French cuisine is a cuisine originating from France. In the Middle Ages, Guillaume Tirel Taillevent, a court chef, wrote Le Viandier, one of the earliest recipe collections of Medieval France. In the 17th century, La Varenne and the notable chef of Napoleon and other dignitaries, Marie-Antoine Carême, moved toward fewer spices and more liberal usage of herbs and creamy ingredients, signaling the beginning of modern cuisine. Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, playing different roles regionally and nationally, with many variations and appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) (regulated appellation) laws.
French cuisine was codified in the 20th century by Escoffier to become the modern version of haute cuisine; Escoffier, however, left out much of the regional culinary character to be found in the regions of France. Gastro-tourism and the Guide Michelin helped to acquaint people with the rich bourgeois and peasant cuisine of the French countryside starting in the 20th century. Gascon cuisine has also had great influence over the cuisine in the southwest of France. Many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in variations across the country.
Knowledge of French cooking has contributed significantly to Western cuisines and its criteria are used widely in Western cookery school boards and culinary education. In November 2010, French gastronomy was added by UNESCO to its lists of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” along with Mexican cuisine.
There are many dishes that are considered part of French national cuisine today.
A meal often consists of three courses, hors d’œuvre or entrée (introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), fromage (cheese course) and/or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert.
– Basil Salmon Terrine
– Velouté de mousseron
– Pommes Frites is a simple and popular dish
– Baguette often accompanies the meal
– Some French cheeses
Pâtisserie & Dessert
– Typical French Pâtisserie
– Religieuse au chocolat
The 22 regions and 96 departments ofmetropolitan France include Corsica (Corse, lower right). Paris area is expanded (inset at left). French regional cuisine is characterized by its extreme diversity and style. Traditionally, each region of France has its own distinctive cuisine.
Paris and Île-de-France
Paris and Île-de-France are central regions where almost anything from the country is available, as all train lines meet in the city. Over 9,000 restaurants exist in Paris and almost any cuisine can be had here. High-quality Michelin Guide rated restaurants proliferate here.
Champagne, Lorraine, and Alsace
Game and ham are popular in Champagne, as well as the special sparkling wine simply known as Champagne. Fine fruit preserves are known fromLorraine as well as the quiche Lorraine. Alsace is influenced by the Alemannic food culture; as such, beers made in the area are similar to the style of bordering Germany.
Nord Pas-de-Calais, Picardy, Normandy, and Brittany
The coastline supplies many crustaceans, 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 a large population of apple trees; apples are often used in dishes, as well as cider and Calvados. The northern areas of this region, especially Nord, grow ample amounts of wheat, sugar beets and chicory. Thick stews are found often in these northern areas as well. The produce of these northern regions is also considered some of the best in the country, including cauliflower and artichokes. Buckwheat grows widely in Brittany as well and is used in the region’s galettes, called jalet, which is where this dish originated.
Loire Valley and central France
High quality fruits come from the Loire Valley and central France, including cherries grown for the liqueur Guignolet and the Belle Angevine pears. The strawberries and melons are also of high quality. Fish are seen in the cuisine, often served with a beurre blanc sauce, as well as wild game, lamb, calves, Charolais cattle, Géline fowl, and high quality goat cheeses. Young vegetables are used often in the cuisine as are the specialty mushrooms of the region, champignons de Paris. Vinegars from Orléans are a specialty ingredient used as well.
Burgundy and Franche-Comté
Burgundy and Franche-Comté are known for their wines. Pike, perch, river crabs, snails, game, redcurrants, blackcurrants are from both Burgundy and Franche-Comté. Amongst savorous specialties accounted in the Cuisine franc-comtoise from the Franche-Comté region are Croûte aux morilles, Poulet à la Comtoise, trout, smoked meat and cheese such as Mont d’Or, Comté (cheese) and Morbier (cheese) which are at the palate best eaten hot or cold, the exquisite Coq au vin jaune and especial desert Gateau de ménage. Charolais beef, poultry from Bresse, sea snail, honey cake, Chaource and Epoisses cheese are specialties of the local cuisine of Burgundy. Dijon mustard is also a specialty of Burgundy cuisine. Crème de Cassis is a popular liquor made from the blackcurrants. Oil are used in the cooking here, types include nut oils and rapeseed oil.
Fruit and young vegetables are popular in the cuisine from the Rhône valley. Poultry from Bresse, guinea fowls from Drôme and fish from the Dombes lakes and mountain in Rhône-Alpes streams are key to the cuisine as well. Lyon and Savoy supply high quality sausages while the Alpine regions supply their specialty cheeses like Beaufort, Abondance, Reblochon, Tomme and Vacherin.Mères lyonnaises are a particular type of restaurateur relegated to this region that are the regions bistro. Celebrated chefs from this region include Fernand Point, Paul Bocuse, the Troisgros brothers and Alain Chapel. The Chartreuse Mountains are in this region, and the liquor Chartreuse is produced in a monastery there.
Poitou-Charentes and Limousin
Oysters come from the Oléron-Marennes basin, while mussels come from the Bay of Aiguillon. High quality produce comes from the region’s hinterland, especially goat cheese. This region and in the Vendée is grazing ground for Parthenaise cattle, while poultry is raised in Challans. Poitou and Charente purportedly produce the best butter and cream in France. Cognac is also made in the region along the Charente River. Limousin is home to the high quality Limousin cattle, as well as high quality sheep. The woodlands offer game and high quality mushrooms. The southern area around Brive draws its cooking influence from Périgord and Auvergne to produce a robust cuisine.
Bordeaux, Périgord, Gascony, and Basque country
Bordeaux is known for its wine, with certain areas offering specialty grapes for wine-making. Fishing is popular in the region for the cuisine, sea fishing in the Bay of Biscay, trapping in theGaronne and stream fishing in the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees also support top quality lamb, such as the “Agneau de Pauillac”, as well as high quality sheep cheeses. Beef cattle in the region include the Blonde d’Aquitaine, Boeuf de Chalosse, Boeuf Gras de Bazas, and Garonnaise. High quality free-range chicken, turkey, pigeon, capon, goose and duck prevail in the region as well.Gascony and Périgord cuisines includes high quality patés, terrines, confits and magrets. This is one of the regions notable for its production of foie gras or fattened goose or duck liver. The cuisine of the region is often heavy and farm based. Armagnac is also from this region, as are high quality prunes from Agen
Toulouse, Quercy, and Aveyron
Gers, a department of France, is within this region and has high quality poultry, while La Montagne Noire and Lacaune area offers high quality hams and dry sausages. White corn is planted heavily in the area both for use in fattening the ducks and geese for foie gras and for the production of millas, a cornmeal porridge. Haricot beans are also grown in this area, which are central to the dish cassoulet. The finest sausage in France is commonly acknowledged to be the saucisse de Toulouse, which also finds its way into their version of cassoulet of Toulouse. The Cahors area produces a high quality specialty “black wine” as well as high-quality truffles and mushrooms. This region also produces milk-fed lamb. Unpasteurized ewe‘s milk is used to produce the Roquefortin Aveyron, while in Laguiole is producing unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese. The Salers cattle produce quality milk for cheese, as well as beef and veal products. The volcanic soils create flinty cheeses and superb lentils. Mineral waters are produced in high volume in this region as well. Cabécou cheese is from Rocamadour, a medieval settlement erected directly on a cliff, in the rich countryside of Causses du Quercy. This area is one of the region’s oldest milk producers; it has chalky soil, marked by history and human activity, and is favourable for the raising of goats.
Roussillon, Languedoc, and Cévennes
Restaurants are popular in the area known as Le Midi. Oysters come from the Etang de Thau, to be served in the restaurants of Bouzigues, Meze, and Sète. Mussels are commonly seen here in addition to fish specialties of Sète, Bourride, Tielles and Rouille de seiche. In the Languedoc jambon cru, sometimes known as jambon de montagne is produced. High quality Roquefort comes from the brebis (sheep) on the Larzac plateau. The Les Cévennes area offers mushrooms, chestnuts, berries, honey, lamb, game, sausages, pâtés and goat cheeses. Catalan influence can be seen in the cuisine here with dishes like brandade made from a purée of dried cod wrapped in mangold leaves. Snails are plentiful and are prepared in a specific Catalan style known as acargolade. Wild boar can be found in the more mountainous regions of the Midi.
The Provence and Côte d’Azur region is rich in quality citrus, vegetables and fruits and herbs – the region is one of the largest suppliers of all these ingredients in France. The region also produces the largest amount of olives, and creates superb olive oil. Lavender is used in many dishes found in Haute Provence. Other important herbs in the cuisine include thyme, sage, rosemary, basil,savory, fennel, marjoram, tarragon, oregano, and bay leaf. Honey is a prized ingredient in the region. Seafood proliferates throughout the coastal area. Goat cheeses, air-dried sausages, lamb, beef, and chicken are popular here. Garlic* and anchovies are used in many of the region’s sauces, as in Poulet Provençal, which uses white wine, tomatoes, herbs, and sometimes anchovies, and Pastis is found everywhere that alcohol is served. The cuisine uses a large amount of vegetables for lighter preparations. Truffles are commonly seen in Provence during the winter. Thirteen desserts in Provence are the traditional Christmas dessert, e.g. quince cheese, biscuits, almonds, nougat, apple, and fougasse.
Anibal Camous, a Marseillais who lived to be 104, maintained that it was by eating garlic daily that he kept his “youth” and brilliance. When his eighty-year-old son died, the father mourned : “ I always told him he wouldn’t live long, poor boy. He ate too little garlic !” (cited by chef Philippe Gion)
Goats and sheep proliferate on the island of Corsica, and lamb are used to prepare dishes such as “stufato”, ragouts and roasts. Cheeses are also produced, with “brocciu” being the most popular. Chestnuts, growing in the Castagniccia forest, are used to produce flour, which is used in turn to make bread, cakes and polenta. The forest provides acorns used to feed the pigs andboars that provide much of the protein for the island’s cuisine. Fresh fish and seafood are common. The island’s pork is used to make fine hams, sausage and other unique items including coppa(dried rib cut), lonzu (dried pork fillet), figatella, salumu (a dried sausage) salcietta, Panzetta, bacon, figarettu (smoked and dried liverwurst) and prisuttu (farmer’s ham). Clementines (which hold an AOC designation), lemons, nectarines and figs are grown there. Candied citron is used in nougats, while and the aforementioned brocciu and chestnuts are also used in desserts. Corsica offers a variety of wines and fruit liqueurs, including Cap Corse, Patrimonio, Cédratine, Bonapartine, liqueur de myrte, vins de fruit, Rappu, and eau-de-vie de châtaigne.
