According to French wisdom, ‘a good meal ought to begin with hunger.’ The French have always been on top of the gastronomic game when it boils down to helping those hungering for more than just food on their plate. Armed with our inner culinary compass, we hunted all over France to gather the best traditional and regional cuisine.
Ardently defended and protected, foie gras didn’t originate in the French regions of Alsace, Périgord and Aquitaine where it is widely produced. Livers of birds as a delicacy date back to ancient Egypt which later spread to the Mediterranean. After the fall of the Roman Empire, foie gras disappeared from European cuisine and it is said that Jews reintroduced this culinary knowledge upon their migration to Europe. This gourmet luxury dish is enjoyed entier (whole), cuit (cooked), mi-cuit (semi-cooked), mousse, paté, parfait or frais (fresh). Whatever the choice be sure to grasp the know how of wine pairing. Half-cooked foie gras imposes sweet wines with character (Sauternes, Vouvray, Saussignac); whereas seared foie gras should be enjoyed with a semi-dry, dry champagne or extra dry champagne, or a white Burgundy (Meursault or Pouilly-Fuissé).
This French veal ragout is a classic of Bourgeois cuisine and firmly holds its place in French historical gastronomy. The en blanquette cooking technique is used where white meat is cooked (without fat and being browned) together with a mirepoix (roughly chopped onions, celery and carrots), stock, yolk, cream, aromatic herbs, mushrooms and thereafter thickened with a roux (mixture of butter and flour). A popular meal during World War II, it is often served with rice and requires time and patience during its preparation. Food critics suggest white wines such as Chardonnay, La Marsanne and Pinot Gris are best, instead of red which are often served.
In any Alsatian kitchen the strong emblematic Germanic influenced dish, sauerkraut can be found. This gastronomic symbol is never as sour as vinegar and it comes with three traditional recipes to choose from: garnie (dressed), royale (royal), or de la mer (seafood). Ingredients vary from sausages named after its capital Strasbourg, frankfurters, bacon, smoked pork, potatoes and even seafood. A thirst for a taste of France’s famous fermented cabbage can be quenched by pairing this delicious delectable dish with a glass of regional wine, Gewurztraminer (‘spiced’ in German).
Tantalize your cheese taste buds with aligot. This version of fondue consists of mashed potatoes blended with butter, cream, crushed garlic and traditional Tomme d’Auvergne cheese. Paired with a local red wine Saint-Pourçain, with aromas of ripe red and black fruit astoundingly complement this dish, which can be found in nearly every restaurant in this region.
Traditionally referred to as ratatouille niçoise that originated in Nice on the French Riviera, it’s highly popular among the entire Mediterranean coast as an easy summer dish to be enjoyed either hot and cold. Typically a Provencal vegetable stew, each vegetable is sautéed separately in extra-virgin olive oil (try Domaine Stalenq – silver award 2016 at The New York International Olive Oil Competition) before being layered into a baking dish and baked. A glass of red wine (Costière-de-Nîmes), white wine (Clos Sainte Magdeleine – AOC Cassis Blanc 2015), or rosé (Château Peyrassol rosé AOP Côtes de Provence) blend subtly with the sweetness of the key ingredients; zucchini, bell peppers, tomato, eggplant as well as the aromatic intensity of the herbes de provence (aromatic herbs).
Italy contributed to the development of France’s cuisine when Catherine de Medicis (a Florentine princess and wife of King Henry II of France) introduced a variety of dishes to France that have Italian influences. The French version of the classic pizza, pissaladière is thicker and topped with caramelized (almost pureed) onions, olives, garlic and anchovies (either whole or in the form of an anchovy paste). Served as an appetizer, it was traditionally cooked and sold early each morning around Nice on the French Riviera. Bellet wine produced in the limestone and sulphurous terrain around the hillsides of Nice pair well with this dish.
