Haute cuisine or hot dogs: What do the French really eat?

Haute cuisine or hot dogs: What do the French really eat?
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
The land of fine dining where everyone sits down to a freshly cooked meal and a carafe of wine every day? Er, not exactly. In fact the French absolutely love fatty and sugary junk food. Here's what they really eat when they think no-one is looking.

Pizza

Even really small French towns have a pizzeria or pizza truck, some places have pizza vending machines and in Paris you can go and get your pizzas made by a robot

French people eat on average 10kg of pizzas a year and in 2015 they were second in the world league table of pizza-eaters behind only the USA, but well ahead of the actual inventors of the pizza, Italy.

IN PICTURES Paris’ new robot-staffed pizzeria

Data from 2016 showed that there were some 13,000 pizzerias in France and 5,000 pizza trucks.

Nutella

This sugary chocolate hazelnut spread – which is actually Italian in origin – is close to a national obsession in France.

Baguette with Nutella is a popular goûter (after-school snack) for children and we can only assume that it’s the comforting memories of childhood that make French adults go so bonkers over the sticky spread.

In a list of the 10 most-sold groceries in French shops from 2020, Nutella jars of various sizes claimed four of the top spots, while Nutella flavoured biscuits claimed a fifth.

In fact the French love Nutella so much they will brawl for it. A couple of years back, a 70 percent Nutella discount at the Intermarché supermarket chain turned into a ‘riot’, with customers jostling and battling each other to get their hands on the pots.

Burgers

McDonald’s early years in France were a bit rocky, with French farmers trashing one site in protest. These days, however, France is McDonald’s most profitable market outside the USA and pretty much every French town has a McDo (although planning rules often exile them to retail parks on the outskirts of town).

By 2017, more burgers were sold in France than the classic jambon-beurre sandwich, although interestingly just 30 percent of burgers were sold at fast food or take-away joints, the rest were at sit-down restaurants.

McDo aside, many French restaurants pimp up their burgers and a good restaurant will serve a delicious handmade burger, cooked to your request (although it’s better rare or medium rare) with toppings often including a classic French cheese.

It’s considered correct to eat them with a knife and fork, which sounds mad until you see the size of some French burgers.

READ ALSO What explains France’s ravenous appetite for hamburgers?

McDonald’s is often the subject of protests in France, but remains very popular with French diners. Photo by Elliott VERDIER / AFP

Ready meals

Head to a French supermarket and you will find several well-stocked aisles of frozen or chilled ready meals.

Yes, French people are not all hot-shot chefs and many are either too tired, too busy or simply can’t be bothered to start sautéeing beef cheeks and braising shallots when they come in from work.

A survey from 2018 found that 83 percent of French people eat ready meals ‘sometimes or often’ and the effect on waistlines is becoming apparent with more than half of French people now overweight or obese.

Cheese  

One national stereotype that is true – the French really do love their cheese.

The average French adult eats 25.9 kg of cheese each year – equivalent of half a kilo a week or 70 grammes a day. And of the 96 percent of French people who eat cheese, 47 percent of them do it on a daily basis. 

For comparison’s sake, Americans consume a measly 15.4 kg per year and the British a mere 11.6 kg.
 
And of all the comfort foods that people turned to during lockdowns last year, cheese was the most popular, with an increase in sales of 8 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.
 
The French are not the world’s largest consumers of cheese though, on a per-person basis that is the Danish.
 
 
French vocab

La malbouffe – junk food

Un resto rapide – a fast-food restaurant

Les plats preparés – ready meals

Les additifs – food additives (not les préservatifs, those are condoms)

Un goûter – an afternoon snack, sometimes also referred to as un quatre heure because of the time it usually happens)


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