Traveling For The Food of France

Disclaimer: When it comes to the food of France, French cuisine, and the country itself, I am a little biased. From the moment I started studying French in the 7th grade with Madame Gottlieb on Long Island, I fell in love with all things French. I instantly yearned to travel to France, but had to settle for a class trip to Quebec. Still, my best friend Katie and I had our fun asking every passerby “Quelle heure est-il?” (What time is it?) and cracking up when they answered.

Years later when I visited Paris for the first time with my parents, Mme. Gottlieb would have been appalled when in my excitement at dinner one evening I ordered “le beurre” (all of the butter in the world) instead of “du beurre” (some butter).

A few years later, I lived in Paris for 3 months in a tiny 6th-floor walkup studio apartment across from a boulangerie in the 6th arrondisement—it was heaven. The best part was purchasing a baguette that was too hot to carry and running up 6 flights of stairs without dropping it! 

My language skills improved, especially while drinking (wine was cheaper than water); I fell in love with the food I discovered, shopped at the neighborhood farmers’ market, and began re-creating delicious French dishes like Cassoulet, Croque Monsieur, and Moules Marinieres.

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For me, food and travel have been linked ever since. Before my last road trip through France, after mapping out a route that included the most beautiful villages of France, I spent endless hours researching everything having to do with the food of France. It was not only about finding the best restaurants; I wanted to know what I should eat where, what are the customs and traditions, what do I need to eat before leaving certain cities, what are the best local cheeses, and more! It was an incredible trip filled with amazing food experiences. My goal here is to share with you what I have learned so that if or when you travel to France, you have amazing food experiences too. And when you return, you can re-create some of your favorite dishes—but in a healthy way.

As with most trained chefs, I studied French cooking in cooking school. The most-used ingredient in French recipes is butter, and lots of it, so it’s not always the healthiest of cuisines. Don’t get me wrong, I love butter, and French butter is probably the best in the world. However, when I am at home, I try to consume less fat, and I spent 14 years at California Chef creating healthy recipes that satisfy the most discerning palates. My French recipes are inspired by the traditional flavors, but with much less fat and fewer calories. But enough about me; let’s talk about the food of France, and start with some fun French food facts!

French Baguette

French Baguette

Fun French Food Facts

  1. By law, a traditional baguette can only have three ingredients: yeast, flour, and salt, and must weigh 250 grams.

  2. Over 500,000,000 snails are consumed in France each year.

  3. The French consume more cheese per capita than any other county, about 57 pounds per person per year.

  4. The French enjoy eating horse, frog, and rabbit.

  5. A 2-hour lunch is acceptable in most parts of France, and many shops close between 12:00 and 2:00 pm to accommodate such meals.

  6. The French eat cheese for dessert. It can also be consumed any other time of day.

  7. Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, just a piece of bread and jam with coffee or hot chocolate.

  8. Supermarkets cannot throw away unsold food; it must be donated. France was the first country to institute such a law in 2016.

  9. You can order a beer in McDonald’s. (But you’re in France, so, don’t.)

  10. It is common to see unrefrigerated milk on grocery store shelves.

French Farmers’ Market

French Farmers’ Market

French Cuisine History

Modern-day chefs, cooks, and foodies owe a lot to the French. Not only because of the delicious French foods many of us salivate over, but also because the French have a rich food history, and it has impacted the world as we know it. To start, where would we be without restaurants? The French take credit for the first restaurant in the world, which opened in Paris in 1765; it served one dish—sheep feet in wine sauce. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of traditional French food in Paris, but hey, it’s a restaurant, nonetheless.

And although Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with romance, historical sites, and exquisite shops galore, the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of Paris is food! Paris currently has over 40,000 restaurants, and in addition to the best French dishes, you can find almost every kind of cuisine from around the globe!

French cooking techniques and recipes are taught around the world. In cooking school, I was taught Auguste Escoffier was the father of modern French cooking. In the late 1800’s, he didn’t invent French cooking, rather he simplified techniques and codified recipes so that they could be taught and replicated. Among those recipes are the “5 mother sauces,” which are the foundation for traditional French recipes, and are still taught to students in cooking schools today.

