France is renowned for its food and cuisine, but you don't have to eat out at a Michelin-starred restaurant to taste the country's superb traditional products and dishes. Here, good food and wine are simply considered part of daily life. These are 15 of the best French foods to try when visiting the country, with brief tips on where to taste each one.
No food is more deeply associated with France than the humble baguette. The long, elongated loaves are ideal when crusty and golden on the outside, slightly chewy and soft on the inside. The best ones are enjoyed plain, straight from the bakery oven and promising a good "bite." Complemented by a pat of butter laced with sea salt or a small plate of creamy French cheese (see below), they make for a delicious snack or meal in their own right.
France produces over 240 traditional cheeses, from cow's-milk brie and camembert to goat cheese laced with peppercorns or fruit. Whether you like yours mild or strong, there are numerous tempting varieties to try. We recommend guided cheese tastings, where passionate experts can teach you the basics and offer wine pairings.
One of France's most popular dishes is both affordable and delicious—sometimes it's even portable. Sweet crêpes made to order and garnished with chocolate sauce, salted butter caramel, or sugar and lemon are an ideal street food on a chilly day, best enjoyed between seeing the sights. Meanwhile, hearty buckwheat galettes (pancakes) from Brittany are nutritious and filling, and range from simple (cheese and mushroom) to creative and unusual (smoked fish, roasted vegetables, and crême fraiche).
We love Breizh Café for their creative, mouthwatering galettes and tempting dessert crêpes. They have locations in Paris, Saint-Malo, and Cancale (the latter two are in Brittany).
This French brasserie classic is remarkable for its simplicity and enduring appeal. A choice cut of beef is cooked to perfection (generally rare to medium rare, but you can ask for it well done if you prefer) and accompanied by freshly made French fries. The steak is often garnished with green peppercorn sauce.
Alongside the baguette, the all-butter croissant (croissant tout beurre) is perhaps France's most-beloved baked treat. The formula for achieving the perfect specimen isn't easy, however: You need top-quality butter and flour, professional ovens, and a bake that balances flakiness with a rich, buttery interior. The puff pastry shouldn't be too thick or rise too much, either. And be careful not to confuse the croissant tout beurre with the ordinary croissant (croissant ordinaire). The latter is baked with less butter and tends to be a bit drier.
You can taste delicious examples throughout France. Just ask the locals where to taste their favorites. If you need ideas on where to start, head to these bakeries in Paris.
A winter favorite, Beef Bourguignon is a hearty stew that involves slowly braising tender cuts of Charolais beef in red wine before adding mushrooms, pearl onions, garlic, herbs, and carrots. Named after the region of Burgundy from which it originates, this classic French dish is ideal when accompanied by a hunk of crusty baguette and a glass of red wine. It was popularized by American chef Julia Child.
This deceptively simple dish becomes art at the hand of French cooks and chefs, who insist that the perfect omelette is quite difficult to achieve. It must be fluffy, light, and not overly-browned—but a runny or lumpy result is frowned on. Served as main lunch or dinner courses rather than for breakfast in most restaurants, omelettes are delicious with herbs and melted cheese, mushrooms, and/or smoked salmon. Enjoy them with a simple salad or crusty bread.
The souffléd omelette at La Mère Poulard in Mont Saint-Michel (Normandy) is reputed as one of the country's finest, but these typical, traditional Parisian brasseries also serve some excellent examples.
Magret de Canard (Duck Breast)
This specialty of France's southwest (Dordogne, Perigord and the Bordeaux region) is a staple in many traditional restaurants and brasseries. Tender duck breast is flash-seared and generally cut into thin slices, accompanied by various sauces, rice, potatoes, and/or vegetables.
This dish, while most common in the southwest, is served throughout France and you can find excellent versions at restaurants in most regions.
What pastry has conquered the world with its airy texture and delicious buttercream and jam fillings? The French macaron, of course. They come in flavors as varied as dark chocolate, salted butter caramel, matcha, and strawberry cheesecake. They're also a relatively light treat.
The macarons from Pierre Hermé and Pierre Marcolini are among our favorites, while others prefer Ladurée. These patissiers have locations in most major French cities. You can also try local, much older recipes in St-Emilion, Amiens, and Nancy.
Oysters & Shellfish
The plateau de fruits de mer (shellfish platter) can be found in brasseries and restaurants throughout France, but is best enjoyed in areas where the seafood is caught nearby. Fresh oysters are particularly prized, and are generally served raw with lemon, butter, and bread. Mussels, lobster, sea urchins, crab, shrimp, and other shellfish feature in many traditional platters as well. Enjoy them with a crisp glass of white wine, followed by cheese.
To taste the country's very best oysters and shellfish, head to the coast. Normandy, Brittany (especially Cancale), and the coastal regions around southwest France and Aquitaine (particularly Arcachon) are famous for their incredibly fresh, beautifully presented fruits de mer.
This naturally vegetarian, healthy dish is full of Provençal sun. Traditionally made by separately and gently cooking summer vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and peppers with good olive oil and Mediterranean herbs, ratatouille is one of the emblematic dishes of Provence. It's delicious with bread, or alongside fish or meat.
This traditional cake from Brittany is a favorite among foodies for its intensely buttery texture and flavor. The slightly flattened cakes are made by folding layers of butter and sugar into pastry dough, creating a distinctive, addictive mouth feel. In some ways they're reminiscent of croissants—only more indulgent.
Bakeries around Brittany sell this regional treat, and most are excellent. La Maison du Kouign-Amann in Roscoff is reputed to bake some of the best.
Bouillabaisse (Fish Stew)
Even those who don't think fish stew sounds appealing should try a steaming bowl of bouillabaisse at least once. Native to the southern port city of Marseille, the delicately flavored seafood stew is made with the fresh catch of the day, cooked in an herbed bouillon and laced with saffron, olive oil, and vegetables. It's traditionally served with toasted French baguette, smothered in a spicy paste called rouille.
Intensely flavorful and aromatic, the black truffle is a French specialty that's so precious, it's referred to as "black gold." Very expensive when purchased whole, chefs often use truffles in sparing ways, adding shavings to omelettes or flavored oils and sauces.
Dordogne, in southwestern France, is one of the best places to taste the delicacy. The Sarlat Truffle Festival in January is a major foodie attraction. Burgundy and Provence also cultivate fantastic truffles. Meanwhile, La Maison de la Truffe is a shop with locations in Paris and Nice.
You may be surprised to see this traditional North African dish on our list. But like curries in the U.K., couscous has become one of France's most popular dishes. With origins in Moroccan cuisine, couscous is delicious when generously topped with a brothy, stew made up of vegetables and meat. Vegetarian versions are widely available, too.
Our favorite couscous in Paris is at Le Tagine. Marseille is also well known for its excellent versions.