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Food and Drink For Members

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

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Reader question: Do the French really eat frogs, snails and horses?
All photos: AFP

It's among the most persistent stereotypes of the French, that they love to guzzle down on frogs' legs, snails and a juicy horse steak - but are these eating habits really part of modern France?

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Along with wine and the baguette, certain culinary habits are along the most often-cited clichés about the French - in fact the supposed habit of eating frogs' legs even led the English to nickname the French 'frogs' (in return they are called les Rosbifs - the roast beef-eaters).

But while these might all have been true at some point in history, are they still part of the daily diet in France?

Frogs

It was only ever the leg of the frog that was eaten in France, cuisse de grenouille are usually served grilled or deep-fried, but recipes exist that call for boiling or baking.

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Data from 2018 showed that 160 million frogs' legs were eaten in France that year (80 million frogs) but keep in mind that they're pretty small so a normal portion would probably involve about 15 legs, so that's only about 10 million actual frogs' leg meals.

That would equate to roughly one in every 6 French people having one frogs' legs meal per year, so they're not exactly an everyday menu item.

They're also quite a regional dish, popular in eastern France and the Vosges mountains but rarely seen on menus elsewhere in the country.

Ever since the 1980s frog hunting in France has been largely banned, so the majority of thighs eaten in France are actually imported from Indonesia, where the dish is also popular. Frogs are also eaten across Asia and in the USA.

Are they nice? - they're so small and fiddly to eat that it's quite hard to actually gauge the flavour of them, they mostly taste a bit like chicken, or whatever sauce they are served with. They're pretty healthy though (unless deep fried) as frog is a lean meat.

Snails

Here's one cliché that stands up, France remains the number 1 world consumer of snails, going through 30,000 tonnes a year.

While some people love them, they're not often on the menu in most French people's homes, and many of the above-mentioned portions are served in restaurants - there's even a specialist snail restaurant in Paris.

If you're a fan, however, you can buy a special dish, like an extra thick plate with holes in it for each snail, which keeps your snails warm and the butter nicely melted as you eat it.

Although enjoying more of a geographical spread than frogs, snails tend to be more commonly available in northern France.

If you enjoy snails, now is the time to eat them after the French Federation of Conserved Foods warned that climate change means that snail harvests are getting smaller every year.

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Are they nice? They're usually cooked in lashings of garlicy, herby butter and let's be honest, almost everything tastes good if you throw in enough garlic and butter. They're pretty chewy to eat but not unpleasant. 

Horse

This one seems to particularly horrify horse-loving Brits, although many European countries have traditionally eaten horse-meat - both Italians and Finns currently eat more horse than the French.

You will still see this on menus in some places, although it's less common than it was. In 2015 180,000 tonnes of horse-meat was consumed in France, but only 20 percent of the population said that they ate it.

Traditionally horse-meat was a low cost alternative to beef for shoppers who needed to watch the pennies, and it has seen a steady year-on-year decline over the past 40 years. 

What you will see on a lot of French high streets however are traditional Boucherie chevaline - horse butchers. These may not actually sell horse-meat these days, but often business-owners keep the historic signs or the wooden model of a horse's head that hangs outside the shop.

There are strict health regulations on butchering horses for meat so you're unlikely to be eating someone's pet, because a wide range of standard veterinary medicines are banned for use in horses that will enter the food chain.

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Is it nice? Like beef, horse is usually served as either a steak, a steak tartare or a hamburger and - just like beef - much depends on how fresh it is and how well it's cooked. If you get a good burger you're unlikely to be able to tell the difference from beef.

What do the French really eat?

The TV channel France 2 runs an annual poll called Le plat préféré des français in which people vote for their favourite dish.

And, in a blow to traditional French gastronomic pride, the current favourite dish in France is . . . couscous.

Is it nice? Yes, it really is. The mainstay of North African cuisine, couscous-based meals are widely available in many French cafés and couscouseries. The usual serving style is to bring diners a mound of couscous and a tureen of vegetable tagine while meat (lamb kebabs, merguez sausages or chicken thighs) is ordered separately.

Cheap, filling, delicious and ubiquitous, couscous holds a similar place in French hearts to the high-street curry house in the UK or the pizzeria in the USA.

Baguette

This stereotype is true, the French really do go bonkers for baguettes and consume approximately 6 billion of them per year.

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