Some French food recipes are centuries old. Some recipes were invented for royalty, and others were created out of necessity and passed down from generation to generation. These generational recipes are considered to be traditional French peasant food, and many have evolved into fashionable dishes. There are many examples of meals that were once exclusively a poor man’s dinner that are now regional specialties sold in gourmet shops, and even listed on upscale dinner menus.

The French take food very seriously. As with the baguette, laws can even dictate how certain foods are prepared. The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) seal of certification ensures that cheese, meats, butter, wine, lentils, lavender, and other agricultural products meet specific criteria and stringent standards. AOC products must originate in geographically designated areas and must adhere to specified traditions and ingredients. Some products have more rigorous rules than others. For example, the prestigious “Poulet de Bresse,” or Bresse chicken, has strict requirements on everything from the diet of the birds to their slaughter, even the farmland to bird ratio is regulated—10 square meters of land per bird!

French Farmers’ Market

French Farmers’ Market

French Food Culture and Cuisine

France has one of the most revered cuisines in the world, and the United Nations recognizes French cuisine as a cultural heritage. According to UNESCO, French food culture is important for “bringing people together to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking” and its power to create “togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature.” In other words, in France, meals are savored, ingredients are valued, and the experience is made better by sharing. I heartily agree with this philosophy!

Most of all, mealtime is to be enjoyed. It is almost impossible to rush a French meal, especially in a restaurant. One of the great wonders of the world is why the French people are not obese. A classic French dinner menu (or lunch menu) consists of 3 or 4 courses: 1. An appetizer or starter (une entrée) like a soup, salad, or pâté. 2. A main course (le plat principal), typically a meat, a starch (rice, pasta, potato), and/or vegetables. 3. A cheese course, and/or 4. Dessert. The answer to the question “What is the typical dish for each of the courses?” is “It depends.”

French cuisine changes with the seasons, and the food of France varies widely by region, with each touting local specialties. Discovering a local cheese, honey, or regional delicacy at the local farmers’ market can be the highlight of a trip for me. I love strolling through the outdoor markets—some dating back to the 14th century—searching for new ingredients and gawking at the beautiful displays of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and cheeses (especially the cheeses!). Most big cities in France have at least two market days per week, and even the small towns often have one a week. Residents shop the farmers’ markets and can find everything they need to prepare each of their meals. Restaurateurs purchase seasonal, local ingredients and highlight them in the menus they offer. For example, if you take a trip to Paris in late April or May, be prepared for lots of white asparagus and rhubarb on the menu. Using local, seasonal ingredients is not a fad, or a new way of life, it’s called cuisine du terroir. It’s how it’s always been; it’s the essence of French food culture and French cuisine.

Food of France by Region

The staple food of France is the baguette, which is reportedly eaten by 95% of the population, and as stated in Fun Food Fact #1, there is not a lot of room for variation. Not counting the baguette, French food and drink varies widely by region. The diversified landscape and geography of the 16 different regions affects the agricultural crops that farmers cultivate, the animals they raise, and the cheeses and wines that are produced. France borders 6 other countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Spain, and Switzerland), and the gastronomy of the regions that border these countries is often influenced by these neighbors. For example, Italy’s Chicken Francese inspired France’s Chicken Francaise, and the Swiss Chicken Cordon Bleu has been basically adopted by France. With so many variables contributing to the cuisine of each region, I think the regions need to be discussed individually.

French Fondue

French Fondue

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: Famous for the best skiing areas in France and its unique wine varietals, this area also offers numerous culinary specialties.

One of the Alp’s best-loved dishes is one of France’s most well-known—Fondue Savoyarde, made with a combination of Comté, Beaufort, Gruyére, and Emmental cheeses. But beware, in Savoie, if your piece of bread gets lost in the fondue pot, you may be buying the next round of drinks!

If you prefer potatoes with your cheese, you’ll love Tartiflette, a decadent potato gratin, and Truffade, a thick pancake commonly found as a side dish to steak. Visit Clermont-Ferrand to try these traditional Auvergne dishes.

If you are determined to try one of the most quintessential French dishes, Cuisses de Grenouilles (frog legs), head to the area known as the Dombes, where you will find them fried in butter, garlic, and parsley. Regional sweets include chocolate truffles and marron glacé, candied chestnuts whose origins date back to 16th-century Lyon.

