France has a more varied and developed cuisine than any other
country with possibly the exception of China. The simple,
delicious cooking for which France is very famous is found
in the old-fashioned bistro and restaurant.
There are two distinct styles of eating in France. One is
of course gastronomy (haute cuisine), widely
known and honoured as a cult with rituals, rules and taboos.
It is rarely practised in daily life, mainly because of the
cost and the time which must be devoted to produce it. The
other is family-style cooking, often just
as delicious as its celebrated counterpart.
Almost all restaurants offer two types of meal, à
la carte (extensive choice for each course and more
expensive) and le menu (a set meal at a fixed
price with dishes selected from the full à la carte
menu). At simple restaurants, the same cutlery will be used
for all courses. The bill (l’addition) will not be presented
until it is asked for, even if clients sit and talk for half
an hour after they have finished eating. Many restaurants
close for a month during the summer, and a day a week. It
is always wise to check that a restaurant is open, particularly
Generally speaking, mealtimes in France are strictly observed.
Lunch is as a rule served from 1200 hrs to 1330 hrs, dinner
usually from 2000 hrs -2130 hrs, but the larger the city,
the later the dining hour. Dishes include: tournedos
(small steaks ringed with bacon), châteaubriand,
entrecôte (rib steak) served with béarnaise
(tarragon-flavoured sauce with egg base); and gigot
de présalé (leg of lamb roasted or
broiled) served with flageolets (light green
beans) or pommes dauphines (deep-fried mashed
potato puffs). Other dishes include: brochettes
(combinations of cubed meat or seafood on skewers, alternating
with mushrooms, onions or tomatoes); ratatouille niçoise
(stew of courgettes, tomatoes and aubergines braised with
garlic in olive oil), pot-au-feu (beef boiled
with vegetables and served with coarse salt), and blanquette
de veau (veal stew with mushrooms in a white wine/cream
In the north of France (Nord/Pas de Calais
and Picardy), fish and shellfish are the star features in
menus, oysters, moules (mussels), coques (cockles) and crevettes
(shrimps) are extremely popular. In Picardy,
duck pâtés and ficelle picarde (ham and mushroom
pancake) are popular.
In the Champagne-Ardenne region, there are
the hams of Rheims and sanglier (wild boar).
Among the fish specialities in this area are écrevisses
(crayfish) and brochets (pike). Alsace
and Lorraine are the lands of choucroute
(sauerkraut) and kugelhof (a special cake),
quiche lorraine and tarte flambée
(onion tart). Spicy and distinctive sauces are the hallmark
of Breton food, and shellfish is a speciality
of the region, particularly homard à l’armoricaine
(lobster with cream sauce).
the main city of the Rhône Valley, is the heartland
of French cuisine, though the food is often more rich than
elaborate. A speciality of this area is quenelles
de brochet (pounded pike formed into sausage shapes
and usually served with a rich crayfish sauce). Bordeaux
rivals Lyon as gastronomic capital of France. Aquitaine
cuisine (in the south west of France) is based on goosefat.
A reference to ‘Périgord’ will indicate
a dish containing truffles. Basque chickens are specially
In the Pyrénées, especially
around Toulouse, visitors will find salmon
and cassoulet, a hearty dish with beans and preserved meat.
General de Gaulle once asked, with a certain amount of pride,
how it was possible to rule a country which produced 365 different
kinds of cheese, some of the better known are Camembert,
Brie, Roquefort, Reblochon and blue
cheeses from Auvergne and Bresse.
Desserts include: soufflé
grand-marnier, oeufs à la neige (meringues floating
on custard), mille feuilles (layers of flaky pastry and custard
cream); Paris-Brest (a large puff-pastry with hazelnut cream),
ganache (chocolate cream biscuit); and fruit tarts and flans.
The tourist office publishes a guide to restaurants in Paris
and the Île-de-France.
is by far the most popular alcoholic drink in France, and
the choice will vary according to region. Cheap wine (vin
ordinaire) can either be very palatable or undrinkable, but
there is no certain way of establishing which this is likely
to be before drinking. Wines are classified into AC
(Appellation Contrôlée), VDQS
(Vin delimité de qualité superieure), Vin
de Pays and Vin de Table.
