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Food, Dining, & Drinks in France

Culinary Influences

French Food - Pastry
Pastry

French cuisine is surprisingly simple, but with somewhat complex cooking techniques. Most of the influences that have created today's French food were internal changes, not external influences, creating a cuisine that has essentially used the same ingredients for centuries, but has evolved by way of how it is prepared.

French food is and always has been based on quality fresh ingredients. Dining, however was one of the first aspects of food that has changed; French Medieval cuisine was served (among the upper class) in the form of large banquets as the tables would be overwhelmed with food. The days of large banquets made way to the royalty's demand for greater presentation, variety, and service. This required chefs to find new ways to prepare their local foods as meal dining times were extended as each dish was presented as a piece of art. This pinnacled in the 1600s with Haute Cuisine and tends to be the basis for the ornate foods served today.

In the 1800s, food preparation and presentation was simplified, however still integrated many of the new techniques introduced earlier. During this simplification period, the importance of food however remained and continues to be an important aspect of French culture.

Staple Foods

Baguette: French bread is more than just a foreigner's stereotype about the French diet; it truly is a staple and an integral part of French cuisine

Regional Variations & Specialties

Alsace: German-influenced foods; sour kraut and pork are popular
Burgundy: a lot of meat and famous for their cream sauces
Coasts: seafood is the protein of choice
Mediterranean: dishes are cooked with more olive oil, herbs and tomatoes
Northwest France: a lot of dairy, such as butter and sour cream
Southeast France: Italian dishes or ingredients, such as pasta, are more common
South France: due to the longer growing season, vegetables and fruit are more prevalent

Dining Etiquette

French Food - Bouillabaisse
Bouillabaisse

Punctuality in France is defined quite differently from many northern European and North American countries, but when dining at a local's home, you should arrive close to the time agreed upon. It is common in France to arrive about 10-15 minutes late, but when it comes to food, most people arrive closer to 5-10 minutes late.

You can take that extra time to second guess your dress or get a gift for your host, but don't get wine unless it's a local wine, since most French known their wines and you don't want to insult them with a poor quality bottle. As a fashion capital, dressing nicely and in something unique and fashionably is expected so be careful with what you wear.

Once you begin eating, the atmosphere is fairly relaxed and very social. Wine is commonly served with meals and your wine will be continuously refilled if your glass ever falls to less than half full. The dining will begin with the host placing his or her napkin on her lap and the words "bon appetit." Eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and use your silverware (utensils) to eat everything except the bread, which will sit directly on the table.

You will likely be served multiple courses and you are expected to eat each dish you're served. If you don't like something you're served you will soon run into trouble, since you're expected to finish everything on your plate. Also, as you eat in this social setting, avoid conversations about religion, politics, money, and business (even with business partners), since no Frenchman or woman wants these subjects to ruin their perfectly good meal.

Typically when you eat at a sit down restaurant with a waiter or waitress, a service charge is included, but if not, you should tip about 10% of the bill. In bars a tip of whatever loose change you have is appropriate.

Drinks

French Food - Cheese & wine
Cheese & wine

All popular drinks are available in France, including numerous non-alcoholic drinks. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, juices, and milk are all commonly available and accessible.

However, France is best known for their wines and champagne. Every region and even sub-region or hillside in France has different soils and weather, catering to the growth of differing grapes. For this reason, every region in France produces different grapes and different wine combinations. Nearly every village has numerous small wineries and it's tough to go wrong with a local wine in France. While wine is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country, beers and hard liquors, both domestic and foreign, are also available.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in France, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013