Meals and Food

I share the common opinion that French food is the best in world! The breath and depth of dishes is astonishing and the French use of sauces (not always heavy) add flavor to even simple recipes. Not only do French like to eat good food, they like to talk about good food. I found it a popular topic of conversation with my host families.

From an early age, the French learn to eat a wide variety of food and are not prone to subject their children to only “kiddie food” that limits palate development at an early age as I have seen so often in the U.S. With their discerning culinary tastes, the French are quick to criticize even their own preparations when the finished product is not up to their high standards. France’s regions all boast their own specialties such as the popular Mediterranean cuisine from southern France consisting of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, onions, sardines, and other fish.

For specific information on French food, I encourage you to visit websites dedicated to French cuisine. However, there are a few items that do merit some explanation here.

French Specialties


The French take their bread very seriously and the everyday staple is the French baguette. Crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside, this bread is sliced and served with lunch and dinner. The French purchase their fresh baguette on a daily basis, however, one of my host families would only purchase it two times a week and immediately freeze the extra loaves for future days.


The typical sandwich is served on a baguette sliced horizontally. A Jambon-beurre (ham and butter) is the most basic sandwich and they become more complex as cheese, slices of egg and ham, sprinkled with French vinaigrette make it even more delicious!


There are hundreds of varieties of French cheese ranging from soft to hard from mild to strong and pungent. My suggestion is to try a new cheese every week along with your favorites to become a well-educated cheese eater.


The selection and quality of yogurt is outstanding in France. Supermarket aisles devote from 10 to 20 feet of refrigerated space to yogurt, which is consumed frequently by French. Overall, their yogurt has a subtly different taste that is also less sweet than American yogurt.

Fromage blanc et Fromage frais

Fromage blanc (white cheese) is a creamy soft white cheese with a consistency similar to sour cream, but it isn’t sour, nor is it sweet. It is served in lieu of yogurt, often with fresh fruit, honey or sugar sprinkled on it. Fromage frais (fresh cheese) is very similar to fromage blanc, but is a bit stiffer and usually comes in small cylinder shaped containers, like a narrower yogurt container. Fromage frais is also served similar to fromage blanc.

Gâteau au yaourt

From a very early age, children learn to make a very simple cake called a gâteau au yaourt or yogurt cake. The recipe for this simple vanilla cake that tastes a bit like pound cake is proportional to the size of the yogurt container, which is called a pot de yaourt. Here is the recipe:

1 pot of natural yogurt

½ pot oil

2 pots of sugar

3 pots of flour

3 eggs

1½ teaspoons of baking powder

A pinch of salt

Mix in order listed above, pour in a greased 9” cake pan and cook for 35 minutes at 350º F.

You can add chocolate chips, fruit, nuts, and a variety of things to make this cake even tastier.

Cakes and cookies

Good flavor is the key to good French cakes, cookies and pastries. They are also beautiful, but it is not because they are covered in an inch of sweet frosting that is dyed blue or pink, which the French find repulsive and disgustingly sweet. Cookies are typically purchased in the supermarket and rarely made at home. In fact, the word cookie in French refers specifically to a chocolate chip cookie and not the whole category as it does in the U.S. Whereas American children grow up making cookies at home, French children grow up making a gâteau au yaourt.

Breakfast 8:00 am

French eat a typical continental breakfast with croissants, pain au chocolat, other viennoiserie (baked goods made with yeast), baguette with butter, jam or Nutella.

Lunch 1:00 pm

Parisians eat lunch at 1:00 pm and historically this has been the largest meal of the day. Even as current trends have people turning to quick salads or sandwiches, they are still the minority.

Lunch is a typically a three course meal, staring with an entrée, or appetizer as we say in the U.S. The word entrée originates from the verb entrer, which means to enter. Therefore, you enter a meal with the first course. The next course is the plat principal (main dish), consisting typically of a meat or fish, vegetable and carbohydrate. One would then have cheese or yogurt, followed by fruit. Desserts are often purchased in pâtisseries (pastry shops) and not typically made at home.

Snack 4:30 pm

In general, French people do not eat a lot of snacks. However, when children and teenagers get out of school, they typically have an afternoon snack called a goûter when they arrive home. The most popular snacks are fruit, yogurt or viennoiserie. Much to the chagrin of teenagers, the government mandated that vending machines sell healthy snacks, so high sugar and high fat products were eliminated. There are still many teenagers who eat junk food after school along with candy.

Dinner 8:00 pm

Dinner consists of a smaller version of lunch but still with set courses. I have noticed a variety of soups, egg dishes and pasta are more apparent at the evening meal than at lunch.


As is typical in many European countries, water is the beverage of choice, and is rarely served with ice. At restaurants, clients are asked if they would like de l’eau plate (flat water) or de l’eau gazeuse (carbonated water). In either case, you are charged for the water. If you do not want to pay for bottled water, you can ask for une carafe d’eau (a pitcher of water) for which you will not be charged. Unless it is a high-end restaurant, most will accommodate your request for a pitcher of water.

At parties and festive occasions, the popular drinks for teenagers are either Coke or iced tea. Children also enjoy either a sirop or a diabolo. In French homes and in bars you may see bottles of flavored syrup that are mostly fruit based, plus two staples of mint syrup and orgeat (almond syrup). By mixing a tablespoon of these flavored syrups (or a combination of two), with water, the beverage is simply called a sirop. If the syrup is mixed with a citrusy soda, the beverage is referred to as a diabolo.

Starbucks locations are popping up all over and it is not atypical for teenagers to meet there.

The most popular drinks for adults are wine and beer, which are enjoyed at lunch and after work by men and women alike.

Eating out

Restaurants including cafés and bistros are expensive in Paris. However, when given the opportunity, try to find a small café on a side street away from tourist zones. At restaurants you may find a small chalkboard with a menu prix-fixe (fixed price menu) that may be more reasonable. It’s always less expensive to eat out for lunch than dinner.

  • Fast food
    Teenagers eat at fast food restaurants and love the American chains: McDonalds and Burger King, KFC and Subway. From what I understand, the ingredients used at McDonalds are sourced locally and are much better than in the U.S. The menu offerings are adapted to the country, so don’t be surprised to find macrons and beer on the menu at a French McDonalds. O’Tacos is a relatively new French fast food restaurant where you customer order your own taco from various options. This chain is growing quickly and franchises are popping up throughout Europe and even in New York!
  • International restaurants
    Paris is a large cosmopolitan city that prides itself on its wide array of international cuisine. Be it Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Ethiopian, Swiss, German, or Mexican, it can be found in Paris and at varying levels of price and quality.

Grocery Shopping

Supermarkets like Carrefour, Monoprix, Casino and Auchan provide a wide variety of products. There are also smaller chains like Franprix that are scattered throughout Paris.

For a more intimate shopping experience, there are specialty shops for meat, fish, fresh produce, bakeries and pastry shops.

Many French purchase their groceries at local markets, which abound throughout all cities in France. In Paris one can find, specialty markets that sell exclusively organic products or international produce. No matter where you live in Paris, a local market has the freshest of produce and venders who are experts in their products.

Frozen food stores called Picard Surgelés are conveniently located throughout the city. I was amazed by the numerous items that can be purchased frozen. Their success is due to the fact that French do like more refined food that requires time to prepare. When in a hurry, a frozen dish is the easier substitute and the French prefer that to a simple thrown together meal.