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Food and Drink For Members

The one food you need to try from every part of France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
The one food you need to try from every part of France
A woman writes on the menu board in a restaurant in Paris in 2013 (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON / AFP)

From crêpes to aligot and ratatouille, French gastronomy has a huge range - here are our suggestions for food (and a few drinks) to try when travelling in France.

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Brittany: Crêpes

If you are visiting Brittany - the region furthest to the west in France, known for its rugged coastline - then you can count on fresh seafood being in good supply.

But the Bretons are especially known for their crêpes or galettes - delicious thin buckwheat pancakes served with a variety of savoury or sweet toppings (and yes, it’s absolutely OK to have savoury galettes 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. 

If you want a sweet option, go for caramel au beurre salé, another speciality of the region. While eating your crêpe, be sure to order an authentic cider, often served in a small bowl. 

Normandy: Scallops

The Normans have a bit of a rivalry with their fellow cider-producers in Brittany.

While in Normandy, you might be tempted to eat oysters (the region is one of France's top oyster producers), traditional raw-milk camembert cheese or even tripes (tripe or cow's stomach. It's nicer than it sounds).  

However, we will recommend getting coquilles saint jacques (scallops). You ought to be able to get them fresh at just about any Norman market, or you can order them at a seaside restaurant. They can be eaten plain, mixed in with other seafood, or accompanied by a delicious garlic butter. Pair with a glass of chilled white wine, or follow it up with a shot of Calvados - the delicious apple brandy of the region. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: France's unique regional identities and the languages that shape them

Hauts-de-France (Northern France): Moules Frites

This French region is found along the border with Belgium, and much of its cuisine is inspired by France's northern neighbours. 

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It's famous for the savoury tart 'flamiche', which records show being served in medieval times and is usually made with leeks and cream.

While this would be a great option, if you find yourself in Lille you should try to order Moules Frites (mussels and french fries) at least once.

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 sauce 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.

Alsace: Baeckeoffe

The historic region of Alsace swapped back and forth between France and Germany for centuries and has a lot of unique gastronomy to explore. 

The classic dish is the sausage-and-cabbage choucroute garnie. It is very tasty and worth trying, but we are going to recommend Baeckeoffe (it's pronounced back-off-er because of the area's historic German links) which is a traditional casserole dish (potée) that simmers all day long. It usually mixes meat (often beef, lamb, and/or pork) with vegetables (typically carrots, potatoes and cabbage). 

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You would pair it with a glass of Alsatian white wine. 

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

Paris: Croque-monsieur

There are several guides and books recommending the best restaurants worth trying out in Paris, so we won’t try and replicate that here.

Instead we're going to take a break from the rich meals and suggest trying France's world-famous fast-food - invented in Paris in the 1900s - the croque-monsieur

You could say the sandwich is a fancier (and tastier) version of grilled cheese/ham and cheese toastie with cooked ham and béchamel sauce between two slices of bread covered in a layer of cheese au gratin. Alternatively, you can go for a croque-madame, which is the same but has a fried egg on top.

You can find this classic dish in just about any Parisian bistro or brasserie.

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Burgundy: Boeuf Bourguignon

The historical eastern-central region in France is renowned for its cuisine, though most famous for the beloved boeuf bourguignon - a slow-cooked stew made of beef, vegetables, and braised in red wine (usually from the region). 

It would be tempting to recommend coq-au-vin - chicken braised with wine, lardons, and mushrooms - but boeuf bourguignon has earned its place as the iconic dish of the region (it's name literally means 'Burgundy beef'). 

Escargots (snails) are another speciality from Burgundy, and if you feel a bit squeamish, just remember that they are usually drenched in a mouth-watering garlic-butter.

We've heard that wine-makers in Burgundy make the odd decent bottle too . . .

Auvergne: Aligot

The historical region in central France, which is now part of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, is known for being rural and mountainous, home to a chain of dormant volcanoes, including the Puy de Dôme.

Auvergnat cuisine is quite meat-based, although the region is also known for good cheeses. To combine the two into one meal, we highly recommend aligot - a type of silky, creamy mashed potato with lots of stringy cheese stirred in - topped with a sausage.

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Have this at a restaurant with a glass or good wine or buy it from a street stall and go watch the town’s famous rugby team. Either way, the experience will be sublime.

READ MORE: Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

Périgord: Salade périgourdine

The historic central France region home to Dordogne is known for all things duck-related, especially foie gras, and truffles. 

We are going to recommend the salade périgourdine as a way to sample some of the region's best local produce. It is typically made with foie gras and slices of duck breast, sometimes also duck gizzards, as well as croutons, walnut oil, raspberry vinegar and batavia lettuce. Beware - this is not a light snack.

Lyon: Quenelle

The eastern French city of Lyon, referred to as France's gastronomic capital, deserves its own shout-out on this list. 

Lyon is a foodie's dream. Be sure to check out the ‘bouchon’ restaurants which specialise in the best in local cuisine. The eastern French city is where blanquette de veau was invented - a veal stew with creamy sauce. 