Many consider Lyon the gastronomic capital of France, and I think it may well be the capital of French culinary decadence. Known for rich, heavy meals, even the Lyonnaise Salad will have you tipping the scale—but it’s worth it!

I highly recommend eating at a traditional bouchon, a tavern-style restaurant, and visiting Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse food hall. Les Halles offers delectable assortments of local specialties of quenelle, cheese, pastries, chocolates, charcuterie, and basically anything that you can eat. Lyon’s Quenelle de Brochet, the biggest fish dumpling ever, may not sound so appetizing, but is one of my personal favorites when served with Sauce Nantua (crayfish sauce).

Plateau de Fruits de Mer

Plateau de Fruits de Mer

Bretagne (Brittany): With more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline, it is no surprise that Brittany’s specialties include an array of seafood.

Moules Marinieres, translated as Mussels Sailor-Style, are marinated in white wine and onions. Cotriade, a fish stew with potatoes, leeks, onions, and garlic can be made with any or all of the following fish: red mullet, mackerel, sprat, herring, and hake.

Enjoying the scenery of the ocean at a seaside terrace eating a fresh seafood platter is one of the greatest pleasures Brittany has to offer. The Plateau de Fruits de Mer may consist of a raw and cooked combination of freshly caught shellfish and mollusks such as oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, winkles, crab, and prawns.

However, the region is even more famous for its traditional Breton pancakes, known worldwide as crepes. In fact, in Bretagne, creperies outnumber cafés. The Breton Galette, a savory buckwheat pancake, can be stuffed with ham, bacon, eggs, and mushrooms, and makes it perfectly acceptable to eat pancakes all day long. You will even see these galettes wrapped around sausages and sold from food trucks. Legend has it that these pancakes were invented by a farmer who spilled some buckwheat porridge onto his griddle, and the whole region seems to have learned from his mistake!

The specialty cake of the region is, hands down, Far Breton. What originated as a savory side dish has evolved into a sweet custard cake with prunes and raisins, and has become one of France’s most beloved desserts.

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Bourgogne-Franche-Comté: This region produces some of the best wines and cheeses in the world, and that alone is enough for me to consider it paradise.

It is the birthplace of some of France’s most celebrated recipes, many of them incorporating the notable wines of the region.

One of the oldest recipes, Coq au Vin, translated as rooster in wine, traces back to ancient Gaul. Modern renditions use chicken and braise it in red wine, lardons, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and garlic.  

Similarly, the other dish synonymous with the region, Beef Bourgogne, is a hearty stew of fall-apart-tender beef that is slowly cooked in red wine with carrots, celery, onions, and lardons, and served with noodles or potatoes.

The Bourguignons even poach eggs in red wine to make Oeufs en Meurette.

Is everything cooked in red wine? No, some dishes use white wine, like Jambon á la Chablisienne, which is ham in a Chablis sauce. And, yes, some specialties do not have wine at all, like Escargot á la Bourgogne (snails in butter, garlic, and parsley), and one of my favorites, Gorgères (fluffy, savory cheese puffs). Admittedly, I am partial to anything with cheese.

Since the dinners can be rich in this region, many prefer ending a meal with a light Cassis Sorbet made from the blackcurrant liquor Crème de Cassis from Dijon, rather than a baked dessert. Of course, you can find a red wine-based dessert, Poire au Vin, pears poached in Beaujolais. The two most popular alcohol-free desserts are the jam-filled gingerbreads, Nonettes, and the simple yellow cake, Gâteau de Ménange.

The region is also renown for honey, Bresse poultry, Dijon mustard, and numerous cheeses (Morbier, Bresse Bleu, Comté, Epoisses, Soumaintrain, Abbaye de Citeaux, Mont d’Or, Cancoillotte, Delice de Bourgogne, and Ami du Chambertin, to name more than a few). Need help deciding? Cheese lovers most certainly should try the Epoisses and Delice de Bourgogne of Burgundy, and the Comté of Franche-Comté.  Want some wine to drink with your cheese? Visit Le Marché aux Vins in Beaune where you can taste and learn about the local wines of the region in their cellar that houses 22,000 bottles.

