. This is because the French word for lawyer and avocado is the same - avocat.

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M is for meat - French cuisine has a reputation as being meat heavy and certainly a lot of the traditional dishes are centred around meat, but the offering for vegetarians and vegans is slowly improving, especially in the big cities. Just make it clear that you don't eat meat at all, as some French people use 'vegetarian' to describe someone who doesn't eat red meat but will have chicken or pork.

'Call the restaurant' - tips for vegetarians in France

N is for noisettes - the French for nuts - as in tarte aux noisettes - and also a type of coffee. If you like an espresso with a dash of hot milk, this is what to order.

O is for offal - Many classic French dishes revolve around offal and it can be surprisingly delicious. From salade de gésiers (a salad topped with slow-cooked duck and goose innards) to the various different types of tripes (cow's stomach) on offer at French markets, they're all nicer than they sound and we would recommend trying them.

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P is for pichet - If you just ask for d'eau in a French restaurant you will probably be brought mineral water, which can be pricier than wine. If you're happy with a jug of tap water to go with your dinner, ask for un pichet d'eau or une carafe d'eau. Wine can also be bought by the pichet if you want more than a glass but less than a bottle.

Q is for queuing - some restaurants you have to queue for, and some are worth the wait. Several of Paris' traditional bouillon restaurants do not take reservations, but in our opinion are worth the wait for very traditional French cuisine that's also extremely reasonably priced.

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R is for raclette - Although the Swiss claim they invented this (and to be fair they almost certainly did) it's very popular in France in the winter, especially in the mountainous areas in the east. Winter in France in generally brings forth several delicious ways to melt cheese for dinner from raclette to fondue to tartiflette.

S is for steak - it's not quite true that French chefs refuse to cook steaks 'well done' but it won't make you many friends. Meat in general is served pinker than many Anglos are used to, something to bear in mind when you are ordering.

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T is for tea - one for the Brits, unless you specify carefully what you want when ordering tea you are unlikely to be brought a powerful builder's brew with milk. Tea is often served with lemon in France, so you need to specify thé au lait if you want milk. More common in France is une tisane which is a herbal or fruit tea.


W is for wine - whole books have been written on this, but suffice to say it's the traditional choice to go with food and also an apéro if you're talking rosé or white. Don't hurl it back, in France wine is something to be sipped, tasted and enjoyed.

Fact or fiction: 11 rules about French wine (and a couple of myths)

Z is for za'atar - spices generally, including the Middle-Eastern spice blend za'atar, are not a big part of French cooking. Even if you go to an Indian or Chinese restaurant you are likely to find the spice count has been dialled down to account for the rather delicate French palates. If you want a really hot curry you'd probably be better off making your own. (OK, we admit it, we were struggling to think of a French dish that begins with a Z).


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