The French are world-famous for many things, not least of which is their cuisine, which is intrinsically tied into their culture, and is associated with richness and extravagance. While most people think of fatty foods such as butter and foie gras when they think of French food, a lot of it is actually quite healthy and varied. After all, the average French citizen wouldn’t live past the age of thirty if all they ate was goose liver and butter. The French are known for lingering on their meals, taking their time and enjoying their food. Even though the American-style supermarket is well-established in France, many still like to purchase their bread from a baker, and their meat from the local butcher.
Today, we will be discussing what French people eat. This isn’t meant to be a history lesson on French cuisine, or an extensive overview of every type of French food, but rather just a glimpse into the culinary habits of your everyday Frenchman (and woman), and we will go through what they might eat for each meal of the day. If you’re a budding Francophile, and would like to learn more about this beautiful country, this article on facts about France will introduce you to the country, and this course on Napoleon will tell you a bit about its most famous citizen.
Breakfast (Le petit déjeuner*)
Unlike here in the United States, the French prefer their breakfast to be on the lighter side, with coffee playing an especially important role in the proceedings. Some of the foods and beverages you’ll find at a typical French breakfast table include:
- Tartines, or toast with jam, is quite popular due to its simplicity, its sweetness, and how well it complements the coffee.
- Though popular throughout the world, croissants are ubiquitous in their country of origin. They are particularly popular for weekend breakfasts, and are served with butter and/or jam.
- As you can tell, pastry is a staple of the French breakfast, and other early morning flaky delights include pain au chocolat, which are chocolate-filled pastries that are particularly loved by children, and simple baguette with butter or jam.
- As a side to all of these breakfast breads, yogurt is also quite popular, as is fresh fruit.
- As far as beverages are concerned, we already know that coffee is king in the morning, but if you find yourself in France, make sure you don’t ask for a café, because you’ll get an espresso, which may be a bit much for breakfast. Instead, ask for a café au lait, which is a large coffee with a lot of milk in it. Also popular for breakfast are tea and hot chocolate.
Lunch (Le déjeuner)
While the French breakfast is pretty cut and dry, and almost always happens in the home, lunchtime is where things start to pick up. Served between 11 A.M. and one in the afternoon at restaurants, lunch can last anywhere from a quick bite on the street, to a two-hour meal in a restaurant.
Restaurant or Home Lunches eaten at restaurants and at home tend to be extravagant, and consists of several courses.
- The first course at lunch is a light appetizer, usually a salad, soup, pâté, or terrine, which is a pâté-like meatloaf served cold or at room temperature.
- Next up would be the main course, and would typically consist of a meat or fish, along with vegetables, potatoes, rice, or pasta.
- Sometimes a cheese course follows the main course, and usually spotlights locally made fare.
- Finally, a dessert tops off the meal, and may be a fruit tart, ice cream, or something else light and sweet.
- Wine may be served as the beverage here, and water, both still and bubbly, are always popular, and coffee may be served at the end.
Street Vendor For the Frenchman on the go, there are plenty of street vendors and kiosks at train stations that cater to busy commuters. Obviously, these meals are less extravagant than the ones in restaurants.
- Most meals on the go are simple and mobile, such as sandwiches. They’re usually on a baguette, and consist of just cheese, or ham and cheese. Other popular sandwiches include tuna, salami, and boiled egg.
- Many vendors also sell crepes, and a quick sweet or savory crepe may be just enough to keep people going until the end of the day.
Dinner (Le diner)
Much like lunch, the French dinner is a multi-course affair, and is relished and savored, rather than rushed through. The specifics of what is served depends on what’s in season, so a meal in Winter would be different than a Summer meal, and there is no typical French dinner.
- The apertif is the first part of dinner, and consists of a light alcoholic drink and small appetizers meant to simulate the appetite. A popular drink served at this point is champagne, and the food may be nuts, olives, crackers, etc.
- Next is the appetizer, or l’entrée, which is the official start of the meal. There’s a lot of thought and effort put into this course, and may consist of beef carpacio, Roquefort flan, French onion soup, cheese soufflé, or a terrine.
- The main course is the one most influenced by region, with some areas using more butter and cream, other, more German influenced areas starring sausage and sauerkraut. This course consists of a meat or fish (and a wine to match), with rice, salad, or pasta on the side.
- Finally is cheese and dessert. A cheese board is prepared (local cheeses, of course) alongside baguette, fruits, and nuts. A light dessert follows the cheese, and is meant to complement the meal, not stuff the eater. Popular desserts are chocolate mousse, tarts, and profiteroles.
Because the French usually don’t normally snack and graze in between meals, they’re usually quite hungry when they sit down to lunch or dinner, making it a special occasion. Eating is a ritual to the French, and is seen almost as a celebration. The French have a healthy outlook when it comes to food, and if that’s something you’d like to adopt, this course on healthy cooking will show you the fundamentals of living and cooking healthy.