Food of France: Corsican Charcuterie

Food of France: Corsican Charcuterie

Corse (Corsica): The cuisine on this island nestled between France and Italy is a blend of the 2 countries. And, don’t be fooled, although Corsica is surrounded by water, its residents seem to eat as much meat as seafood.

If you have the opportunity to order Civet de Sanglier, a hearty wild boar casserole, the signature dish of Corse, do it!  If you are not a fan of boar, try the veal with olives, Veau aux Olives, a flavorful stew with olives, onions, tomatoes, and tender veal imbued with the unique flavors of local herbs and wine.

Try a platter of Corsican-made charcuterie that includes cured meat made from the native black pig, Porc Nustrale.  I recommend Jambon sec de Corse (from the leg), Coppa de Corse (from the chine, or back), and Lonzo de Corse (from the loin). The Nustrale feed on the plentiful chestnuts found in groves in the mountains.

You will find Corsicans eating the chestnut as well, mostly in desserts such as Gateau aux Châtaignes. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try the Corsican cheesecake, Fiadone, made with the island’s Brocciu cheese. The name alone is reason to sample another Corsican specialty cheese, Brin d’Amour, which translates to “breath of love,” referring to the cheese’s coating of aromatic herbs.

Food of France: Tarte Tatin

Food of France: Tarte Tatin

Centre-Val de Loire: In the heart of France, the beautiful chateaux de la Loire grace the historic villages along the Loire river. It is obvious the area was greatly influenced by kings, yet much of its cuisine has humble peasant origins.

The most famous of these dishes is Rilletes de Porc, the incredible spreadable pork product from Tours, also affectionately called “pig jam.” Other country foods include Truffiat, a puff pastry filled with potatoes and cheese, and Andouillette Sausage in Vouvray wine.

Some of France’s best goat cheese comes from this region. These include Crottin de Chavignol, Sel-Sur-Cher, Sainte Maure de Touraine, Bȗcheron, and Valençay. 

Do not miss France’s best known apple dessert, Tarte Tatin, invented by the Tatin sisters of Orléans. It is most often served warm and best accompanied by vanilla ice cream. In fact, I’d suggest trying it in more than one establishment!

Food of France: Choucroute Garnie

Food of France: Choucroute Garnie

Grand Est (AlsaceChampagneLorraine): This region shares its biggest border with Germany, and this proximity is exhibited in some of the regional specialties, like Choucroute Garnie, sauerkraut with juniper berries, caraway, potatoes, and three kinds of sausages: Frankfurter, Strasbourg, and Montbéliard.

It is believed that the word “quiche” is derived from the German word for kitchen, kuchen, but the- Germans get no credit for the dish itself. Undoubtedly the most famous quiche is also the most famous dish of the Grand Est, Quiche Lorraine, which is named after the former region of Lorraine. Quiches are basically savory tarts, but the Tarte Flambée of this region is more like a thin crust pizza topped with cream, onions, and lardons.

The less confusing Baeckeoffe combines slow-cooked pork, lamb, beef, vegetables, and potatoes in a white wine sauce. Another stew-like dish, Potée Champenoise, traditionally prepared for pickers on grape-harvest day, now appears on menus year-round in Champagne. Driving through Champagne is a feast for the senses, and you’ll never wonder “What should I have to drink?”

Champagne is an obvious must-drink beverage when visiting this region. One of the area’s extraordinary cheeses, like Munster, Langres, or Cendre de Champagne, complement a glass of bubbly quite nicely. And remember, bubbly cannot be called Champagne unless it comes from Champagne!

On the sweeter side, one can enjoy Madeleine cookies from Commercy, Macarons (especially in Nancy), Pain d’Epices (a sort of spice cake with honey), Kouglof (a brioche with raisins), Bergamot candies, and a myriad of tarts and jams made with small yellow Mirabelle plums.

Food of France: Pâté de Canard

Food of France: Pâté de Canard

Hauts de France (Nord Pas-de-Calais-Picardie): Many specialties of this region have Belgian roots, such as the creamy fish stew, Waterzooi, and the national dish of Belgium, Moules Frites, aka mussels and fries.

