French Food Culture: 9 Iconic Dishes to Try in France

french food culture
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If there’s one thing France is famous for, it’s food. From humble Provencal fare to fine dining and haute cuisine, there is no end to the delectable dishes on offer. The French are often considered masterminds when it comes to flavor, having introduced and refined some of the world’s most popular meals over the years.

The cuisine capital of the world has been influenced by its continental neighbors since the Middle Ages, with Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium all playing a part. However, following the Renaissance, there was a shift away from foreign influence to a focus on more local ingredients.

France is blessed with an abundance of fertile soils, prolific rivers and oceans, and deep-rooted agricultural history. This means the majority of famed dishes have been crafted from bountiful local produce. Meanwhile, each one has been finessed over the ages by raw culinary talent handed down through generations. Here, we take a look at nine delectable dishes to try on your next visit.

Coq au Vin

Coq au vin french food culture
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French cooking is centered around high-quality local ingredients, and wine is often added to round out sauces and stews. Coq au vin is a quintessential dish popularized by Julia Child, who is often credited with bringing French food culture to America and Canada. The dish features chicken braised in wine with mushrooms, bacon lardons, onions, and garlic.

A red Burgundy is the most common type of wine to use, although every region uses a local variety for their own spin on the dish. For example, coq au vin jaune is made using a yellow wine from the Jura region, while you can even find coq au champagne in the country’s famed fizz district.

Soupe à L’oignon

French Onion Soup
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Soup is rarely considered special, usually regarded as a simple yet hearty winter warmer and nothing more. French onion soup is the only exception. With a depth of flavor that has to be experienced to be believed, the popular appetizer is made using caramelized onions and beef stock. Brandy or sherry is sometimes added during the slow cooking process, and the soup is traditionally served with a lid of cheese-loaded bread.

The dish is thought to have originated in Paris and was popular with peasants due to the low-cost ingredients. However, it was soon adopted by gourmet chefs with the addition of croutons and Emmental cheese. Head to Au Pied de Cochon (The Pig’s Foot) in Paris to try the most authentic take on soupe à l’oignon. This restaurant has been serving up bowls of the golden good stuff since 1947.

Confit de Canard

Duck confit
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Perhaps one for the fine food fanatics, confit de canard demonstrates the French love of bold, rich flavors. The dish originates in Gascony, a region in southwestern France known for its rural landscapes and gastronomic heritage. The dish itself is duck, marinated for several days in salt garlic, and thyme, and then roasted in its own fat for several hours at a low temperature. The result is melt-in-your-mouth tenderness often served alongside confit potatoes and roasted vegetables.

Duck prepared in this way also forms the basis for another famous French dish from the same region: Cassoulet. For this, white beans are slowly stewed with pork or another type of meat in a casserole dish, hence the name. A comfort staple in many French homes, the dish is finished with confit duck legs.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille french good culture
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Made famous by the 2007 Pixar movie of the same name, Ratatouille is fresh Provençal fare at its finest. Originating in Nice, the dish features stewed seasonal vegetables and is traditionally served at the end of summer. Tomatoes, aubergine, courgette, yellow peppers, and onions are among the ingredients most commonly used, each of which are cooked in olive oil individually for a more robust flavor. They are then combined together with herbs and garlic and layered in a casserole dish to be baked in the oven.

Another dish that was originally popularised by the poor, Ratatouille is now found in both family homes and gourmet restaurants alike. Served as a side alongside meat such as lamb, or as a meal in its own right for starter or main, this vegetarian classic is as versatile as it is delicious.

Tarte Tatin

Tarte tatin
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For every classic French savory dish, there is an equally impressive dessert. Just as skilled in the pastry department, the French take their sweets seriously, with tarte Tatin being up there among the most famous. Named after the Tatin sisters who created it at their hotel in the Loire region, it consists of apples caramelized in butter and sugar, covered in pastry, and then baked in the oven. Once cooked, the tart is flipped upside down, sliced, and then served.

Some say it was created by accident when Stéphanie Tatin left her apples and sugar on the stove for too long while making a traditional apple pie. Accident or not, the dish soon became a favorite among guests and a signature at the hotel from the late 1800s onwards. It’s absolutely delicious in the autumn – like toffee apple in dessert form – and can be found on menus all over France.

