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FOOD & DRINK

Readers reveal: The worst food in France

The results are in from our poll in which readers reveal their least favourite French foods of all, from despised offal to stomach-churning molluscs, dubious meats to disappointing pastries.

Readers reveal: The worst food in France
Which French delicacy can you really not stomach? Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP

Let’s be clear from the start that most French food is fantastic. The country has a proud tradition of gastronomy and exceptional fresh, local produce is on sale at most local markets, making cooking a joy.

We love to celebrate French cuisine in our food and drink section HERE.

READ ALSO 

But there are some classic French dishes that are just a step too far for many foreigners.

We asked readers to tell us which French dishes they simply cannot stomach, and why.

Hundreds of people nominated their most disliked food, and we then put the shortlist to a public vote. The item voted worst French food of all was – andouillette.

Of those who nominated andouillette as their least favourite, the most common reason was the taste, followed by the smell, while some others said they just couldn’t get past the idea.

So what is andouillette? It’s basically a type of sausage, and you’ll often see it for sale at food stalls at Christmas markets or sports grounds.

But it’s the method of preparation that puts many people off – the pork used to make the sausage comes from the large intestine of the pig – the bowel in other words – and this gives andouillette what is politely described as its “strong, distinctive odour”. Basically it smells of shit.

Andouillette fans say if you get past the smell, the sausage itself is delicious. Others disagree while some question why on earth you would want to eat something that smells like that. 

It’s good for a pithy political quote though, former French prime minister Edouard Herriot said: “La politique, c’est comme l’andouillette, ça doit sentir un peu la merde, mais pas trop” – Politics is like andouillette, it should smell a little of shit, but not too much.

Second worst was tête de veau – calf’s head, which is pretty much as it sounds, the slow-cooked head of a cute little baby cow. This is sometimes served whole but other times boned and rolled, but plenty of readers were not keen on the taste while others say the idea is just too gross.

In third position was foie gras – made from the livers of artificially fattened geese. While many readers simply don’t like the taste, others declined to eat it on moral grounds – the production of it involves force-feeding the geese in a process that many believe is extremely cruel. Foie gras is banned in many countries on animal welfare grounds.

And in fourth place came the French classic dish of snails. Perhaps not as common in France as foreigners believe, snails are still served in many French bistros. Despite their generous coating of garlic butter, many readers could not bring themselves to eat them. 

READ ALSO Do the French really eat frogs, snails and horses?

We also asked readers what they believed the most over-rated French dish was, and here the nominations were more varied, with some people opting for a dish they simply believe is not all it’s cracked up to be, while others suggested a dish that should be good, but is often poorly prepared. 

While many people nominated foie gras as simply the worst food, others nominated it as over-rated – the fatty liver (somehow it sounds better in French) is expensive (most due to its labour-intensive production) and is therefore often served as a ‘treat’ on special occasions in France, particularly at Christmas and New Year.

In second place was the ‘royal tart’ Galette des rois. This is the cake traditionally eaten on the Christian festival of epiphany (January 6th) and it has a lot of fun rituals – crown-wearing, sitting under the table, finding the lucky bean – that makes it popular with French families.

But the cake itself? It’s perhaps best described as simple, a flaky pastry case filled with frangipane or in some areas puréed apple. It’s not that it’s unpleasant but in a country rightly famed for it’s pâtisserie, there are better options out there. 

The traditional January 6th cake Galette de rois. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)

Steak-frites is a French bistro classic and done well it’s simple food at its best – a good cut of meat, simply cooked, freshly made French fries and usually either green beans or salad on the side.

But because it is so ubiquitous it’s often done badly in places that don’t really care for their meat – the most common complaints from readers were tough steak, limp frites or a chef who simply hadn’t listened to the cooking instructions.

Boeuf bourguignon is one of the simplest French dishes – beef, veg, stock and wine all thrown together in a pot and cooked slowly. 

Basically it’s a beef stew and since a lot of other European countries have their own version of this dish, many felt that boeuf bourguignon was simply over-hyped for what is a tasty but basic dish.

There were also several nominations for ‘vegetarian food’, as many people pointed out that it can be tough to be a veggie in France, especially outside of the big cities. 

‘Call the restaurant’ – your tips for being vegetarian or vegan in France

Member comments

  1. It would be interesting to see the results of this poll by country of origin of the responder. I suspect the results would show clear signs of cultural influence.

  2. Being a big farmer I can vouch for the inaccuracy of your statement
    “Smells like Shit”
    Rather a ripe gamey smell

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FOOD & DRINK

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

From home-made to made in France, organic to artisan, AOP to Red Label - French food and drink products have a bewildering array of different labels and quality marks - here's what they all mean.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

In France, there are many different types of étiquette to be aware of when purchasing food, drink or other products. However, this étiquette does not have to do with behaviour – rather it is the French word for label or sticker that might designate certain properties about an item being purchased.

Here are some that you might run into while shopping in France:

Wines and other beverages

French wine often has several different designations and labels that you might come across. In France, wine is labelled based on region rather than grape.

Cru – the word “cru” – translated as ‘growth’ – on a wine label signifies that it was grown in high-quality vineyard or growing site, and provides further proof to where the wine was produced. 

Vin Bio – this designates a product, and in this case, wine as being organic. You will also find a bio (pronounced bee-yo) section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio –  a market where all the products on sale are organic.