The battle still continues over who invented the French fry part of that dish, France or Belgium. However, the region also has many of its indisputable own creations like Ficille Picardes, a ham and mushroom crêpe baked in a rich cream sauce that originated in Amiens. Amiens, best known by the masses for its magnificent Gothic cathedral, is best known by foodies for its tasty Pâté de Canard (duck pâté en croute).

From Picardy, try the Flamiche Aux Poireaux, a creamy leek pie whose origin dates at least as far back as its mention in a French soldier’s notebook in the 18th century.

Cheese enthusiasts should enjoy a Maroilles Tarte made from the washed rind of the cheese of the same name. Made in the area since the 10th century, Maroilles has a nutty mushroom flavor, and is also an extremely popular cheese on its own. If it is cheese you are after, the bright orange Mimolette with the cratered rind reigns king here.

When searching for a sweet treat, you can enjoy a slice of Gâteau Battu at the end of your meal, and the buttery Palets de Dames (translated as ladies’ pucks) at teatime. It can be difficult to tell by looking at the iced puck, but the Palets de Dames sold in the pâtisseries typically have a layer of apricot jam under the lemon icing.

Pâtisserie window

Pâtisserie window

Ile de France (Paris):  Known historically as the playground of kings, culinary indulgences abound in Paris. Pâtisseries with picture perfect Tartes au Citron, Tartes aux Fraises, éclairs, macarons, and hundreds of other French delicacies line the streets.

One of the most famous desserts is Baba au Rhum, a rum cake with a whole in the center that is filled with fruit or pastry cream. The first Baba was cooked sans rum by France’s oldest patisserie, Stoher, when Nicholas Stoher invented it for the exiled Polish King Stanislas in 1730.  Like I said, a playground for kings.

Today, anyone can obtain the best France has to offer in Paris shops. Of course, that goes for French cheeses as well. Brie de Meaux is undoubtably Ile de France’s most famous cheese. If you want something a little more adventurous, ask the cheese monger what is in season.

Walking the streets of Paris, you can tell that the heart and soul of Parisienne food is found in the family-owned bistros and brasseries. Known for comfort foods like Steak Frites, Croque Monsieur, Soupe á L’Onion, and Pot au Feu, these neighborhood hangouts are the perfect place to get an authentic meal. The Michelin guide can give you good insights on other eateries, from the starred upscale gourmet restaurants to the famous guide’s Bib Gourmands picks, which highlight restaurants offering the best values.

And if you have the funds, 4 of the 2019 50 Best Restaurants in the World are in Paris. If indulgence is what you’re after, as a special treat, head to Pierre Hermé, Jacques Genin, or Laudrée for some of the world’s best chocolates, caramels, and confections.

However, the best experiences don’t have to be the most expensive. I encourage you to find the hidden gems of Paris that will make the city special to you. This can be anything from a neighborhood haunt to making a picnic and eating it in one of Paris’s beautiful parks.

Food of France: Mouclade

Food of France: Mouclade

Nouvelle Aquitaine (AquitainePoitou-CharentesLimousin): The southwest corner of France has a rich history of gastronomy, agriculture, and wine making.

The area surrounding Bordeaux is one of the best wine regions in the world, and as in Bourgogne, we see wine used in regional dishes.

Bordelaise Sauce, a red wine sauce traditionally made with demi-glace and shallots, is very versatile and is used to flavor lamb, steak, pork, veal, and even mashed potatoes.

White wine is used for Poulet Basquaise, chicken stew with tomatoes and peppers, and for traditional Mouclade, mussels in a curry cream sauce. Be sure to soak up the Mouclade sauce with some crusty bread! For seafood, like Marennes-Oléron oysters, head to the coastal towns.

Elsewhere, you will find an abundance of local duck on menus, especially Duck Confit—a wise person would not leave the region without having it at least once. And, speaking of duck . . . I hate that I love foie gras, but I do, and this is the place to eat it. Translated as “fat liver,” it certainly doesn’t sound appetizing. In the US, it’s pretty easy to stay away from because if you ever do see it on the menu, it costs a small fortune. However, here, it is not only abundant, it is affordable—and it is delicious!