Initially served to celebrate the end of harvest, various legends trace France’s signature dish to ancient Gaul (a region of western Europe during the Iron age). Indomitable, this dish shares similar trials and tribulations as the Gaul village that constantly resists Julius Ceasar’s Roman occupation in any Asterix and Obelix French comic book. Rooster (coq in French also an emblem of France) is the main ingredient which is seasoned, sometimes floured, seared in fat and slowly simmered in red Burgundy wine (or braised) until tender with lardons, mushrooms, aromatic herbs (bouquet garni) and optionally garlic and brandy. Any good French cook knows that this dish should be prepared a day before and should be warmed up very well over low heat for half an hour before being served. Go with these wines when savoring this dish; Gevry-Chambertin (a really good Beaujolais Cru) or Morgon.
Another regional jewel in Normandy besides Mount-Saint-Michel, Camembert cheese, Calvados (apple brandy) and cider (the regional drink), is the most obvious rustic and simple L’omelette de la mère Poulard. Traditional savoir-faire perpetuates the tradition of preparing fluffy omelettes and the know-how of the regions ancestors. It is said that the each omelette has its signature style and that the recipe is kept secret being revealed only to the next descendants. Don’t miss a beat in bourgeois cuisine; match this culinary delight with Muscadet’s minerality (French white wine from the Loire region) or Champagne’s fizz known as le vin du diable (the devils wine in 1844).
Nothing pourri (rotten) about this pot (dish) despite being referenced in 1829 in the Etymologic dictionary of the French language as pot pourri and of which Goethe wrote about in his mémoires in 1792. Dubbed a peasants’ food as they rarely ate meat (it was illegal to hunt on their Lord’s land), they resorted to an easier method of buying inexpensive pieces of meat, which needed slow cooking. In 1600, King Henry IV of France declared that he didn’t want to have a peasant in his kingdom so poor that they could not afford poule au pot (chicken in the pot) on Sundays. This is another traditional recipe that resembles pot au feu. Root vegetables, a bouquet garni (aromatic herbs), inexpensive meat cuts and seasoning like salt, black pepper and cloves define this broth which can be enjoyed with red wines like Brouilly and Beaujolais.
Iparralde in Basque refers to the Pays Basque region whose capital was Pamplona (now a Spanish city) and whose cuisine has been strongly influenced by neighboring Spain. Home to one of France’s national sports, rugby, to casinos, to Empress Eugénie’s (wife of Napolean III) 1855 summer villa and coastal board-sports, this region also surfs on piperade. The colors of this dish; sautéed onion, green peppers and tomatoes spiced with garlic and red Espelette pepper coincidentally reflect the colors of the Basque flag (red, green and white) and can be enjoyed with a glass of Côtes-du-Marmandais. Served as a main course or a side dish, piperade’s typical additions include egg or ham.
Once the main power source meat, the importance of rabbit in diet has fallen sharply today, except in France. Just like all the other white meat (chicken, turkey, veal), rabbit has the advantage of being low in fat, cholesterol and low, rich in protein, omega-365 and minerals. In France, it’s known for being an effective food against cardiovascular disease by promoting cell renewal, making it a healthy and ideal meat for the food balance of the whole family. Dijon mustard is the key ingredient of this dish, the rabbit is rubbed and covered with mustard few hours before cooking and is served with rice or pasta. Wines like Chardonnay, Pernand-Vergelesses or Chassagne-Montrachet pair well with this energetic dish.
Legend has it that bouillabaisse originated in ancient Greece and is now an authentic French provincial fish stew made famous by French screenwriter and playwright Marcel Pagnol’s films. Bony local rock fish that fisherman in Marseille were unable to sell (sometimes even shellfish and sea urchins) are combined with provincial herbs and spices, crushed garlic, fennel, leek, onion, tomato, celery, potato, salt and pepper then simmered to make up this broth. Rouille, a traditional Provencal mayonnaise (made from olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper), fish and grilled slices of bread are served on the side. A full-bodied Chardonnay or a pale rosé will go well with this Mediterranean maritime meal.