Here is an example of what the label looks like:

Photo Credit: Economie.Gouv.Fr

To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.

Vin natural – While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.  

This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.

Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.

Vin biodynamique – Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.

Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. 

Champagne (capital C) – The sparkling wine known as Champagne can only be produced in the French Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. In fact, the Champagne industry has a skilled team of lawyers tasked with insuring that the name “Champagne” is not being used inappropriately or incorrectly. Champagne is a famous example of the French AOC (more on this below).

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Geographic designations and traditional techniques

In France, there are three different labels that determine where a product comes from and whether it was made according to certain traditional standards.

L’Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) – This designation can either indicate that a product comes from a specific geographical area or that it was produced following a certain traditional technique. Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body.

You can see an example of the label below:

Photo Credit: www.economie.gouv.fr

The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

It is worth keeping in mind that simply being considered an AOC product does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better than a non-AOC product, as it is focused on either geographical location or technique used when cultivating the product. The AOC designation is typically applied to certain wines and cheeses, though it can be extended to other products too.

READ MORE: What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) – the European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

The two labels are pretty much the same, but the AOC is French and older, while the AOP is recognised on a European level. 

In most cases, in order to apply for AOP designation, the product must already have an AOC recognition at the national level and then it is later registered with the European Commission. 

For France, the AOP concerns certain dairy products – specifically, 45 cheeses, 3 butters, and 2 creams – other foods like “Grenoble walnuts” are also listed as AOPs.

As for non French products, Gorgonzola cheese is an example of an Italian AOP.

La Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie (STG) – In English this would be referred to as the “Traditional Speciality Guarantee”. This is another European-wide label. It attests that a food product has been manufactured according to a recipe considered traditional.

The first French STG was “Bouchot mussels” which are collected using a traditional aquaculture technique. 

Quality labels

Label rouge – This French label allows you to identify superior quality products. It has been in existence for over 60 years – according to the French ministry of economy, Landes chicken was the first food product to be awarded the label. Label rouge can be applied to food products as well as non-food agricultural products, such as Christmas trees or flowers.

For example, a Christmas tree might qualify for the Label rouge if it is: from the Nordmann or Spruce species, free from parasites (fungi and insects); fitting the proper aesthetic criteria for shape, colour, symmetry and density; and fresh – meaning cut down after November 21st.

Nutri-score – this five letter label designates food products based on their nutritional value. This is regulated by public health authorities. The logo is on packaging and ranges from A (dark green, most nutritious) to E (dark orange, least nutritious).

Artisanale – this is a protected “appellation” (title) that was created in 1998, and it regulates ‘craft’ products according to French law – the most common usages are for bakeries and breweries but it’s used for a wide range of products. 

People running the business must be able to prove a certain relevant education and qualification level and register with the trade organisation or guild for their craft.

For example, bakery owners must register the boulangerie with the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat and take a preparatory course.

Typically, artisan producers promise to use non-processed materials and they must also follow certain quality rules. For example, bread sold in these artisan boulangeries cannot have been frozen.

French bread and pastry designations

When buying your baguette at the boulangerie, there are some differences to be aware of.

Baguette Tradition – As suggested by the name, this designation means that the baguette was made using the traditional ingredients – only flour, yeast, salt and water. These were decided upon as part of the French government’s ‘bread decree’ of 1993. It also indicates that the baguette is free of any additives or preservatives. 

Baguette – A regular baguette could contain extra ingredients like grains, cereals or nuts – or any chemical additives or preservatives.

Boulanger de France – This label is relatively new in France – it was launched in 2020 in order to help differentiate artisinal bakeries from industrial ones. In order to obtain the label, then the bakery must respect certain quality regulations (eg. salt dosage used in bread, and specific recipes and manufacturing methods). Also, boulangers who apply for this label also commit themselves to favouring seasonal products.

Other French labels you might come across

Fait maison – this means ‘home made’ in French, and the logo for this type of dish looks like a little house.

You might see this label when at a restaurant or when buying food. In essence, it means that the dish was cooked on the spot. It also means that the dish was made with unprocessed ingredients, and that the only processed ingredients are those listed HERE.

Made in France (or Fabriqué en France) – It may be a bit misleading, but the label “Made in France” does not mean that 100 percent of the manufacturing steps for the product were carried out in France, but it signifies that a significant part were indeed done in France. This label is applied primarily to “consumer and capital goods”, but it can also be attributed to certain agricultural, food and cosmetic products, according to the French ministry of economy.

In order to qualify for this label, a part of the French customs body (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes or DGCCRF) must authorise the label. If a product simply contains colours associated with France or a French flag, that does not necessarily mean it was entirely produced in France.

The penalties for falsely using a “Made in France” label, which are laid out in the French consumer code (article L. 132-2) are up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €300,000, which may be increased, depending on whether there were benefits derived from the offence.

Origine France Garantie – This label is awarded by the “Pro France association” to both  food and non-food products that can prove to have had the majority of manufacturing operations (at least 50 percent of its per unit cost) carried out in France and that the parts of the product that constitute its ‘essential characteristics’ were manufactured and produced in France.

Terre textile – This label attests that at least 75 percent of the textile product’s manufacturing was carried out in the French geographical area that it references – for example the label would indicate a part of France, like Alsace, and then below it would say “Terre textile”. 

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