France needs no introduction when it comes to food. It’s one of the most famous countries in the world for its cuisine (which is, quite literally, a French word), and if you’ve ever been, you’ll know that you’re effectively spoiled for choice if you want great French fare. A huge amount of thought, care, and attention goes into making French food of all stripes, and while it’s hard to whittle a list down to just a few entries, that’s exactly what we’re going to try and do. Here are the best foods to experience when visiting France.
Confit de canard
This is a classic, indulgent French dish. You make confit de canard by slowly cooking duck in fat, and it’s usually duck fat, too, leading to a luxurious meat that’s dripping with flavour. Of course, this is a French dish, so you must season liberally with garlic and herbs, too. You can usually find this dish all over France; it’s served in major cities, and you’ll find backstreet restaurants with an incredible line in confit de canard, so make time to look for it if you can.
Riz au lait
This is perhaps one of the lesser-known French desserts. Riz au lait, as the name implies, is a simple rice dish that’s made by cooking rice in milk and sugar. It’s not massively dissimilar to English rice pudding; once, riz au lait was known as a peasant dish, but it’s now served in high-class restaurants and lower-cost establishments alike, so everyone can enjoy it. You can serve riz au lait with all kinds of accoutrements, like jam, rose syrup, or caramel sauce.
If you love huge chunks of meat and vegetables in a rich broth, then beef bourguignon is very much a dish you need to try. This dish dates all the way back to the mid-19th century, when it was often cooked from leftover meat and vegetables. If you ask us, the leftovers were probably far more tasty than the main dish itself, because a proper French beef bourguignon must be sampled to be believed. It’s usually stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, and other extras, and the spice balance is divine.
Another excellent French dessert (although they can also potentially claim roots in Italy), profiteroles are small pastry parcels filled with cream and usually topped with chocolate sauce. In a good profiterole, the pastry is puffy and soft, the cream is rich, and the chocolate sauce is dark and indulgent. For the best profiteroles, don’t use milk chocolate sauce; make sure the chocolate isn’t too sweet and you’ll get the real intention of this dish.
It’s actually extremely difficult to make consommé. From looking at it, you might think it’s simply a broth soup, and while there’s some truth to that, the process of making consommé is painstaking. You must use egg whites in order to clarify the mixture, making a clear soup that is delicious and delicate. Consommé is usually prepared by more skilled chefs, due to the time and effort required to get it right, so you’ll find it in higher-end French establishments.
As you might imagine, Camembert cheese derives from the Camembert region of Normandy, where it was first made back in the 18th century. Camembert has a strong, pungent smell that won’t endear you to it, but the taste is incredibly flavourful; this is a rich, dominant cheese that will overpower anything you put with it, so it’s best served alongside a classic French baguette. If you’re looking for the ultimate French cheese, it’s hard to go wrong with Camembert.
French croissants are absolutely breathtaking. When prepared properly, the flaky pastry, soft insides, and buttery flavour will have you begging for more (although you should be relatively careful with them, as they often have a sky-high fat content). In actuality, some believe that croissants don’t originate in France; they were apparently an Austrian pastry by the name of “kipfel”, but the French croissant used a different kind of pastry, so we’ll give it to them.
Quiche is such a ubiquitous dish that it’s probably no surprise it originates from France. It’s a pastry pie that’s usually made with seafood, cream, and eggs, but it can also contain bacon, leek, and lots of other ingredients. A good quiche is light and fluffy without being too insubstantial; it’s not a heavy English-style meat pie, but it’s also not a simple pastry. As such, quiche is very hard to get right, and many chefs may be overconfident when attempting to prepare it.
Here’s a fun fact: the word “éclair” actually means “flash of lightning”, and this confectionery apparently got its name from the light that reflects off the chocolate glaze. However éclairs were named, they’re undeniably delicious; parcels of choux pastry, often containing cream (but not always) and garnished with chocolate sauce, they’re utterly mesmerising when prepared correctly. Pair them with a classic French café au lait and you have yourself a very rewarding afternoon.
What list of great French food would be complete without a classic French baguette? This elongated bread has a crunchy, crisp crust and a soft, bouncy interior, and it’s best paired with spreads like rich butter. Originally, baguettes were actually wide; a law came in back in 1920 that prohibited workers from starting prior to 4AM, which meant that they didn’t have the time to bake the bread as it used to be. That’s how baguettes got their distinctive shape!