Restaurants and bars in the historic district of Nice
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Food and eating out in France

French cuisine is surrounded by accolades, usually bringing up thoughts of Michelin stars and fine dining. Fine wines, hundreds of varieties of cheese, and, of course, a baguette or two are all things you can expect to be eating on a trip to France.

It’s not just haute cuisine that makes this country a great place for foodies, the real magic lies in the local patisseries, farmers markets, and city park picnics that run deep within French culture.

While French cuisine often sticks to its roots and heritage, there are plenty of options when it comes to international food in the cities too. Caribbean (known as Antillais), Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian restaurants can be found in most urban areas, along with a selection of North African foods.

Brick à l’œuf , a fried pastry with an egg inside originates from Tunisia, while the spicy merguez sausage made its way over to France from Algeria in the 1960’s, and the ever popular falafel was brought by Middle Eastern settlers.

Helpful tips for eating out in France

Generally, you can just sit down at a cafe, but you will need to wait to be seated at a restaurant. Once you have ordered a drink in France the table is yours for as long as you like, there is no rush to leave and many people just sit and people-watch in beautiful corners of Paris and beyond.

Bread is a staple in French cuisine and almost every meal will be accompanied by it, water also is generally served at the table for free.

Tipping and tax

Cafes and restaurants in France (including Paris) include a 15 per cent service charge. It’s required by French law and you will see it on the bill written as service comprise.

You can tip for drinks at the bar, 1 or 2 euros, but it’s not expected outside of the tourist areas. All prices are inclusive of tax, so you don’t need to worry about extra charges.

Other info

Wine is usually only drunk with a meal, binge drinking isn’t all that common although it can be a problem during special events like Bastille Day as well as at certain sporting events.

Takeaways are quite rare, although they do exist in cities; it’s more common to eat out, or cook at home.

Where and when to eat

Petit Déjeuner

Between 7 am and 10 am, French people enjoy a simple breakfast involving a coffee, an orange juice, and a viennoiserie (croissant, pain au chocolat or pain au raisin). On weekends they might add a lovely fresh baguette with butter and jam. You will find this breakfast at almost every cafe, brasserie and hotel.

Déjeuner

Lunch is usually between 12 and 2 pm, a popular lunch on the go is a Jambon Beurre - half a baguette with butter and ham. For longer lunches there is usually a salad, a main, a dessert, and a coffee or glass of wine.

Plats du jour are prix fixe (fixed price) set menus that usually cost less than 15 euro. They are a great option when eating at Michelin-star restaurants as they cost a fraction of the price of evening dining.

Picnics are very popular as a long lunch in the cities, workers will stock up on fresh produce from charcuteries (delicatessens) or the local markets and have a leisurely lunch in the park - most get around 2 hours everyday.

Goûter

At around 4pm the French like to have a snack, particularly common for children after school it usually consists of a cake or fruit. Of course the best place to go to get a sweet treat is a local pâtisserie.

Like delicate little works of art, macarons, madeleines, and marzipan fruits are the perfect thing to keep you going until dinner. You can find crêperies almost everywhere in France and all over the world, both savoury galettes and sweet crêpes are a popular cheap lunch or an easy snack.

Apéritif

On social occasions, people will gather at a bistro or bar for an Apéritif (or Apéro), a selection of sweet drinks or spirits before the main meal.

Pastis is a common anise-flavoured spirit that’s usually diluted with water and served with ice, while Kir is a refreshing French cocktail that’s more popular in summer that’s made with white wine and cassis.

Snacks like gougères (puff pastries typically made with Gruyère cheese) often accompany the drinks.

Diner

Dinner is usually between 7 pm and 9 pm. Evening meals usually consist of an entrée like salad, pâté or soup, a main of meat, poultry or fish or the plat du jour 'daily special', followed by a cheese board or dessert.

Sometimes you may see boisson comprise (drink included) or vin compris (wine included), which means you will not need to pay for drinks with the exception of coffee at the end of the meal.

What to eat and drink

Of course, escargot (snails) and frog legs grab the attention of most first-time visitors to France, but there are other important national dishes to try while you're here.

Duck is very popular, with dishes like canard à l'orange and confit de canard in the south. Another favourite is beef bourguignon, a beef stew slow-cooked in red wine for around four hours, often served with potatoes or pasta.

Blanquette de veau is a similar dish - a stew made with white wine and veal. A meat dish that isn’t for everyone is steak tartare - raw beef mixed with capers, onions, and seasoning served with a raw egg yolk on top.

Potatoes come in many forms in France, one of the best being gratin dauphinois, sliced potatoes are baked in the oven with cheese and cream until they are crispy and irresistible.

In southwest France, cassoulet is one of the most popular dishes, made with Toulouse sausage and beans, and slow-cooked in a casserole. In Nice, Salade Niçoise is a must-try with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies or tuna, olives, and a vinaigrette dressing.

The region of Provence has many Italian influences, a popular dish to try is bouillabaisse, a rich fish stew from Marseille. The northeast region of Alsace has more Germanic influences with dishes like choucroute (sauerkraut) and many types of sausage.

For lighter bites, must-tries include quiche, croques-monsieur and croque-madame - a toasted ham, cheese and cream sandwich (the latter of the two with an egg on top).

France does sweet treats exceptionally well with offerings like light and airy choux dough eclairs and profiteroles. Another classic is the Tarte Tatin, an upside-down apple pie served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

French wine has its own section below, as for other drinks many are regional or served as an aperitif (before dinner). Beer is usually Belgian or German brand with some French brands from the Alsace region, order a draught beer - à la pression, and you will usually get something like a Kronenbourg.

Wine and cheese

France wouldn’t be the country that it is without the synonymous cheese and wine snobbery. You can find these two core ingredients at almost every French dinner table, as well as being key ingredients in many dishes, and at the centre of celebrations - like a fondue or popping a bottle of Champagne.

French cheese

There are officially over 350 types of French cheese, many are protected by the AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) label, meaning they can only be produced in a certain area.

Brie, Camembert and chèvre (goat's cheese) can be found almost everywhere, but it’s the local cheeses that steal the show. Find out what’s made in the area you're visiting, and try every type available!

French wine

France has a long and proud history of wine production with world-famous wine-producing regions like Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Other top places to taste the best wines in the country are the Loire and Rhône valleys as well as the Languedoc region.

It’s best to buy direct from the producers (vignerons) at their vineyards, but supermarkets also sell a huge selection of French wine at very affordable prices.

French wine terms

●      Brut - very dry

●      Sec - dry

●      Demi-sec - sweet

●      Doux - very sweet

●      Mousseux - sparkling

●      Méthode champenoise - mature and sparkling

Typical costs

  • A simple lunch: €5

  • Evening meal for two: €42

  • A baguette from a bakery: €0.90

  • 1 bottle of red table wine: €10

  • Coffee: €1.20

  • A litre of milk: €1.30

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 13 December 2023

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