Advertisement

Food and Drink For Members

French regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in northern France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
French regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in northern France
A cook prepares crepes in a creperie in France (Photo by FRED TANNEAU / AFP)

When you're travelling through France, trying local dishes and drinks is always a good idea, so we've taken a virtual roadtrip through France to highlight some of the best regional cuisine.

Advertisement

This part of our roadtrip takes in the northern part of France, from the German-influenced culture of Alsace-Lorraine, via Paris to the beautiful seaside resorts of northern France and out east to Brittany and Normandy.

The following is our personal pick of the regional dishes in the area that we travel through, feel free to leave your own food and drink tips in the comment box below.

Advertisement

Strasbourg - If you're bored with French food (and it’s probably unlikely) you can ring the changes by head to the Alsace-Lorraine region where the historic German influences (the region has passed back and forth between France and Germany several times) can really be seen in the cuisine.

What to order: The classic dish of the region is the sausage-and-cabbage choucroute garnie, but we’re going to recommend gingerbread.

Patisseries in Strasbourg are full of beautifully decorated gingerbread especially on St Nicolas Day (December 6th) and around Christmas. If you’re visiting Strasbourg’s famous Christmas market a gingerbread snack is a must. This is also different to the pain d’épices on offer in most of France, which is really more of a bread that’s often served with savoury things like foie gras.

To drink: Hot spiced wine is ubiquitous in France in the winter (it’s not just a Christmas thing, you’ll find it on offer all winter as a tasty warmer) but a good vin chaud is the perfect accompaniment to gingerbread, especially at a Christmas market. 

Deauville - France’s northern coast is peppered with beautiful seaside resorts including Le Touquet, Etretat and Honfleur. We’re heading to Deauville to sample its long sandy beach and air of slightly faded elegance - and of course the seafood.

What to order: Moules-frites are, by rights, a Belgian speciality (in fact Belgium even lays claim to the invention of the ‘French’ fry) but let’s gloss over that because they’re available pretty much everywhere along the northern French coast and they’re also very delicious.

There are lots of different sauce options available but we think a classic moules marinières is the best - a simple white wine, garlic and herb cause lets you really taste the mussels. When you’ve finished your bucket of mussels, dip your bread and remaining frites into the sauce and let the juice dribble down your chin in a sophisticated and attractive manner.

And to drink: In the spirit of 'nicking things from the Belgians' we're going to recommend beer (although maybe not with your mussels).

The French craft beer scene has really boomed the recent years and there are now hundreds of microbreweries and small businesses making delicious beers - especially in northern France. We particularly like the beers from Brasserie Melusine (near Nantes) and La Moutte (near Caen).

Advertisement

Rennes - We’re heading to the capital of the Brittany region to really soak up the best of the Breton culture, from language to history to architecture to food. 

What to order: It can only be one thing - crêpes. The quintessential Breton speciality is one of the highlights of our trip, delicious thin buckwheat pancakes served with a variety of savoury or sweet toppings (and yes, it’s absolutely OK to have savoury crêpes followed by sweet crêpes for dessert). There are dozens of topping options, but we’re going to recommend the classic - ham, cheese and an egg. 

And to drink: Cider is the other speciality of the region. Brittany is famous for its ciders - fresh, apple-tasting and refreshing. They pair beautifully with crêpes or with the region’s other famous food product, the Kouign-ammann cake - sweet delicate laminated dough.

Mont Saint Michel -  Brittany and Normandy have argued about many things down the years, including who lays claim to the area's best-known tourist resort, Mont-Saint Michel. For now, it's in Normandy and it's well worth a visit, especially in winter when there are fewer visitors and you can really appreciate the brooding drama of the ancient structure rising out of the sea.

Advertisement

What to order: Mont-Saint Michel is lovely but it's also a tourist hotspot with prices to match, so we suggest you content yourself with a snack and then come back over to the mainland for dinner.

Once you get to the cheese course there is one you simply have to sample - camembert. You might think you've had a camembert but forget the chalky, flavourless supermarket version - in Normandy the ubiquitous cows convert the lush green grass of the region into moist, creamy, ripe camembert. Look out for an AOC camembert to be sure you're getting local produce.

To drink: Both Brittany and Normandy grow apples and both make cider (and have a complicated regional rivalry about the correct drinking vessel) but Normandy has something even better - the powerful apple brandy Calvados. 

Paris - you could write a book (and many people have) about great restaurants to try out in Paris, so we won’t try and replicate that here. Instead we suggest doing what the locals do - have a picnic. 

The banning of traffic from the quais of the Seine has created a lovely space by the river which on summer evenings is full of young people who have taken down a blanket, some food and bottles of wine or beer. So enjoy a reasonably priced dinner, the lively atmosphere and what is easily one of the best views in Europe. 

. . . and to mention.

It’s not technically a French speciality, but according to the annual poll plat préférés des français France's favourite dish is couscous.

Brought to France via its north-African immigrants, the couscouserie is now a fixture of the French high street. In most places, the custom is that you get a heaped plate of couscous and a tureen of vegetarian tagine and then order your meat - eg lamb kebabs, merguez sausage - separately. 

Not only is it delicious, it’s also usually very reasonably priced. 

READ ALSO

What to eat and drink in southern France

What to eat and drink in central France 

More

Comments (1)

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Anonymous 2022/08/25 17:17
Moules marinière with cream and lemon?? You might as well have foie gras made with lamb’s liver…

See Also