Escargots

Escargot
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Not for the faint-hearted, escargot is arguably France’s most divisive dish. French for snail, escargot are served in their shells, loaded with garlic and butter. Popular as a starter or hors d’oeurve, preparation sees the gardener’s enemy shelled and sautéed with shallots and garlic. The snails are then placed back inside their shells and topped with garlic butter and herbs such as parsley. It’s not exactly clear where the dish initially became popular, although the three species of edible snails most commonly used are found native to the remote countryside surrounding the Alps in eastern France.

Steak Tartare

Steak tartar
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There is little the French love more than high-quality beef, and you’ll likely find an entrecote steak on every brasserie menu in the country. On top of this, they’ll even eat it raw, with steak tartare being among the most popular specialties to try. It is made using raw minced meat, typically mixed with capers, onions, pepper, and served in a small mound topped with a raw egg yolk.

You’ll need a high-quality lean cut for this dish, which is why you’ll often find it on the menu in fine dining establishments. The concept is actually thought to have originated in Mongolia but was introduced to France via Russian ships in the 17th century. The dish was then refined and popularised, with the word tartare now used interchangeably for any food served raw, such as tuna and sea bass.

Tartiflette

Tartiflette
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Anyone who has ever frequented a French ski resort will be familiar with this creamy classic. Tartiflette is a famous dish from the Savoy region of the French Alps, and combines potatoes with bacon lardons, reblochon cheese, cream, and onions. Indulgent and delicious, it can be served on its own or as a side dish, and is particularly satisfying after a long day on the slopes.

The potatoes are peeled and thinly sliced before being boiled until tender. Meanwhile, the onions and lardons are caramelized in a frying pan, and then combined with the potatoes and transferred to a deep baking dish. The whole lot is loaded with cream and cheese before being grilled and savored with a glass of crisp white wine.

Soufflé  

Souffle
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Soufflé epitomizes French cuisine – fairly fiddly to execute but absolutely mind-blowing when you do. Named after the French verb to puff, breathe, or inflate, the egg-based dessert was invented by Vincent La Chapelle in the early 1700s, but did not gain popularity until the 19th century. It is commonly served as a pudding but you will also find savory versions cooked with cheese.

The soft, fluffy, sumptuous dish is made in small ramekins, which are brushed with butter and sugar, and chilled to begin. Eggs are then separated, with the whites whisked vigorously to ensure a decent rise, and the yolks mixed with sugar and your flavoring of choice. Vanilla, lemon, and chocolate are all popular options. The rest of the recipe incorporates cream of tartar, milk, and a little flour, before the batter is divided between the ramekins and baked. If attention has been paid to the precise process, the soufflés should puff up wonderfully in the oven, rising over the top of the rims of the ramekins.

What is the most popular food in France?

The most popular food in France has got to be bread, closely followed by cheese or a combination of the two. There is nothing quite as satisfying as a warm, French baguette, which is commonly consumed for breakfast and alongside main meals, or just as a snack. Meanwhile, cheese is synonymous with French cooking, from indulgent pots of molten reblochon in a fondue savoyarde, to after-dinner brie and crackers.

What is a typical breakfast in France?

Breakfast in France is heavy on carbs and usually served alongside a strong coffee. They favor sweet over savory, with fresh bread and jam, or sweet pastries being among the most popular choices. Yogurt and fruit is another common option for those seeking something lighter. Sugary cereal is becoming increasingly popular with kids in the country, while some adults skip breakfast altogether, preferring to indulge in a heartier lunch. Lunch is considered the most important meal of the day in France, which is why breakfast is often a grab-and-go affair.

What is France’s national dish?

Pot au feu is widely regarded to be France’s national dish. This may come as a surprise considering some of the more well-known or elaborate items on this list. Pot au feu is a relatively simple slow-cooked beef stew typically served in winter. It is made with beef chuck, ribs, and marrow bones, alongside veggies such as carrots, celery, turnips, and new potatoes. It is then seasoned with salt, pepper, and cloves and unlike most stews, the various components are traditionally separated to be served. The broth is served first alongside the bone marrow spread on toast, followed by the beef and vegetables for main.

What food is France famous for?

France is famous for a great number of foods and dishes but is probably most widely regarded for its cheese, bread, and pastries such as croissants and pain au chocolat. However, the country is well lauded for its cuisine in general, so the most famous dish will depend on who you ask. Meat lovers might say France is famous for its steak, beef, and duck dishes, while sweet-tooths may cite macaroons, crepes, and crème Brulee as the most well-known.

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Amabel is a freelance travel writer with by-lines in multiple leading publications. Having written for the likes of Wired for Adventure and Luxury Travel Guide, she knows how to spin a tale of exotic intrigue, along with informative guides and how-tos for travelers.