Specialties by season
French cuisine varies according to the season. In summer, salads and fruit dishes are popular because they are refreshing and produce is inexpensive and abundant. Greengrocers prefer to sell their fruit and vegetables at lower prices if needed, rather than see them rot in the heat. At the end of summer, mushrooms become plentiful and appear in stews throughout France. The hunting season begins in September and runs through February. Game of all kinds is eaten, often in elaborate dishes that celebrate the success of the hunt. Shellfish are at their peak when winter turns to spring, and oysters appear in restaurants in large quantities.
With the advent of deep-freeze and the air-conditioned hypermarché, these seasonal variations are less marked than hitherto, but they are still observed, in some cases due to legal restrictions.Crayfish, for example, have a short season and it is illegal to catch them out of season. Moreover, they do not freeze well.
Foods and ingredients
French regional cuisines use locally grown fungi, such as truffe (truffle), champignon de Paris (button mushroom), chanterelle ou girolle (chanterelle), pleurote (en huître) (oyster mushrooms), andcèpes (porcini).
Varieties of meat consumed include poulet (chicken), pigeon (squab), dinde (turkey), canard (duck), oie (goose, the source of foie gras), bœuf (beef), veau (veal), porc (pork), agneau (lamb),mouton (mutton), lapin (rabbit), caille (quail), cheval (horse), grenouille (frog), and escargot (snails). Commonly consumed fish and seafood include cod, canned sardines, fresh sardines, cannedtuna, fresh tuna, salmon, trout, mussels, herring, oysters, shrimp and calamari.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish and meat, can be purchased either from supermarkets or specialty shops. Street markets are held on certain days in most localities; some towns have a more permanent covered market enclosing food shops, especially meat and fish retailers. These have better shelter than the periodic street markets.
Structure of meals
Le petit déjeuner (breakfast) is often a quick meal consisting of tartines (slices) of French bread with jelly or jam, croissants, pain aux raisins or pain au chocolat (also named chocolatine in the south of France) along with coffee or tea. Children often drink hot chocolate in bowls along with their breakfasts. Breakfast of some kind is always served in cafés opening early in the day.
Le déjeuner (lunch) is a two hour mid-day meal, but it has recently seen a trend towards the one hour lunch break. In some smaller towns and in the south of France, the two hour lunch may still be customary. Sunday lunches are often longer and are taken with the family. Restaurants normally open for lunch at noon and close at 2:30 pm. Some restaurants close on Monday during lunch.
In large cities, a majority of working people and students eat their lunch at a corporate or school cafeteria, which normally serve complete meals as described above; it is therefore not usual for students to bring their own lunch food. It is common for white-collar workers to be given lunch vouchers as part of their employee benefits. These can be used in most restaurants, supermarkets and traiteurs; however, workers having lunch in this way typically do not eat all three dishes of a traditional lunch due to price and time considerations. In smaller cities and towns, some working people leave their workplaces to return home for lunch, generating four rush hours during the day. Finally, an alternative also popular, especially among blue-collar workers, is to lunch on a sandwich, possibly followed with a dessert; both dishes can be found ready-made at bakeries and supermarkets for budget prices.
Le dîner (dinner) often consists of three courses, hors d’œuvre or entrée (appetizers or introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), and a cheese course or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert. Yogurt may replace the cheese course, while a simple dessert would be fresh fruit. The meal is often accompanied by bread, wineand mineral water. Main meat courses are often served with vegetables, along with potatoes, rice or pasta. Restaurants often open at 7:30 pm for dinner, and stop taking orders between the hours of 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm. Some restaurants close for dinner on Sundays.
Beverages & Drinks
In French cuisine, beverages that precede a meal are called apéritifs (literally: that opens the appetite), and can be served with amuse-bouches (literally: mouth amuser). Those that end it are called digestifs.
The apéritif varies from region to region: Pastis is popular in the south of France, Crémant d’Alsace in the eastern region. Champagne can also be served. Kir, also called « Blanc-cassis », is a common and popular apéritif-cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped up with white wine. The word Kir Royal is used when white wine is replaced with aChampagne wine. A simple glass of red wine, such as Beaujolais nouveau, can also be presented as an apéritif, accompanied by amuse-bouches. Some apéritifs can be fortified wines with added herbs, such as cinchona, gentian and vermouth. Trade names that sell well include Suze (the classic gentiane), Byrrh, Dubonnet, Noilly Prat.