Some of the best cheeses of the region are Chabichou du Poitou, Chaumes, and Ossau-Iraty. The Ossau-Iraty from Fromagerie Agour won the Best Cheese in the World title in both 2011 and 2016.

Do not skip dessert! Enjoy Clafoutis (black cherry flan), Canelé de Bordeaux (caramel crust rum cake), Gateaux Basque (shortbread pastry layered with vanilla or cherry), or Dacquoise (alternating layers of crispy nut meringue sponge cake and buttercream). If you can only have one, Dacquoise has my vote!

Assortment of French Cheeses

Assortment of French Cheeses

Normandie:  In addition to being the site of the historic WWII D-Day landing, today’s Normadie houses the iconic Mont Saint-Michelle, produces the largest quantity of cheese in France, and grows over 800 varieties of apples.

Apples have grown here since the 8th century, with a large majority used to make beverages such as cider and Calvados. Calvados, an apple brandy that can only be made in Normandie, is served after a meal as a digestif, or between courses to make room for the next one by creating the trou normande, literally the “Normandie hole.”

You will also see apples used in cooking chicken or duck au cidre, and in countless desserts.

In addition to being a major apple producer, Normandie’s extensive coastline makes it the chief oyster-cultivating, scallop-exporting, and mussel-raising region in France. And you’ll see all of these mollusks represented in the regional seafood dishes, and maybe even all at once.  

Marmite Dieppoise is kind of a kitchen-sink fish stew from Dieppe combining all the best of Normandie into one pot: fish, mollusks, crustaceans, butter, crème fraîche, and cider.

Also from Dieppe, Hareng Saur (smoked herring) harkens back to the Middle Ages as a food that could be stored for long periods of time; today it is considered restaurant fare. 

If you need a break from seafood, try the classic melt-in-your-mouth Joue de Boeuf, beef cheek braised (for up to 2 days) with apples, cider, carrots, and onions.

And, if you need a break from apples, try the rice pudding meets crème Brȗlée dessert, Teurgoule.

If you’re like me, and come for the cheese, some of the regional standouts are Camembert (the most famous, of course), Pont l’Evêque, Livarot, Neufchâtel, and my favorite, Brillat-Savarin— a luscious triple cream offering with nutty hints of salt and butter. Come for the cheese, but stay for the salted butter caramels, one of my other beloved weaknesses!

Food of France: Cassoulet

Food of France: Cassoulet

Occitanie (Midi-PyrénéesLanguedoc): The signature dish of Occitanie is undisputedly Cassoulet, a hearty white bean stew with duck confit and sausage.  

What is in dispute is where this peasant dish originates: Carcassone, Castelnaudry, or Toulouse. I suggest trying it wherever you can, as well as its key component, duck confit, (Confit de Canard), which is a popular dish in its own right. Another Cassoulet component, sausages, or more precisely, Saucisse de Toulouse, are also often served as a French dinner entrée.

You may see them with the Averon specialty, Aligot, a cheesy, creamy, gooey mashed potato with garlic—need I say more? As might be expected, along the southeastern coast of this region, seafood is popular.

Sample the less expensive yet tasty cousin to Bouillabaisse, Bourride, a specialty of Sète. Traditionally made with monkfish and seasoned with aioli (garlic mayo), legend has it that the Greek gods would come to feast on Bourride when they got bored with Olympus.

Aioli is popular in this region, and can be used in Brandade de Morue, the salt cod spread from Nîmes. Grab some Brandade de Morue, a crusty baguette, and some cheese and have a picnic.

If you like blue cheese, you may already know that the king of all blue cheeses, Roquefort, comes from this region. And if blue cheese is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with Cathare, Cabécou, Tomme des Pyrénées, Bethmale, or Briquette de Brebis.

Sip a little Armagnac or Floc de Gascogne with desserts like Crème Catalane (similar to crème brulé), Croustade aux Pommes (apple-filled puff pastry), or some violet-flavored confections from Toulouse.

