Now that I’ve tried my fair share of French cafés, bars, boulangeries, patisseries, and restaurants, I think it’s high time for a post about the most delicious aspect of any country—the cuisine. Food is so central to the identity of a culture—it brings people together, represents local traditions and history, fuels the lifestyle. For this post, I decided to ask some of my friends back in the States (yes, I have started referring to America as “the States”) for any questions they had about French or Parisian food. I got some very interesting responses about aspects of France I had never even thought about, and I’m excited to answer them as best I can here.
1. The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue: Are baguettes really that popular?
Yes, baguettes are really that popular. The majority of Parisians buy a fresh baguette every morning, and use the leftovers for breakfast the next day. (The student hostel where I am staying provides us with day-old baguettes and butter (beurre), jam (confiture), and Nutella every morning.) Baguettes are also cheap (about 1 to 2 euros each) and available nearly everywhere. Nearly all sandwiches in boulangeries (bread shops) are on baguettes as well, and with dinner restaurants always provide baskets filled with pieces of—you guessed it—baguettes.
2. Do people in Paris drink as much coffee as Americans?
Americans drink A LOT of coffee. I was never fully aware of this until I came to a country where a “large” is equivalent to an American “small.” When it comes to eating and drinking, the French are leisurely—they drink coffee not for the energy and the caffeine but to savor the taste. Here, there is no “on-the-go” lifestyle—drinks are meant to be enjoyed, to be relaxing, rather than downed during the morning commute. The only place with sizes similar to American ones is Starbucks—everywhere else, a cup of coffee is no more than seven or eight sips. Parisians like to have a small coffee or latte in the morning and typically end lunch and dinner with an espresso—a very, very tiny espresso.
3. Are there any unique eating or serving traditions in France?
Like any country, France has its fair share of customs when it comes to food. I’ll outline a few of the interesting traditions I’ve noticed. First off, in terms of buying groceries, it is a very different experience from food shopping in the U.S. Here, no one store sells all food items—there are no Giants or Acmes or Shop Rites. Instead, each store specializes—I buy baguettes and sandwiches at boulangeries (bread bakeries,) pastries at patisseries (pastry bakeries), fruit at outdoor fruit markets or small independently owned fruit shops, non-perishable items like cereal, pasta, and canned goods at grocery stores that remind me more of supermarkets at home. I don’t do this because it’s charming or I want to—frankly it’s sometimes a hassle. I do it because the fruit stand doesn’t sell bread, the grocery store doesn’t sell fruit, and the bread shop doesn’t sell cereal. It took some getting used to, but the quality of the food is much fresher because of the personal connections between the shop owners and their local customers, which is a really nice atmosphere.
In terms of restaurant dining, the service is always very good—as a former waitress, I am always impressed. Also, in addition to bread baskets, many restaurants give customers small bowls of olives and peanuts to munch on. Tips are usually included with the price of the food, and many places offer fixed price menus—one price for an entrée (appetizer,) plat (entrée,) and usually a drink or dessert. Doggy bags and take out boxes do not exist here—food should be savored, eaten leisurely, and finished. The French are in no hurry to get the check. This is a little tricky to adjust to since I’m not used to blocking out time in my schedule to eat time-consuming meals—I’m a typical eat-on-the-go American—but it is also refreshing.
4. What does a typical French lunch look like?
In France, lunch is a much larger meal than dinner. Usually, diners have a small appetizer and a sandwich. I love crudités, cheese and vegetables or meat or fish on crunchy bread, but croque monsieurs (hot ham and cheese) and croque madames (hot ham and cheese with a fried egg on top) are also popular). Sandwiches often come with a small salad (usually just lettuce, which is also strange to get used to) with dijon dressing or frites (French fries). Of course, lunch contains at least one glass of wine (here, soda is often more expensive than wine!) and ends with an espresso. A few interesting side notes: French fries here come with chicken or steak dinners often and are considered a proper side to nice meals. They also have much less salt than American fries. Also, the French love cream sauce, which is fresh and delicious but also probably cancels out the health benefits gained from low sodium content…
5. How often do Parisians drink wine?
Parisians drink wine like Americans drink coffee. Here, coffee can be pricey, but wine is incredibly cheap (The opposite of American prices). Coca-Cola (which here comes in a charming glass bottle and actually contains REAL SUGAR) is more expensive than a verre du vin. The French love to have a glass of wine or two with lunch and dinner, but they drink the wine, like they eat their food, to savor it. They drink leisurely, for the taste rather than the effects, and French wine also contains a lower alcohol content than American wine.
6. And finally, a question I found very interesting: Are there other ethnic cuisines that are popular in France, similar to how “Chinese food” is popular in America?
Sushi and Japanese food are very popular here. Not many restaurants serve any types of food that aren’t French or sometimes Italian, but there are tons of Japanese places throughout Paris. And contrary to ethnic cuisines in America, the food isn’t molded to French standards; it is relatively authentic. Another popular dish is, of all things, the hot dog, which is a little dressier than typical American hot dogs but still an interesting choice for the French. Overall, however, France is definitely not as much of a melting pot as the U.S.
Thanks for reading this post, and make sure to check back for my next report!
À tout à l’heure!