I will start with wine because it is the most important part of any French meal. In France there are various varieties of red, white, and rosé wines. According to a few French people I have talked to, rosé is not a “real” wine. It is made by reusing the grapes that had already been used for making other wines. Therefore there are many who say not to drink it! The next important thing to know is that France is famous for a wine called Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a red wine that is produced every year and drunk without any aging. My “host dad” does not allow this wine in his house because he says it is terrible quality and it is for tourists. He said that France exports millions of dollars worth of it, but here, it is not well liked. Red and white wines come in various varieties from Bordeaux to Champagne. Some are aged (normally red wines) and some are drunk at a young age. There are many different wines that are unique to regions in France and some are produced differently than others. These are the wines that you really want to try. I highly recommend red wine from Bordeaux and white wine from Bourgogne (Burgundy). In Bordeaux the best chateaus that produce wine were given a title in the mid 1800’s which distinguishes them from others. These wines named “Grand Crus” of Bordeaux tell you that a wine is made very well and will usually be a higher quality bottle than other wines from Bordeaux. Although many people believe that certain wines are drunk with certain food, that rule is not always followed in France, many say enjoy a wine that you like with food that you like. Rules were meant to be broken!
After my short introduction to wines, it is time to dive into the food of France. Although French food is very good, some regions have better cuisine than others. Regions by the water are known for their seafood, regions in the northeast for heavy dishes with lots of meat, and other regions are known for various delicacies. I will guide you through a traditional French meal in Paris (from my experience with my host family).
The meal starts with an entrée. However, an entrée in France is an appetizer, not a main dish. French appetizers vary, but normally they involve pate, vegetables, or meats. With my family I have had pate of duck, pate of goose and various other pates; normally one eats this with a fresh baguette and pickles. Also, we often eat dried meats similar to our hard salami our bologna with bread and pickles or olives. One of my favorite entrees was an uncooked filet of salmon that was cut into small pieces and eaten with what I call French wasabi (a mixture of Dijon mustard, soy sauce, Tabasco, and freshly squeezed lemon juice). Finally a very traditional entrée is radishes Parisian style which means that one takes a whole raw radish and puts a little butter on it, then dips it in salt and eats it. They are delicious. Another common French entrée is quiche, which comes from the northeastern region (Lorraine). Quiches can be just egg and cheese or they can contain a mixture of meats, cheeses, and vegetables.
Sometimes an entrée can be a soup or salad, but in a normal French meal, those are in a separate course following the entrée. Soups and salads are not much different than in the U.S., but the salads are always really fresh because people do not normally buy in mass quantity in France, so they buy fresh vegetables from markets the day that they eat them.
The next course is the main course. This varies a lot depending on the region. In Paris, with my family, the main course is normally a really fresh meat or chicken dish served with rice, vegetables, and/or noodles. Some of my favorites that I have eaten with my family are: steak tartar, steak au poivre (steak with pepper), chicken with mushroom sauce, tomatoes or peppers stuffed with a mixture of meat and spices, lamb, and a few other chicken dishes. Steak tartar is amazing when done correctly. With my family it is a high quality piece of beef that they request their butcher to grind into ground beef. They said never to do it with meat that is already ground. The meat is served on a plate raw with an egg yolk on top. You then mix the meat and the egg with homemade mayonnaise, mustard, onions, salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce. It is delicious like that! It may sound gross to some people, but it is one of the best things I have eaten on this continent! Anytime we eat beef, it is always served with homemade mayonnaise which I will provide the recipe for later.* My family told me if there is one thing I learn in France, it is of utmost importance to learn how to make mayonnaise. One afternoon they showed me how and that is the recipe that I have provided for you. I normally do not prefer mayonnaise over mustard, or to mix mayonnaise with high quality food like filet, but this recipe is very good. Mayonnaise in France is different than in the U.S., and is used differently here, but the best stuff is made at home, because the bottled stuff is not even close to being as good. It is a great combination of flavors. Chicken with mushrooms or mushroom sauce is a great dish. Sometimes the chicken is cooked with chopped mushrooms and spices on it and other times, the sauce is cooked separately and then added at the table.
The next part of the meal depends on the family, sometimes it can be a soup or salad after the main course, but, if not, this is the cheese course. Cheeses in France are hands down the best in the world. What we eat in the U.S. even if it is French, like Brie, do not compare. All of the USDA regulations cause American cheese to be completely different (these regulations can affect some wines also). My favorite cheese of France comes from the North and is only made during the winter and early spring. It is called Vacherin or Mont d’Or (I believe Mont d’Or is the most famous producer of the cheese). It is an extremely soft cheese that is normally served with a spoon because it is so rich it is almost a liquid. Other good cheeses include: Blue Cheese, Brie, Reblochon, Camembert, Chevre (goat cheese), and many others. When I eat chevre with my family, we mash it up with a fork and mix in olive oil and pepper. It is delicious that way. In France the best cheese always comes from a cheese shop and the attendants can always guide you to choose. I tried Muenster one time, and French Muenster is much different than in the U.S. It was the strongest cheese I have ever eaten, and it was good, but a lot to handle. A normal cheese course consists of 3-5 types of cheeses and it always accompanied by fresh baguette.
As the meal begins to wind down it is time for dessert. Desserts in France are traditionally a fruit tart or pie, ice cream with a fruit sauce, sorbets, and some other cakes. The French do not eat much chocolate for dessert - it is reserved for breakfast and with coffee. My family typically has ice cream with a raspberry sauce, and sometimes a tart or a type of cobbler.
The meal always finishes with a coffee. With my family it is usually a really strong coffee like an espresso or a cappuccino. The coffee in France is delicious and I actually drink it here (I never drank coffee before coming here). The coffee course is usually accompanied by a dark chocolate. My favorite chocolate here is called Cote d’Or and it is a Belgian chocolate that is amazing.
That is a run down of the important things I have learned in France. The meal I explained can be lunch or dinner. Don’t forget: if you make a trip here, eat pastry from the bakeries, because that is one of France’s signature foods and the éclairs here are the best I have ever eaten.
*Mayo de Marotte:
2 Egg yolks
Freshly ground pepper
Mustard (Dijon or strong/spicy)
Half a lemon
Sunflower Oil or Vegetable Oil
Put egg yolks, salt, pepper, and mustard in a bowl and beat on medium using a mixer. As you beat the ingredients add oil in small portions. Once it becomes thick, stop beating, and add pepper and chives and squeeze the lemon over the mixture for juice. Then mix with a spoon. Refrigerate for a few hours allowing flavors to mix.