Supermarkets in France do not stock the same range of ready meals that you may be used to in the UK, and there are less processed foods; all of this makes for healthier eating without overspending. Eating out is less expensive (aside from the very upmarket restaurants and those in large cities such as Paris and Bordeaux), with many restaurants across the country using a ‘prix fixe’ menu which is extremely good value. As you would expect, there is a huge choice of wine available, many of very reasonable quality around the €5 mark.
Markets are the mainstay of French life, so it’s always a good idea to check out the times and dates of your local marche – even if you do not need anything in particular, they are usually a joy to wander around. Markets have existed in France for hundreds of years, and each will have its own speciality. Smaller towns or villages will also have individual shops for everything, so make sure you check out the following: boulangerie (bakery), traiteur (deli), fromagerie (cheese shop), boucherie/charcuterie (butcher) and epicerie (general groceries).
Most butchers and bakers will stock their own produce, and many will have studied their particular trade for many years. You may pay a little more in these shops in the smaller villages, but it is more than likely that the end product will be fresher and be of a higher qualiy. Having said that, the larger hypermarket do compete favourably cost wise.
Different areas of France are particualry well known for their own cuisine:
- In Alsace, the cooking draws heavily on the fish caught in local rivers. The term l’alsacienne means ‘with sauerkraut (choucroute)’. There is also a great tradition of white wine here, and the region is equally well known for its beer – Kronenbourg is probably the best known. Nearby Franche-Comte is known for its charcuterie (cold meats), particularly smoked beef, sausages and hams. Comte, a hard cheese made in the region, is the most popular cheese in France.
- For the French, Brittany symbolises crepes or thin pancakes sprinkled with icing sugar, and every creperie in France declares itself to be Breton. There are also the popular buckwheat galettes, not to mention all the seafood that Brittany is renowned for. The official ‘plateau de fruits de mer’ will usually have at least 6 kinds of shellfish, and is served on a bed of the local seaweed goemon. Green vegetables feature strongly in this area, particularly artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower and peas. Cider is the main drink and Brittany is the second largest cider producing region of France. Normandy on the other hand is known for its cream and butter - along with seafood of course! It is customary here to have a pause in between courses of copious means for trou normand (Norman gap), where you drink the local calvados (apple brandy) to restore appetite. All kinds of meat are popular here, particularly duck from Rouen and andouilles – sausages made from cows’ intestines.
- The Burgundy region is a gastronomic paradise, and home to the best food and wine that France has to offer. One of the most popular dishes is Boeuf bourguignon, a rich stew of beef cooked in wine, bacon and shallots – and serviced with Dijon mustard from the town of Dijon in the region. Chaource and Epoisses are known for their cheese namesake, and the area in general is home to rustic food including snails, mushrooms, crayfish and quail. Burgundy is of course most famous for its wines, made from Pinot Noir (red) and Chardonnay (white) grapes, and it is one of three main centres of wine production in France – along with Bordeaux and Champagne.
- Champagne is of course renowned for its sparkling white wine, although many other wines are produced here, including roses and still reds. The cuisine of the area is characterised by the abundant wild game – Troyes is best known for its speciality sausages, and andouilletes and Ardenne is renowned for its quality hams.
- The cuisine in Languedoc-Roussillon is very similar to the traditions in Catalonia, just across the border in Spain. Cassoulet, a rich stew traditionally made of goose, duck and sausage, mixed with beans and a topping of breadcrumbs, is the signature dish of the region. Meatballs, grilled snails, peppers and aubergines are often found on the restaurant menu, as well seafood in the more coastal areas – mussels, oysters and clams in particular. Other local specialities include tapenade, duck cooked in red wine and foie gras and confits. The best wines of the region are Corbieres, Minervois, Fitou and Cabardes – produced in the Aude.
- Cooking in Limousin is traditionally simple and filing. The forest yields wild mushroom and chestnut are a renowned speciality of La Creuse. Auvergne was once an important wine region, and is slowly making a comeback. The area is also famous for its cheeses such as Bleu d’Auvergne, Salers, Saint-Nectaire and Cantal. The speciality local dish is potee auvergnate – a hot pot of vegetables and pork. The term a l’auvergnate means with cabbage, bacon and sausage. Truffade is a hearty dish of potatoes and Cantal tomme cheese. Ham is also a popular dish: pounti is a terrine based on ham, pork breast, prunes and beet leaves.
- Whilst Paris is known as one of the world’s greatest gastronomic centres, there are few dishes which are specifically Parisian – the city has a wealth of ethnic fare, and the North African and Vietnamese restaurants are particularly superb. The Brie de Meaux cheese has been made in the suburbs of Paris since the 8th century.
- The cuisine of Provence-Alpes-Cote D’Azur is largely based around olive oil, basil, olives, fish and shellfish whilst a generous use of thyme and rosemary gives a genuine Mediterranean flavour. Provencal cooking is one of the healthiest in France, with bouillabaisse (Fish soup) a meal in itself. There are also some classic cow’s milk cheeses from the region, such as Tomme d’Izoard, Bleu du Queyras and Gruyere Fontu. Dry, fruity rose wines, especially Cotes de Provence, are popular jug wines from Provence. Popular red wines inclue Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone.