Bonjour, tout le monde!
Now that I’m *finally* back in France, there are plenty of things to take care of: moving into housing, setting up my bank account and, of course, eating French food! While it’s true that you can get it in the States at high-end bistros and cafes in cities like Los Angeles (where I’m from), they’re nowhere as near as the real deal in France!
I’m not just talking about escargots and crêpes here; true, they’re tasty, but they don’t represent the cuisine of the entire country; there’s so much more to French cooking than you think and, depending on which region(s) you go to, you can get a huge variety of different, but delicious plates, from the warm, hearty beer-based stews in the north near the Belgian border to the fresh fruit and vegetable platters in the south along the Mediterranean coast.
During my first year as an assistante, I did a lot of traveling all over France and got to experience the wonderful diversity of French cuisine. After spending eight or so months trying all sorts of different dishes in regions like Alsace, Provence, and Brittany, I realized that there’s so much more than just your usual run-of-the-mill stuff you get in touristy places like Paris (although I admit the capital does have its gems, albeit overpriced). Granted, I still find French cuisine, in general, to focus on way too much butter, cream, and cheese, but there’s always a time and a place for eating without having to worry about health and weight!
That said, I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorite regional dishes that I’ve had so far in France. My hope is to show you a slice (or rather, few slices) of each region’s well-known dish, to show just how many different kinds are out there and perhaps inspire you to try them out yourself the next time you’re in France!
…and of course, enjoy the massive food porn!
1. Carbonade flamande (Nord-pas-de-Calais region). This is sort of similar to the classic boeuf bourguignon (made famous in American culture by none other than Julia Child), but instead of the beef being cooked in red wine, it’s drenched in tons of beer, which then creates this super rich, super hearty stew that’s perfect when paired with fries and, you guessed it, more beer. It’s a classic in the French Flanders (near Belgium), and I really enjoyed it when I had it for the first time when visiting Lille. Super full afterwards, but I didn’t mind! The carbonade flamande is certainly not for those who are on a diet!
2. Moules marinières (Normandy region). Okay, so technically, les moules marinières are found all over northwest France (including the Brittany and Nord-pas-de-Calais regions), but in any case, they’re amazing! If you’re a avid seafood lover like me, then you’ll find pleasure in picking out those tiny bits of food heaven inside the shells, as well as savoring the fresh, briny meat that has been cooked in a rich white wine-shallots based recipe. They can also be paired with fries (called “moules frites”), which is also a Belgian thing, but still, what more do you need besides a boat-load of mussels?
3. Omelette à la mère Poulard (Le Mont St. Michel). Known as a “puffy omelet” in English, this particular dish is definitely puffy, to say the least! I believe the omelet is made from whipped egg whites, which gives it that inflated look, and is then stuffed with cheese and some kind of vegetables that resemble green beans. It’s only found in Le Mont St. Michel in the Normandy region and is named after the eponymous cook “la mère Poulard” (née Anne Boutiaut) from the late 19th century. Although it’s puffy, the omelet isn’t as light-tasting as you might think; after all, it’s made from eggs and cream, which are enough to fill you up!
4. Galette saucisse (Brittany region). A galette is a buckwheat crêpe, which often is used in savory dishes so you can bet that a galette saucisse is a deliciously salty concoction of sausage, cheese, and onions…which it is! I had it for the first time in Rennes and it was a food game-changer. I’m not exaggerating (well, maybe a bit), but upon that first bite, a symphony somewhere started playing, as I was sucked into a delicious melody of pure savoriness. I don’t usually like sausage-based food, but the galette saucisse made me a believer again; it’s definitely the ultimate comfort food for cold, wintry nights.
5. Raclette (Alsace region). This dish actually originates from Switzerland, but it’s also popular in parts of France nearby, including the Alsace region. I tried the raclette at a home-hosted dinner in Strasbourg, and I found it to be quite ingenious with the interesting contraption you use to cook the meats and mushrooms on top and to melt the cheese below. Essentially, it’s fondue, but fancier with all of the extra stuff that goes along with it. I’m not kidding; there was so much cheese consumed that night (along with a few bottles of wine). It’s hard not to stuff yourself to death from all of that food!
6. Choucroute garnie (Alsace region). The word choucroute means “sauerkraut,” so you can imagine that there’s tons of it in this dish also from Alsace! It’s heavily influenced by German cuisine, as the region is near Germany (although it’s distinctively Alsatian), and there’s a huge amount of sausage, ham, and bacon which accompany the sauerkraut in this meal. I also had this dish when visiting Strasbourg and, paired with a Picon beer, found it super hearty, super filling and, well, super Alsatian! This is what I would consider a meat-lover’s dish, so definitely not for vegans or vegetarians!
7. Tartiflette (Pays de Savoie). If the dishes I’ve listed so far haven’t second-handedly clogged your arteries yet, then you certainly haven’t seen the tartiflette! Essentially, it’s a gratin made from potatoes, bacon, onions, and of course, lots and lots of cheese (specifically that from the Savoie department in the French Alps). You might find it disgustingly creamy and fatty, which I admit is not a lie, but from time to time, it’s okay to throw your diet and health out of the window and live- really live for something that makes you happy, which for me is food!
8. Quenelle lyonnaise (Lyon). In general, a quenelle is a puff pastry stuffed with meat, then drenched with a dark, rich sauce all over it. The version lyonnaise also uses puff pastry, but instead contains fish paste inside. For some folks who might be put off by this interesting form of fish, they may not be as thrilled to give it a try; personally, I don’t mind it, considering that fish paste is common in Chinese dishes (e.g. fish ball soup), which I grew up eating in the household. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the quenelle lyonnaise that I had in Lyon, but you can Google it and see how interesting it looks!
9. Bouillabaisse (Provence region). Pronounced “boo-ee-ah-bez,” this tricky-sounding dish is from the south of France, originating in the city port of Marseille. It’s a fish-lover’s delight, for it’s essentially a fish stew that’s infused with saffron and contains a medley of fish native to Marseille and/or nearby towns along the Mediterranean coast. What makes this dish different from the others on this list is that it contains neither cheese nor cream in the recipe. The south of France tends to use more fresh produce in its cooking as its warmer climate encourages fruits and vegetables to flourish, so this dish does just that!
10. Croque madame (served all over France). You can find the croque madame everywhere in the country, but it, along with its “husband” the croque monsieur, first originated in Parisian cafe menus back in the early 20th century. Think of this dish as a grilled cheese sandwich…on steroids. Seriously, the sandwich bread is battered in egg and cream, toasted to a crispy golden brown in the oven, then smothered with a ton more cheese on top- as if the cheese inside wasn’t enough! Personally, I enjoy the croque madame more because of the fried egg on top, even if it costs and bit more and is more caloric!
Hopefully, you didn’t get too hungry looking at the photos! Let me know your favorite French dish, or what you would like to try in the future. Bon appétit!