We are going to recommend ordering la quenelle - a sausage-shaped creamed fish (pike) or sausage. It sort of resembles a dumpling. 

For a sweet treat, consider ordering the brioche de pralines rosé. Pink pralines (nuts in a sugar coating) are the city’s signature sweet and while they’re great on their own, for an extra indulgent treat you can get brioche (sweet bread) studded with pink pralines. A slice (or two) with a pot of coffee is quite possibly the world’s best breakfast.

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The Alps: Fondue

There are too many hearty, warm, cheese-filled dishes to choose from in the Savoie/ Haut-Savoie area. 

Tartiflette is a favourite, but we will recommend fondue, especially if you are there during the winter. The basics of a fondue are always the same - a big pot of melted cheese and some bread to dip in - but there are many varieties based on cheese type. We prefer a mixed-cheese option to get the full flavour spectrum such as the Fondue Savoyard.

Opt for a local vin jaune for the perfect partner.  

Provence: Ratatouille

South-eastern France is known for its beautiful scenery, with rolling vineyards, olive groves, pine forests and lavender fields. Thanks to plenty of sunshine, vegetables grow big and full of flavour, making them perfect for ratatouille.

Take a break from some of the other meat-heavy traditional French cuisine and enjoy the delicious mixture of eggplant (aubergine), onion, garlic and tomato. 

If the weather is hot, don't be afraid to sip on a chilled glass of rosé wine. Provence is the heartland of rosé production and has hundreds of beautiful wines, from sweet to crisp and dry with everything in between.

The Riviera: Salade Niçoise

There are several dishes along the Mediterranean worth trying. Marseille is famous for bouillabaisse - a soup made of a thick, creamy broth with white-fleshed Mediterranean fish, shellfish and vegetables. 

We are going to recommend something a bit lighter - the Salade Niçoise, the world's best-known salad (Caesar, you say? Never heard of him). That being said, people cannot seem to agree on the ingredients - even tuna, often thought of as an integral part of the salad, is actually not as common in Nice as anchovies.

It's a divisive subject among chefs and Nice locals - one former mayor of Nice even wrote a book about it - but most people seem to agree that tomatoes, cucumbers and spring onions are included, along with hard-boiled eggs and black olives and some form of fish - either anchovies or tuna.

READ MORE: Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in southern France

Bordeaux: Confit de canard

A popular destination for wine-lovers, Bordeaux has plenty to offer. The UNESCO-listed city has at least 60 appellations and 7,000 winemakers, according to its tourism site.

The city is also not too far from the beach - if you take a day-trip to Arcachon be sure to order some oysters from one of the local "cabanes tchanquées".

The Bordeaux area is also known for confit de canard (duck confit), a dish which involves the duck roasting it in its own fat at a very low temperature for several hours, before being crisped up in the frying pan. Usually, it is served with green beans and potatoes (also fried in duck fat), and it's often a speciality during end-of-year celebrations. 

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For a local drink try Lillet - it's most commonly served in summer as a spritz with sparkling wine, lots of ice and a slice of cucumber but you can also drink it with tonic. It's the favourite drink of fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter, who certainly knows his gastronomy. 

Basque Country: Axoa de veau au piment d’Espelette

France's Basque Country might be smaller than its Spanish counterpart, but the region does have a distinct personality when compared with the rest of France.

From beautiful beaches to charming towns, you are sure to eat well. One meal you cannot miss is the veal axoa [pronounced ah-show-ah] au piment d'Espelette. It even comes in the colours of the Basque country: green, red and white.

The veal stew combines local red peppers and sweet green peppers with onions, and it is usually served with potatoes. 

Languedoc: Cassoulet

Another historic region, this covers a lot of south-west France, taking in part of modern Occitanie. The name comes from langue d'oc and it has own language - Occitan - which is very different to modern French. Food-wise this is truly the land of hearty, rustic cuisine paysanne. There's still a lot of duck around and also try out the exceptionally meaty Toulouse sausage. 

But there is one dish that sticks out: cassoulet, though traditionally this is only served in the winter. 

You'll still find plenty of tourist spots that sell it in the summer, but it's better in winter. A heavy stew bursting with flavour featuring white beans and sausage and meat - either duck, goose or pork depending on where you are. Like all the best regional dishes, there is fierce rivalry over who invented this dish and the 'correct' recipe.

Corsica: Grilled octopus salad (La salade de poulpe)

Known for charcuterie (especially 'prisuttu') and fresh seafood, you'll notice a strong Italian influence on the cuisine in the Mediterranean island.

Pasta goes alongside many Corsican plates, and the island has many of its own versions of Italian dishes with special cooking methods, sauces and cheeses, like brocciu which goes inside ravioli and cannelloni, or wild boar to go with lasagna. Expect plenty of tomatoes and olive oil.

As for a speciality dish, you cannot go wrong with a grilled octopus salad, which is prepared with a garlic and lemon vinaigrette. 

Did we miss your favourite dish? Share your recommendations for regional specialities in the comments section below

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