There are several wine-producing regions in France some of
the more notable are Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Rhône
and Champagne. In elegant restaurants, the
wine list will be separate from the main menu, but in less
opulent establishments will be printed on the back or along
the side of the carte. The waiter will usually be glad to
advise an appropriate choice. In expensive restaurants, this
will be handled by a sommelier or wine steward. If in doubt,
try out the house wine, this will usually be less expensive
and will always be the owner’s pride.
Coffee is always served after the meal, and will always be
black, in small cups, unless a café au lait
(or crème) is requested. Liqueurs such as Chartreuse,
Framboise and Genepi (an unusual
liqueur made from an aromatic plant) are available. Many of
these liqueurs, such as eau de vie and calvados
(apple brandy) are very strong and should be treated with
respect, particularly after a few glasses of wine. A good
rule of thumb is to look around and see what the locals are
drinking. Spirit measures are usually doubles unless a baby
is specifically asked for.
There is also a huge variety of aperitifs available. A typically
French drink is pastis, such as Ricard or
Pernod. The region of Nord/Pas de Calais and Picardy
does not produce wine, but brews beer and cider. Alsace
is said to brew the best beer in France but
fruity white wines, such as Riesling, Traminer
and Sylvaner, and fine fruit liqueurs, such
as Kirsch and Framboise,
are also produced in this area. The wines from the Champagne
region of the Montagne de Rheims district
are firm and delicate (Vevenay Verzy), or full-bodied and
ful-flavoured (Bouzy and Ambonnay).
The legal age for drinking alcohol in a bar/cafe is
18. Minors are allowed to go into bars if accompanied
by an adult but they will not be served alcohol. Opening hours
depend on the proprietor but generally bars in major towns
and resorts are open throughout the day and some may still
be open at 0200 hrs. Smaller towns tend to shut earlier. There
are also all-night bars and cafes.
Special purchases in France include lace, crystal
glass, cheeses, coffee and, of course, wines,
spirits and liqueurs.
Arques, the home of Crystal D’Arques,
is situated between St Omer and Calais, en route to most southern
destinations. Lille, the main town of French
Flanders, is known for its textiles, particularly fine lace.
Most towns have fruit and vegetable markets on Saturday. Hypermarkets,
enormous supermarkets which sell everything from foodstuffs
and clothes to hi-fi equipment and furniture, are widespread
in France. They tend to be situated just outside of town and
all have parking facilities.
Department stores are open Monday-Saturday 0900 hrs-1830 hrs.
Some shops are closed between 1200 hrs-1430 hrs. Food shops
are open 0700 hrs -1830/1930 hrs.
Some food shops (particularly bakers) are open Sunday mornings,
in which case they will probably close Monday. Many shops
close all day or Monday afternoon. Hypermarkets are normally
open until 2100 hrs or 2200 hrs.
For details of events and festivals throughout France, contact
The following is a selection of special events occurring in
France in 2005:
Until February 3rd
Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris
||Kandahar - Alpine
Skiing World Cup
||International Film Festival.
||Jazz Under the Apple Trees
(one of Normandy’s most important annual music
|| Monaco Grand Prix
| June 21st
||Summer Solstice and
Music Festivals, countrywide
||Tour de France
||Bastille Day Celebrations
||International Festival of
Theatre, Music and Literature, Limosin.
Handshaking and, more familiarly, kissing both cheeks, are
the usual forms of greeting. The form of personal address
is simply Monsieur or Madame without a surname and it may
take time to get on first-name terms. At more formal dinners,
it is the most important guest or host who gives the signal
to start eating. Meal times are often a long, leisurely experience.
Casual wear is common but the French are renowned for their
stylish sportswear and dress sense. Social functions, some
clubs, casinos and exclusive restaurants warrant more formal
attire. Evening wear is normally specified where required.
Topless sunbathing is tolerated on most beaches but naturism
is restricted to certain beaches and the local tourist offices
will advise where these are.
Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in cinemas and
theatres. Tobacconists display a red sign in the form of a
double cone. A limited choice of brands can be found in restaurants
A 12 to 15% service charge is normally added to the bill in
hotels, restaurants and bars, but it is customary to leave
small change with the payment and more if the service has
Other services such as washroom attendants, beauticians, hairdressers
and cinema ushers expect tips. Taxi drivers expect 10 to 15%
of the meter fare.