It is an indisputable fact that the French turned food into an art form. Nowhere in the world is so much attention paid to what and how people will be fed. The reason lies in history: the education of the royal court, the strict discipline and system of apprenticeships and related factors, the creativity of cooks, the availability of amazing products, and an insatiable love of good food. French cuisine evolved throughout the centuries and was influenced by the many surrounding cultures of Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium.
French cuisine is famous for fine “gourmet” specialties and a limitless number of superior traditional regional dishes. Every French region has multiple dishes and foods recognized around the world, especially cheeses, wines, and cold cuts.
Milk plays a major role in French cuisine. On average, a Frenchman consumes 30% more milk than any other European every year. French cheese is a product consumed by young and old worldwide. It is inconceivable for the French to cook without their cheeses, many of which, such as Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort, are loved all over the world.
Reaching all the way back to the Romans, grapes have been cultivated throughout the country and French wines are arguably the best in the world. Most every region has their own special wines, especially Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone Valley. After-dinner digestifs like Cognac and Armagnac are also in abundance, along with fruit brandies like Calvados (apple), and Chambord (raspberry). Good wines are an integral component of French cooking.
French cuisine varies from region to region, sometimes from city to city. From a distance, French cooking can be categorized into two broad profiles: the Northern regions of the country where dairy predominates and the cooking medium is butter, and Southern regions that are influenced more by Mediterranean countries, especially Italy and Morocco, and the cooking medium is olive oil.
French cuisine can further be broken down to six regions, each distinct and representative of that region’s history, geography, ingredients, and other distinct influences:
With over 9,000 restaurants, Paris is the center of French cuisine. Like other great population centers such as New York City and Mexico City, Paris represents the best of the country’s regional cuisines as opposed to having one of its own.
Notable Dishes – Pomme Frites (French fries), Croque Monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich), Steak au Poivre (peppercorn steak), Chocolat Chaud (Hot Chocolate), Couscous (tiny grains from Morocco), Baguette (long crisp bread loaf), Croissant (Flaky-soft butter pastries), Mousse au Chocolat (rich chocolate pudding).
MHT Parisian Recipes:
The coastline supplies endless variations of crustaceans, as well as sea bass, monkfish, and herring. Normandy has top quality seafood, such as scallops and sole, while Brittany has a supply of lobster, crayfish, and mussels. Normandy is home to large apple orchards and apples are used in many dishes. Thick stews are found often in these northern areas as well. The vegetables of these northern regions is also considered some of the best in the country, including cauliflower and artichokes. Normandy is also known for its salt marshes and the superior lamb that feed on them.
Notable Dishes – Belon Oysters, Calvados (apple brandy), Sole Mariniere (Dover sole in butter sauce), Porc du Normandie (creamed apple cider pork casserole), Camembert (soft cheese), Crepes (thin pancakes), Crème Chantilly (sweet, delicate, white, whipped cream).
MHT Northwestern French Recipes:
Game and ham are popular in Champagne, as well as the special sparkling wine simply known as…champagne. Fine fruit preserves from Lorraine are known as well, as is quiche Lorraine. Alsace is heavily influenced by the German cuisine as they share a moving border that has changed hands many times throughout history. As such, beers made in the area are similar to the style of bordering Germany. Dishes like choucroute (French word for sauerkraut) are also popular. Many types of “Eaux de Vie,” also called schnapps, is from this region due to its wide variety of local fruits such as cherry, raspberry, pear, grapes, and especially prunes.
Notable dishes – Alsatian Choucroute (sauerkraut and pork casserole), Quiche Lorraine (savory cheese pie), Flammeküche (Alsatian cheese & onion tart), Muenster Cheese, Gewürztraminer (late harvest white wine).
MHT Northeastern French Recipes:
Burgundy and Lyon dominate this region, with the world class wines of Burgundy and cooking techniques of Lyon. The unique Bouchon (traditional restaurants) of Lyon help make it the capital of French gastronomy. The region invented nouvelle cuisine by moving away from complex haute cuisine to lighter interpretations of classic dishes using heavily reduced sauces and fresh ingredients. Burgundy is not only famous for its amazing wines, but also stews like Beef Bourguignon and Coq au Vin, and the sauces made with it.
Notable Dishes – Comté Gougères (cheese puffs), Escargot (snails in butter & garlic), Dijon mustard, Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stewed in wine), Coq au Vin (chicken stewed in wine), Burgundy & Beaujolais & Chardonnay wines, Salade Lyonnaise (salad greens with bacon, eggs and croutons), Gratin Dauphinoise (layered potato casserole), Rosette de Lyon (charcuterie), Quenelle (sausage made from minced fish), Crème Brulee (cream custard with caramelized sugar top).
MHT East-Central French Recipes:
Bordeaux is famous for its wine, with certain areas growing specialty grapes for wine-making. Fish dishes are popular in the region, with sea fishing in the Bay of Biscay and stream fishing in the Pyrenees. Dishes from the Pyrenees also feature lamb, such as and sheep cheeses. Beef cattle in the region is special. Free-range chicken, turkey, pigeon, capons, goose and duck prevail in the region as well. Famous dishes from Gascony and Périgord include patés, terrines, and confits. The region is notable for its production of foie gras (fattened goose or duck liver). The cuisine of the region is very rustic and farm based. The finest sausage in France is commonly acknowledged to be the saucisse de Toulouse, which also finds its way into the classic cassoulet of Toulouse. The region is also known for its black truffles, small beans, and different types of mushrooms.
Notable Dishes – Roquefort cheese (cave-aged blue cheese), Cassoulet (pork and bean casserole), Confit (preserved duck legs), Pork and Duck Pates, Mouses and Terrines, foie gras (duck liver), Saucisse de Toulouse (pork sausage), Gigot d’agneau de Pauillac (roast baby lamb with apples), Chocolatine (chocolate filled puff pastry), La Tourtiere (fine layers of pastry surrounding an apple and rum filling), Macrons (original almond-meringue cookies)
MHT Southwestern French Recipes:
The cuisine of Provence and Cote d’Azur is the result of the warm, dry Mediterranean climate. The rugged landscape is good for grazing sheep and goats, but has mostly with poor soil for large-scale agriculture, There is and abundance of seafood on the coast. The basic ingredients are olives and olive oil. garlic, sardines, rockfish, octopus, lamb, goat, chickpeas, and local fruits like grapes, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries, and the famous melons of Cavaillon.
Notable dishes – Bouillabaisse (seafood soup), Rouille (sauce of olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper), Salade Nicoise (salad with olives), Ratatouille (mixed vegetable stew). Tapenade (olive dip), Nougat of Capuchins (figs stuffed with walnuts), Bûche de Noël (Yule log for Christmas)
MHT Southeastern French Recipes:
The French Table
Meals in France usually revolve around three courses- hors d’oeuvre (appetizer or soup), plat principal (main course or entree), and either fromage (cheese) or dessert. Quite often, a salade is eaten between the main and cheese courses. The French also meticulously match dishes and courses to a beverage, most often regional wines and aperitifs and beer.