French food is famous all over the world, and rightfully so. Culinary principles and techniques developed in France are a cornerstone of Western cooking, and have influenced cuisines around the globe. In fact, French gastronomy as a whole has been classified by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage of the world.
French food has achieved this extraordinary distinction through rigorous attention to the quality of ingredients, and meticulous preparation of food. The French believe that not just cooking properly, but eating and tasting properly, is a skill, and they instill this respect for food and eating throughout the culture. To eat French food in France is to be part of a cultural heritage that goes back centuries.
Eating locally-sourced foods is a cornerstone of French food, and there are distinct traditions in every region. But when you are visiting the Mediterranean coast of France, here are some can’t-miss treasures:
Soupe gratinée à l’oignon: Perhaps one of the most famous national dishes, French onion soup dates back to Ancient Roman times. The modern interpretation originated in Paris in the 18th century. This dish is so popular, it’s commonly available in America, but often those preparations are mediocre. The French gently caramelize onions in butter, then slowly cook them in a meat stock. Towards the end of cooking, wine or brandy is added (in the Mediterranean, they often use authentic Portuguese port), then topped with a piece of bread and melted cheese. It’s ideal for a starter or a light meal in itself.
Boeuf bourguignon: Another classic French dish, boeuf bourguignon originated in the Burgundy region of France, as the name implies. Largely popularized in America by Julia Child, this is another dish worth having in France, prepared as it was meant to be. This rich beef stew, slowly cooked in red wine, with bacon, spices, carrots, onions, and potatoes, is a spectacular example of French cuisine.
Bouillabaisse: Bouillabaisse was born in the port city of Marseille, where it remains a significant part of local culture. While all preparations of this rich fish stew agree that it relies upon fresh, local, bony Mediterranean fish, olive oil, and saffron, every family in Marseille has their own recipe handed down through the generations, and every restaurant claims that their version is the most authentic.
Vichyssoise: While some claim that the modern recipe for this soup originated in America, it is based on a traditional leek and potato soup from the Vichy region of France. While the French are usuallly meticulous about the provenance of recipes, this soup is widely available in France, and it is hearty, creamy, and delicious, generally served cold.
Oeuf en meurette: This traditional dish from the Burgundy region is made of tender poached eggs accompanied by a sauce made of slowly cooked red wine, vegetables, bacon, mushrooms, and potatoes, and is often served with garlic bread. It’s a hearty breakfast and an excellent lunch.
Confit de canard: Duck confit is a specialty of the Gascon region of France, and is considered one of the finest dishes in French cuisine. The process of curing and preserving the duck meat, and then cooking it in its own fat goes back centuries, and Gascon families all have their own methods and traditions. Properly prepared duck confit takes days to season and cure the meat, and then four to ten hours of slowly poaching it. The rendered duck fat is then used to fry the meat until crisp, and also to prepare the potatoes that typically accompany the dish. This decadent meal is an essential when traveling in France.
Tarte tatin: This delicious dessert is an upside-down tart, with deeply caramelized local apples on top of a rich pastry crust. Named for the Tatin sisters who created it by accident, French historians debate about whether it is truly an original dish, or simply an improvement of the existing tarte solognote. Whatever the origin, it is a decadent dessert, elevating the seeming simplicity of the ingredients.
Foie gras: Foie gras is a dish that has become synonymous with luxury, carrying the same social status as caviar, and is a legally protected part of French cultural heritage. Made from the liver of a fattened goose or duck, foie gras is often prepared into a paté or used to accentuate another dish, but locals often enjoy it simply, seasoned just with salt and pepper.
French sweets: Taking advantage of the plethora of “sweets boutiques” is the perfect experience for those who want to dive in to the world of pastries, chocolates and candies. Discover who has your favorite macarons, original pink praline brioche, and the oldest candies in France!
A visit to France is a singular opportunity for food lovers to explore food and food culture, and is not to be compared with simply eating French food in other parts of the world. Locals benefit from extreme French scrutiny of the quality of ingredients, authenticity of sourcing, and meticulous preparation, making it a dining destination unlike any other.
Be sure to check out our top culinary experiences in France and other Mediterranean destinations right here!