French people are taught to appreciate fine foods from a young age and to take great pride in their nation’s culinary reputation. The foods typically eaten vary greatly by region, ranging from the game-based dishes of Normandy to the light, Mediterranean cuisine of Provence. The French eat three times a day with no snacking between meals. Breakfast is the lightest meal, usually consisting of just bread and coffee, and is followed by a large, leisurely lunch and four-course (or more) dinner.
A typical French lunch or dinner centers around some form of meat, whether beef, pork, poultry or game. The French tend to buy meat fresh from the butcher, where they can inspect the piece before purchasing it and can haggle over the choicest cuts. Classic French meat dishes include Coq au Vin (cockerel in red wine), Cassoulet (beans stewed with pork, duck or mutton), Confit de Canard (“preserved” duck) and Steak Tartar (raw ground beef).
The French also have a great fondness for sausage and often eat charcuterie (sausage, ham and cold cuts) as a prelude to a main meal. In many regions of France, animal organs are a fundamental part of the traditional cuisine. Popular items include chicken gizzards, tripe, chitterling sausage, and foie gras (goose or duck liver pâté).
In France, vegetables do not play a starring role in a meal; they are usually featured in a side dish or as a part of the main course. Despite their supporting-role status, the French pay careful attention to the freshness and quality of their vegetables. When the French buy vegetables at the market, they choose the ripest produce as opposed to the prettiest or most perfectly formed. They understand that the quality of the vegetable can make or break a meal.
Popular French vegetables include mushrooms (particularly porcini, morels or chanterelle), leeks, string beans, tomatoes, onions, and a variety of lettuces and leafy greens. Perhaps the most renowned French vegetable dish is ratatouille, a Provençal main dish made of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and a range of herbs.
Cheese is an indispensable part of the French meal. It is always served after the main course and before dessert. The country is home to approximately 500 hundred different types of cheese with each region in having its own specialties. In Normandy, you are likely to eat Camembert and Pont-L’Eveque while in Burgundy you can expect to see plenty of Époisses and Chaource on offer. Brie, Beaufort, Chantal, Munster and Roquefort rank high with French diners.
Baguettes are not just an iconic symbol of France, the French really do eat them frequently. They are a common accompaniment to every meal, including breakfast, when they are cut in half and spread with butter and jam (tartine au beurre). An equally iconic French bread is the croissant, usually eaten for breakfast with coffee. Breads in France are nowhere as diverse as the cheeses, although they range from crusty round loaves of white bread to dark nut-filled bread. Walking around the streets of any major French city, it is almost impossible not to be distracted by the glittering, jewel-like confections displayed in the windows of bakery and pastry shops. The more famous delights include chocolate éclairs (or vanilla, coffee or pistachio), Baba Rhum, tart tatin (upside down apple tart), mousse au chocolat (chocolate mousse), or Claufoutis aux Cerises (cherry flan cake). Despite the ubiquity of these desserts, the offerings seen in shops are usually only purchased for special occasions. On an ordinary night, the French are most likely to eat fruit for dessert.