When in…France: The Culinary Journey of Your Life
Living abroad is an exciting, inspiring and interesting experience. It will introduce you to new people and cultures, it will surprise you, challenge you and broaden your horizon. And one of the best ways to get to know your new exciting place is by trying local, traditional food.
They say the way to a man’s heart goes through his stomach and that is very true for the French people. In a country where lunch can last up to 3 hours and eating bread is a revered activity, you can only expect the best flavours and menus when travelling to France. After all, the world’s highest food ranking also comes from France – The Michelin Restaurant Guide.
So here are our picks for the 5 culinary experiences you can enjoy in France and feel magnifique:
France is probably the only country in the world that manages to turn a simple bread made of flour, water, yeast, and common salt into a national symbol. The story of the baguette is dated back to the times of Louis XIV but a twist in the French law from 1920 turned the long wand-like bread into the most popular form of bread in the country. In October of that year a new law went in effect forbidding the bakers from working before 4 a.m. That made it impossible to prepare the traditional round loaf (which was too time consuming), so instead they baked baguettes- which took less time to prepare.
Nowadays in France you can buy baguettes everywhere, even from a vending machine on the street. Of course, as every self-respecting Frenchman will tell you – the best places to eat a baguette is right on the corner of your own street. Still, the popular guide parisbymouth.com publishes every year the top ten places to eat a baguette in Paris. Here are five of this year’s winners:
1. Mickaël Reydellet and Florian Charles from La Parisienne at 48 rue Madame, 75006.
2. Alexandre Fraysse of Fournil de Lourmel, 121 Avenue Felix Faure, 75015.
3. Franck Kouroughli of Le Grenier à Pain Saint-Amand, 33 bis Rue Saint-Amand, 75015.
4. Alexandre Planchais of Boulangerie Alexine, 40 rue Lepic 75018.
5. Anthony Bosson of Boulangerie l’Essentiel Blanqui, 73 boulevard Auguste Blanqui 75013.
Charles de Gaulle has been famously quoted saying "How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?" And if you thought he was exaggerating you’d be wrong. Currently, France has listed between 50 to 450 distinct types of cheese, separated in 8 categories. 56 of these cheeses are classified, protected and regulated under French law. The majority are classified as Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), the highest level of protection.
Here are 5 places worth visiting to buy cheese:
1. Chateau de Valencay in Loire Valley for goat cheese known as Valençay.
2. Normandy, in the village of Vimoutiers to try the original Camembert.
3. Normandy, village of Salers, claimed as one of the “five most charming villages in France” – to try Salers, a cheddar-like cheese that even many French people haven’t heard of it.
4. Alps region – has its own map of cheese places, a must try is Beaufort.
5. South of Dijon, between Fixin and Gevrey Chambertin for Gaugry, a regional cheese.
The origin of macaroons is traced to the Italian monasteries of the 9th century. In 1533, Italian monks came to France where they brought the art of making macaroons to Catherine Medici’s chef. Macaroons are made mainly from almond flour, sugar and egg whites and are France’s favourite cookie. In fact, macaroons are part of the daily routine in the country –an ideal breakfast treat with your tea or coffee, great present for Valentine’s day or Mother’s Day or simply something to sweeten up your day. The best macaroons’ places are in Paris and here are the top five for this year:
1. Ladurée - chain patisserie which claims to have the biggest variety of macaroons and eclairs.
2. Pierre Hermé, 72 rue Bonaparte– great place to buy gifts, worth trying macaroons with raspberry and lychee.
3. Carette, 4 place du Trocadéro– great location overlooking the park and Eiffel tower, best for caramel salted macaroons.
4. Maison Georges Larnicol, 132 boulevard Saint-Germain– lots of chocolate and macaroons, worth to try the ones with bergamot, rose, pistachio and nuts.
5. Café Pouchkine Printemps Haussmann (64 boulevard Haussmann) – It is worth a visit not only for the taste, but also the atmosphere and the wonderful décor.
City of Biarritz
France doesn’t usually make it to the top of the most famous chocolate places, like Belgium and Switzerland, but that just shows how underestimated French chocolates are. Like any food in France, the love for chocolate is taken to a higher level. It is said the chocolate came to France in 1615, brought as a gift to the 14-year-old King Louis XIII from his wife-to-be Anne of Austria. In the early days, it was drunk as hot chocolate and French confectioners used to mix the cocoa beans with a paste of water or milk and add flavours like vanilla, chilli or cinnamon. Until the nineteenth century, chocolate in France was only a noble privilege. In 1816, along came Menier, (now part of Nestle) a pharmaceutical company, which started the mass production of chocolate, targetting, mainly children. By the twentieth century, chocolate had become part of everyday French life and, nowadays, it’s calculated that the average consumption of chocolate per person in France is 7kg a year.
So where is the best chocolate in France?
1. Bayonne – it’s called the chocolate coast and there are 3 places to check – Cazenave, Daranatz, Pariès – all with a centuries-old tradition of making chocolate, using the same machines since the nineteenth century. It is definitely a must to indulge yourself to a chocolate-tasting tour of the region.
2. Biarritz – a southwest French city with a wonderful museum of chocolate, where memorabilia and weird chocolate sculptures are on display.
3. Tain-l'Hermitage in the Hermitage region for Valrhona, where French gourmet chocolate has been produced since 1922.
4. Paris – Richart, a French chocolate-maker which specialises in refined chocolates from around the world. Great place if you want to impress someone with luxury and taste.
5. Paris – Fouquet – run by the Chambeu family for five generations, this wonderful historic shop will offer you handmade chocolates and candies made in the old-fashioned way.
Bizarre French meals
You can experience an adventurous French gastronomical treat by trying one of these local favourites:
1. Langue de boeuf – Cow’s tongue – even if it doesn’t sound very appealing, French chefs recommend to have it served sliced with mint sauce; it’s wonderfully delicate.
2. Ris de veau, translated as sweetbread, is a dish that has nothing to do with bread. It’s, in fact, calf’s pancreas and is served with mushrooms, butter and a bottle of Burgundy. It’s France’s most preferred restaurant dish.
3. Pigeons – another centuries-old tradition and according to chefs: “There’s nothing better than stuffing a bit of foie gras in a pigeon or quail and eating it with some wild mushrooms in winter.”
4. Steak tartare - chopped up or minced raw meat. It might shock you at first, but think of it as the French version of sushi.
5. Cachou Lajaunie – traditional candy made in Toulousse with a taste between licorice and mint.