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What to eat in France

I'm going to London and Paris soon, and while I'm acquainted with British food, I'm a total novice with French food. I have to admit that beyond baguettes and croissants, I have no clue what type of food is "typically" French. I DID try escargot once, and once was enough.

Since I don't want to go around eating just bread for a week, I'd like some suggestions on what type of food is "typically" French, so I have some idea of what I'm ordering when I go into a local restaurant.

Suggestions are greatly appreciated :)

Posted by
5697 posts

Many restaurants will have English translations -- or you can ask for an English-language menu. Steak frites (small thin steak with fries) or poulet roti (roast chicken) are usually safe -- and on day 2 you can get more daring. Mousse au chocolat and creme brulee for dessert.

Posted by
7188 posts

it might be easier for you after you get suggestions here to get some kind of a guidebook. There is usually a chapter with pictures and a food glossary in the back of the book so you can past time on the long plane ride familiarizing yourself with the translations. This helps as restaurants in Paris always post the menu outside for you to see and get an idea before going in but not all will have that in English. Guidebooks are also available at your local public library

Posted by
2560 posts

Every area of France has dishes and cuisine that is unique. Paris does not but is a melting pot drawing from not only France, but much of the world. If you order steak be prepared for very rare meat. Pizza, crepes, sandwiches are widely available. Menues can be baffling so if there is an English version, get it. While I don’t feel food and restaurants are the strongest part of the RS guidebooks, you might consider getting the Paris one and it could help direct you.

Posted by
703 posts

buckwheat crepes are popular in many parts of france that we have toured and make a nice option with different fillings, for something simple.

Posted by
503 posts

As others have stated, you can find just about any ethnic cuisine in Paris! However, if you wish to try "typical french fare" here are some common items you will find on menus in Paris:
Le Hachis Parmentier - think English cottage pie with a creamy sauce.
Steak frites - steak and french fries
Charcroute - typically sausages with sauerkraut .
Salade Compose - generally a layered salad with an egg.
fromage and charcuterie platters - cheese and cured meats.
jamon buerre - baguette with ham and butter.
croque monsier - grilled ham and cheese with bechamel
moules frites - mussels with french fries
steak tartare - raw beef mixed with egg, mustard, salt and pepper.

Most restaurants will have a "le menu du jour" or the days menu - typically the best value.

I've been to Paris more than a few times and I can say that it is hard to get a bad meal - doable, but you have to work at it.

For further reading check out David Lebovitz's blog ( David was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse and has lived in Paris for quite a few years - his restaurant recommendations (and descriptions) are absolutely spot on.

Posted by
3551 posts

Ck RS guidebks for restaurant recs and the fd is normally quite mild and wnjoyable. Stay away from anything raw and u will be fine, boeuf tartare is raw beef.
Enjoy the pastries should not be missed.😄

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks everyone for the replies! Keep the suggestions coming. I'm getting hungry just reading :). I'm really grateful for the long list too, Nancy. Everyone has given me a great starting point.

Do they understand "medium rare" though? It doesn't sound like they do...when it comes to steak. I have to say that I really want them to do more than just walk the cow by the stove on the way out to my plate.

I had forgotten about crepes entirely. Any suggestions for particularly tasty fillings?
Is there anything unique about the French version of Pizza? I noticed 2 or 3 pizza restaurants in the immediate neighborhood of my hotel when taking a "walk" on Google Maps.

Posted by
8281 posts

I especially love:
French soups
All easy to get at cafés.

You’ll also find lots of great ethnic food in Paris... Japanese, Chinese, Philipino, Middle Eastern, Indian, etc.
And lots of great Italian restaurants for more than pizza.

Posted by
4660 posts

What do you tend to eat at home? French food is not something that is unusual to a Western palate although some of the offal based dishes may be a bit adventurous for some. If you're acquainted with British food (depends what you define as British food) then you're not going to be surprised much by French food, think meat, vegetables and potatoes in many styles. Some potato dishes that are found everywhere:

Sautéed potatoes - cubes of potato fried in a pan
Boulangere potatoes - thinly sliced potato layered in a dish with onions and cooked with stock, often a leg of lamb is placed on top to roast
Rösti - grated potato and onion fried in a patty (think hash browns)
Parmentier potatoes - similar to sautéed but roasted often with goose fat and garlic
Dauphinoise potatoes - sliced potatoes cooked with cream, garlic and cheese
Pommes frites - fries

You may find some of the cheeses a bit difficult. America is really very poor when it comes to cheese. The average supermarket sells a depressingly limited variety of cheese so some of the stronger tasting soft or blue cheeses might not be to your liking.

Posted by
6869 posts

Every time we plan on eating at a specific restaurant or cuisine, often the menu is unappetizing or they are too expensive. And eating in Paris is very expensive--even at off the beaten path local restaurants. We just eat what looks appetizing to us at the time, and often it is not local foods.

Posted by
855 posts

The best onion soup I have ever had (and I've had a lot because I like it) was in Paris. On menus in the states it's French Onion Soup, of course. I can't tell you the name of the cafe, we were walking so much and just wanted to stop and sit and get something quick.

