The Museum of Food: Foods to Eat in France

We all usually focus on travel experiences and seeing destinations when planning a trip. Maybe we have some fantastic hotel that a trip is built upon. I’d argue that food should be a part of the decision-making process and not just a way to fill the hole in your belly. On my tours, I curate what foods we eat, and I call it the Museum of Food. I’m in France right now, so I thought I’d take you on a stroll through the French wing of the Museum of Food.

Sarah’s Quick List of the Food to Eat in France

Pastry

You all know croissants, but if you haven’t had a warm one actually in France, you’ve never had one. They should be almost gooey, flaky, buttery and crisp all at the same time. They should definitely not taste like bread.

Considering that they are not exactly low-calorie, I like to do a pastry tasting, buying several kinds and cutting them into bites. Pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, chausson au pomme, and on and on. Heck, even if you’re alone you should buy one of each and have a bite. You only live once, people.

Salad

I can honestly say that I’m a pretty darned good cook, having learned how in Italy. But I totally suck at salads. I have no idea what is wrong with me but I simply am terrible at it. The French, on the other hand, are magnificent at making the most creative and luscious salads. I’m buzzing with excitement about bringing my young son Nicola to France because he’s our salad baby, and he will be in heaven.

At any restaurant in France, look for Salades Composees, composed salad. Every restaurant will usually have a few, and will offer a daily salad special. My favorite standard is chèvre chaud, or hot goat cheese on toast that sits on top of a mixed, dressed salad. Basically every restaurant makes that. Salad specials are where things get fascinating. I once ate a salad with lettuce, green beans, fois gras and HOT potatoes on top. Weird! But excellent. Trust the strange combinations, they know what they are doing. I also suspect that the salads are so amazing because the French grow wonderful, organic veggies. The product is only as good as the ingredients after all.

Steak Frites

This is a Paris thing, and I’m kind of sorry if I leave Paris without eating it. It’s just a steak and fries. The steaks can be of differing quality, so this is where it’s smart to go to a reputable restaurant, or even better, wander through the restaurant first and see what the steaks look like before sitting down. A good steak should be medium rare, tender, and served with a pot of béarnaise sauce, which is sort of like mayo mixed with tarragon. The frites in Paris are thin and long, piping hot, crisp on the exterior and soft on the interior. Geez, I’m getting hungry just writing this. There are some famous steak frites places in Paris but I’ve never had the money for them, so I can usually find something good for under $20 away from the touristy zones.

Rosé

I’ve always associated rosé wine with my grandmother–smoking, playing cards, and drinking it from a cardboard box. Not that my grandmother wasn’t neat, I just don’t think we’d have had the same tastes in wine. But France has changed my idea of what pink wine is. I can’t even remember who suggested it to me, but I remember drinking it one day on a scorching hot day in Paris. It was chilled, cheap and cheery. And then I started noticing everyone around me was drinking it, in cafes, sitting on parks, everywhere! Rosé is great in hot weather, and it’s so stinking cheap that it almost makes me feel guilty. If you’re ever looking for me on a hot day in Paris, odds are that I’m sitting on the Champ de Mars with a €5 bottle of rosé and a hunk of goat cheese. Bring a baguette and we’ve got a party.

Crepes

I don’t really care too much about being cool, but I’ll note for you that eating crepes in Paris isn’t exactly a cool thing I’ve heard. Crepes are from Brittany and that’s apparently where they should be eaten. I’ve no plans to go to Brittany any time soon, so I’ll eat all the crepes I can stuff in my belly wherever I find them in France. They are not just sweet, even if most people love the sweet ones. I also like the savory “galettes” that can have traditional cheese and ham, or modern combos like salad, egg and tuna. Some spots in Paris offer a crepe set menu (like the Framboise chain) that give you a savory galette, sweet crepe, and a glass of hard cider for about €12. I’m not sure I can imagine a better lunch.

Escargot

Yes. Eat the snails. Why? Because they are covered in butter, garlic and parsley you silly goose! I’d eat my shoe if you soaked it in that sauce. Use the bread on the table to sop up every last drop.

Fruit

While French cakes and pastries are legendary, I’ll pass. I’m getting to an age where that’s just not a good idea anymore, and I’d rather spend my calories on wine. But the fruit! Apricots, cerises, those funny little squashed peaches, ALL THE FRUIT. It’s all so good. And the fruit vendors have a knack for only selling what is perfectly ripe. You’ll never miss dessert if you eat the fruit.

So that’s my quick tour of the French wing of the museum of food. There are more exhibits, but these are my highlights. I’ll report back later in the summer when we visit the Italian wing. Bon apetit!

8 replies on “The Museum of Food: Foods to Eat in France”

  1. This post was right up my alley! I love to travel and I experience most places through food. Most people plan what they will see in a place, I plan what I will eat! One of my favourite things to do when away, is visit a market, but some great local produce, cheese, meat, etc. Perfection! Heading to Alaska this summer and I’m so looking forward to salmon and crab. My visit to Ottawa promises Beaver Tails and poutine as well as Ottawa’s notable Lebanese food.

  2. To go along with your suggestion to purchase a variety of patisserie in order to taste them all (wish I’d thought of that), they really do taste good later, even the next day. So put a zip-lock or two in your purse, and bit into some yummy leftovers when you hit that afternoon energy slump. I also travel with an empty Talenti Gelati container. Absolutely watertight, small enough to fit in your purse, but large enough to put half the maigret de canard that you couldn’t finish (and wouldn’t that be great in a sandwich tomorrow!).
    The best pastry I ever ate was from a bakery near the train station in Carcassone. It was magnificent, so good I went back in and bought a bunch to bring as house gifts to my host. She lived in France, so was used to the pastry, and was still very impressed. Years later I was in Paris, looked all over and couldn’t find Jesuits. Must be regional.
    This is why it is called a Jesuite: Le jésuite est un triangle de pâte feuilletée, fourré à la frangipane, recouvert de glaçage. A l’origine, ces pâtisseries étaient recouverte de praline ou de glaçage au chocolat en forme de chapeau aux bords relevés comme ceux des Jésuites.

  3. The first thing I ate in Paris was a croissant! A great start! I’d like to add a Croque Monsieur to your list. Such a wonderful sandwich!

  4. I know what you mean about croissants. On our Rick Steves “Best of Paris” tour, we had fresh warm croissants for breakfast every morning. The unique thing about them was how flaky they were. My plate was full of tiny flaky bits of buttery heaven. They were so incredible. I haven’t eaten one in the US since I came back. It would ruin the memories of those fabulous French croissants. I also fell in love with croque Monsieur. They are grilled cheese sandwiches on steroids. Every country has their specialties. I would plan an entire trip around the apple strudel that I had in Vienna. My mouth waters just thinking about it. A wonderful meal is worth a splurge anywhere. You’ll remember it forever.

  5. May I put in a plug for rose from Provence? There are some that are not so cheap and have wonderful nuances. I can’t think of any right now, but know I’ve had some really nice French roses. Of course, not to be compared with French Bordeaux or burgundies but still fine. You’re right that they are their best on a hot afternoon on the patio!

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