Beurre Blanc Sauce

Beurre Blanc Sauce

Pays de la Loire: The traditional French sauce Beurre Blanc (literally, white butter sauce) is this western region’s culinary claim to fame. The story is that a chef outside of Nantes invented the sauce when she forgot to put eggs into her Béarnaise sauce, and her customers loved it. In the coastal areas, the rich sauce is often served with fresh fish, or mussels from Baie de l’Aigullon.

The Pays de la Loire’s coast is short, but the salt marches of Guerande are plentiful, and salt flowers, or Fleurs de Sel, have been harvested there since the 3rd century.

In the seafood arena, Vendée offers delicious Atlantic oysters, but is better known for Jambon de Vendée (prosciutto’s French cousin), and a number of baked good specialties such as the beautifully braided Brioche Vendéenne, the golden oval Gâche vendéenne, and the local version of garlic bread, Préfou. Préfou can be served as an appetizer or as a side dish.

If you have any left over, it’ll serve as the perfect bread on which you can spread the delicious local pâté known as Rillettes de Le Mans, which should not be missed.  Not to be confused with rillets, rillauds is another pork belly dish beloved in the region (especially in Anjou). Rillets is usually served in a terrine to spread on bread, whereas rillauds is cubed and can be served hot or cold.

As with every French region, there are many outstanding cheeses to satisfy my decadent vice, among them Saint Paulin, Port Salut, and Curé Nantais. Maybe even more decadent than a plate of creamy cheese is a plate of Sablé.

The ridiculously buttery Sablé shortbread cookies have been a favorite with coffee or tea in Sablé-sur-Sarthe since 1670. Or if you prefer something to take with you, the sugar-iced rum cake, Gâteau Nantais, also known as “Traveler’s Cake” because of its long shelf life, will fit the bill.

Food of France: Salade Nicoise

Food of France: Salade Nicoise

Provence-Cote d'Azur (PACA): Known worldwide for the purple rows of lavender in Provence, and the crystal blue beaches of the French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur, this region plays host to travelers from around the globe who come to enjoy their dream vacations.

Here, the Mediterranean Sea is the inspiration for the world-renowned fish stew from Marseille, Bouillabaisse, and also for Salade Nicoise. Nice is also the birthplace of Ratatouille, the zucchini and eggplant dish, not the rat movie.

A little more inland, look for the Provençal lamb (or beef) stew, Daube, that is made in an earthenware daubiére. Daube has hints of cinnamon and cloves, and simmers for hours until the meat falls apart.

Traveling through Provence, you’ll find the abundance of olives transformed into olive oil and tapenade sauces, and the lavender into Herbes de Provence (as well as wonderfully fragrant soaps).

Many sauces that you find in the south of France utilize garlic as a key ingredient. These include Pistou (basil, olive oil, and garlic, similar to pesto), Rouille (saffron, peppers, and olive oil used with fish stews), and Aioli (egg yolks, garlic, and olive oil). There is also a cake made with olive oil, Pompe à l’Huile, that is flavored with orange and lemon and decorated with cutout leaves or stars.

The diamond shaped iced sweet, Calisson, is a favorite from Aix-en-Provence. The town’s tale is that in 1454, King René’s chef combined almonds and candied melons to create the Calisson in order to cheer up the king’s bride to be, and it did the trick!

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Visiting France for Food

France remains one of my favorite countries to visit, and in fact, if it weren’t for COVID19, I’d be there right now. Unfortunately, most tourist don’t get to visit every region of France, especially in one trip.

With so much good food, how do you pick? I’d rather take my time and thoroughly enjoy and explore a region or a city than to zip through multiple stops across the whole country. There are a lot of things to take into consideration in addition to the food when deciding on a place to visit, and those things can vary widely from person to person.

However, since Paris is my favorite city in the world, it would be my place of choice in France if I could only pick, or recommend, one. It is also a great place to start or end a trip. You can do a good job in a week. You’ll need four days minimum to have a proper gourmand getaway. Eat at a neighborhood bistro, sip at an outdoor café, snack at a pâtisserie, buy a warm baguette, stroll a farmers’ market, picnic in the Bois de Boulogne, and don’t miss the cheese shops! Whether you’re cooking French meals at home, or eating them in France, I wish you bon appétit!

My Healthy Versions of French Recipes

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