I also had a great Cassoulet in France in a couple of places. Like a ragout or stew, with duck meat, sausage and beans. Would love to have this again!

Have a Great Trip!

Posted by
1017 posts

Order your steak “bien cuit” to get something approaching medium rare.

You might want to avoid “andouillette” for the time being. Same for “tripes”.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks everyone! This is very helpful. And thanks for the tips on how to order steak and the andouillette. I love andouille sausage here at home, so if I saw it in a dish, I'd be tempted to order it.

I'm really looking forward to trying to eat "typically" French while I'm there. I love all those other national cuisines too, but I'm really looking forward to experiencing French cuisine in France as much as possible.

Posted by
401 posts

Andouille sausage from Louisiana (I suppose is what you're referring to) is nothing like French andouillette sausage.

As I understand andouillette, although there are various regional varieties, it generally is made from the last few centimeters of a pig's lower intestine.

The musings about politics by the famous French politician Édouard Herriot, mayor of Lyon from 1905 to 1940, might give you an insight into andouillette's most well-known characteristic:

La politique, c'est comme l'andouillette. Ca doit sentir un peu la merde, mais pas trop.

...which means: Politics is like andouillette. It should smell a little like sh*t, but not too much.

Often served in casual restaurants, frog legs (grenouille) are pretty tasty (if you like the flavors of garlic, parsley, butter, and chicken). Let them cool a bit before you dive in -- they're mostly finger food and they usually come to the table piping hot.

Some common fish names you may come across on menus are:

  • Dorade (sea bream)
  • Bar (spotted sea bass)
  • Loup (sea bass)
  • Lotte (monkfish)
  • Thon (tuna)
  • Saumon (salmon)
  • Maquereau (mackerel)
  • Merlu (hake)
  • Merlan (whiting)
  • Espadon (swordfish)
  • Truite (trout)

If the word fumé is attached to any of these, it means smoked.

Posted by
489 posts

The regions of France have some specialties. We were around Toulouse and the Cassoulet is king. Duck so many ways.
The chicken in France is very special and they take great pride in the quality of the chicken.
I love Escargot, as well as a great nicoise salad (they use awesome tuna!)
Somewhere I picked up this book Frommer's Food Lovers Companion to France. It is about 20 years old, so it speaks of some of the more traditional foods.
What we have observed in almost all countries we've visited in Europe is a very strong movement to serving what is in season. On this last trip to S. France it is very common for any restaurant or cafe to have 1-2 specials with entry (actually starter) main and dessert for a set price. You can usually just the starter and main, or the main and dessert. Sometimes a glass of wine is also included. Take a look at the specials and the menu. Also if you sit down and start looking at the menu and decide you don't care for the choices then just get up and leave. It is okay.
Not sure how much time you have in France, but if you are definitely interested in French food, look into food tours. We try to do one if we can. We did secret food tours in Montmartre. What fun and you get to try a lot of great food.

Posted by
8281 posts

I disagree that food in Paris is expensive. It can be if you want, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of options for not expensive French food.

Posted by
2916 posts

You might want to avoid “andouillette” for the time being.

Or forever. I recently made the mistake of ordering duck andouillette at a restaurant in Burgundy, and thought it was pretty vile. I had the misfortune of ordering andouillette years ago, but I thought that duck andouillette might be very different, and I love duck. I did finish it, but it was difficult. Not my taste.
I'd vote for cassoulet if you can find it. It's a favorite of mine. So is duck confit.

Posted by
4986 posts

Do try duck confit. Also the patés are great. I second (or third) the comments about andouillette. I consider myself an adventuresome and open-minded eater, but andouillette did me in. It didn't smell like sh*t to me, but there was a definite odor of urine. I did manage to eat it, but only because it came with an amazing mustard sauce. I asked for more sauce.

Chicken is good, fish is good. We just got back from Paris and had some wonderful meals. Quiche, salads, soups... As someone else posted, it's hard to find a bad meal there. And only one of our meals could be considered a splurge. We had a very good and cheap meal in the Latin Quarter by ordering a menú, a two or three course special.

Posted by
5257 posts

Another translation: rognons = kidneys. I learned this the hard way one evening in Paris.

I love the salads with goat cheese (chevre), a filling and healthy-enough lunch. Or order a cheese plate (assiette de fromages) to sample different kinds. Especially good with wine (what isn't?).

Posted by
5697 posts

Drop by the deli section of Monoprix, pick up some paté, some cheese, some fruit, some bread or crackers ... Picnic!! And if you have Google Translate on your phone, you can use your camera to translate the label without typing anything.
(Monoprix nylon shopping bag is only €1.50, makes a great and useful souvenir.)

Posted by
8281 posts

Great tips Lauri, thanks!

Dick, “rognons”... thank you!! I will be sure to avoid ((shudder)).

Posted by
27 posts

On our RS Paris and the Heart of France tour in 2016, at our first group dinner in Paris we had Beef Cheeks with potatoes as our main course. It was one of the best meals i have ever eaten on a RS tour! I don’t remember the name of the restaurant. We bought baguettes almost every morning along with cheese, sliced salami and fruit and had picnics at our noon stop! Freed up time for us to explore while the rest of the group were waiting for their food in a cafe! We also bought lunch picnic food twice at farmers markets! One noon stop there was a vendor bbqing sausage in the middle of town! When our bus driver and tour guide headed there we did too! There was a line of locals!!!

Posted by
11450 posts

Another to be aware of :

“Riz de Veau” is not Rice of any sort , it’s sweetbreads

Posted by
228 posts

If you are a steak lover here are the more or less acceptable terms for doneness. if you want your steak Medium ask for it "A point".

Bleu - very rare;
Saignant - rare;
A point - medium;
Bien cuit - well done; and
Carbonisé - very well done.

We have travelled extensively throughout Europe and can honestly the that the best meals we ever had were in France. I predict you will love the food. Learn the terms for foods you won't eat so hopefully you will be able to recognize them on the menu.

Posted by
8281 posts

We went to a wonderful restaurant in Bayeux in 2001 that specialized in steak. The very nice, friendly owner politely refused to cook a steak beyond rare. Said it would ruin the steak. Only in France... : )

Posted by
6 posts

Everyone here is so helpful! Great info. Thanks for all the translations so I know what I'm eating :) I've downloaded the podcast suggested earlier and thanks also to Steve in Ottawa who gave me the correct terms to order a steak.

I think I'll probably come back having gained weight...especially with that yummy cheese plate mentioned earlier.

Posted by
113 posts

I'm a medium-rare girl and "a point" is perfect! If you want to splurge a little (not a deep dive but a little spendy), get the steak au poivre at Bistrot Paul Bert ( OMG! The best meal we had in Paris!

Other things to try:

  • Gallettes (the buckwheat crepes). Try the ham & gruyere...and add the egg on top if you are a little more adventurous (just barely cooked but not raw)
  • Boeuf Bourguignon (French beef stew). Fall-apart tender meat in a deep rich red wine sauce
  • Anything that catches your eye at the corner bakery...but definitely try the pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant) or a kouign amann (a flaky pastry from Normandy)
  • Ask for tastes of cheeses that catch your eye at a good cheese shop (but only those that are easily portioned so they don't ruin a whole cheese). "Cru" means raw so if your stomach isn't up to handling new bacteria, avoid those. However, if you are feeling a little brave or have a cooperative stomach, go for it! You won't find those in the US. And if you find Napoleon cheese, definitely try it. It's a small batch cheese from a small cheese maker in the Pyrenees. Semi-hard cheese (not raw) and so flavorful. Not easy to find but if you happen to be at Quatre Hommes cheese shop on Rue des Sevres in the 7th, they carry it.
  • Either of the croques (monsieur or madame). Both are a lovely version of a baked ham & cheese sandwich with a bechamel sauce. The madame version just has an egg on top to make it different.
  • Iles Flotant (meringue on bed of creme anglais dessert). Many versions of this in France -- I had 3 different kinds on our trip. I'd avoid it at Montparnasse 1900 (the weird pink crumble on top was not good) but everywhere else was yummy.
  • Profiteroles (cream puffs filled with ice cream & topped with chocolate sauce). THIS should not be avoided at Montparnasse 1900 because the chocolate sauce is to die for!
  • If you are really brave and want to try something new, look for cheval (horse), canard (duck), cruisse de grenouille (frog legs), escargot (snails), pigeon (pigeon) on the menu.
  • Street food: crepes are always good, any meat roasting on a spit (horizontally or vertically) is good, and the falafel in the Marais is wonderful.
  • Grocery store: YOGURT (so many kinds!), wine (you never need to spend more than 5 - 10 euros to get a decent bottle), butter, jams, cookies (Bon Maman lemon tartlettes were a happy discovery). There is even usually a crazy-long refrigerated dessert aisle. Pack a picnic!

Now I'm hungry and missing France. Have a great time!

Posted by
3304 posts

Steve, I'm sure your hometown of Orlando has French restaurants. You asked for suggestions; here is mine. Go to a mom-and-pop type restaurant to get a very basic/general idea of what you might or might not like.

Just like American food varies completely by region; so does French cuisine. At least go out for dinner locally to a small French restaurant and explore culinarily!

Posted by
1887 posts

I want to speak up for ris de veau and rognons -- I've enjoyed them almost every time I've had them, but especially if it is a specialty of the house where you're dining. And one of the crepe stands at the Boulevard Wilson street market in Paris has many filling choices, and andouillette is one of my favorites. - That market is a great way to get a feel for upscale artisanal products. You can tell it's upscale when they were accepting card payments more than a decade ago!

For those who live here in modern America, the 'a pointe' is the equivalent of our 'al punto'.
And this applies mostly to beef -- duck and pork are not served a point or soignante,
as I was lectured to about by a kitchen staffer in Nimes a while back.