Mentioned in Medieval texts from Swiss-German convents dating as far back as 1291, this nutritious meal was consumed by peasants in mountainous region of Savoy (a historical territory shared between France, Italy and Switzerland). The modern way of serving raclette involves an electric table-top grill with small pans, known as coupelles, in which to melt slices of raclette cheese. This is accompanied by platters of boiled potatoes, other vegetables and charcuterie. Raclette is relaxing and sociable meal, best paired with wines like Brouilly, Beaujolais or Côtes du Jura – Chardonnay.
Burgundy, the home of Gustave Eiffel (engineer and architect behind the Eiffel Tower), is also the birthplace of Dijon mustard and the Burgundian snails that the French have been enjoying for millennia (the French consume around 20,000 tons of snails per year). If snails don’t whet anyone’s appetite then boeuf bourguignon will, which is beef mildly braised in a bouquet of aromatic herbs and red wine. This peasant dish found its way into haute cuisine and is now a standard of French cuisine. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or any other French red wine than has sufficient tannins can be enjoyed with this rich and tender beef stew.
A ‘pie baked in flames’ as its Alsatian name translates was originally a homemade dish and became a big cheese with its urban debut at the peak of the pizza craze’ of the 1960s. Contrary to its other translation tarte flambée, it’s not flambéed but cooked in a wood-fire oven for three minutes. Covered in fromage frais or crème fraîche, finely sliced lardons and onions it is one of the most traditional go to meals in Alsace accompanied by a glass of Riesling d’Alsace with its citrus and peach notes. Try it gratinée with gruyère cheese, forestière with mushrooms, with Munster cheese or as a dessert topped with apples, cinnamon and flambéed in Calvados.
Potatoes were known to the French as hog feed and believed to be the main cause behind leprosy (among other diseases) until 18th century. French pharmacist, nutritionist and inventor, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, promoted the virtues of potatoes as a vital food source for civilization in France and throughout Europe. Originating in Paris and similar to the English cottage or shepherd’s pie, it was named after Parmentier. This dish is ubiquitous in French cantines and just about in any bistro in France. Mashed potatoes, diced meat topped with sauce lynonnaise, made from white wine, vinegar and onions, make hachis (chopped or minced in French) a popular French comfort food that can be enjoyed with French wines such as Côtes du Rhône Villages, Côtes du Roussillon or Costières de Nîmes.
Southern France’s Périgord region, a renowned foie gras gastronomic hub, is often confronted with what do with left over duck once foie gras has been produced. The rustic Cassoulet stew serves its purpose in this region. Iconic even though named after the traditional cooking vessel, casserole (an earthenware pot). In order to obtain the French haute cuisine version of its peasant origins; pre-cooked roasted meats (pork sausages, goose, duck, duck confit and sometimes mutton) are simmered in aromatic vegetables then cooked in goose fat with a mixture of white beans and pork skin. The Toulousain version includes pork and cold roast shoulder mutton whereas the the Carcassonne version doubles the mutton portion and replaces duck with partridge. A well aged Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its full bodied flavors will complement this rich dish.
First introduced to replace bread as basic food, crêpe sarassin or crêpe salée is a savory pancake made from buckwheat flour which is gluten-free, making it a prized alternative meal for the gluten intolerant. A galette complète (fully garnished pancake) offers a variety of garnishes such as egg, meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, grated cheese, ham etc. If you fancy a hot dog in Rennes, then ditch the traditional bun for a crêpe and have the galette wrapped in a hot sausage instead. Pair any great galette with a bolée de cidre – the traditional beverage; a hard apple cider served in a small ceramic bowl.
Oysters are the meat and potatoes of the Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes region and have been enjoyed in France since the Roman occupation. Napoleon III introduced the first oyster farm near Arcachon Bay. Rich in minerals and vitamins the delicacy’s popularity peaks particularly at New Year’s Eve all over France and is enjoyed with wines like Chablis and Pouilly-fuissé and also Champagne. Eaten raw, plain or with a squeeze of lemon, buttered rye bread and a glass of crisp white wine (choose between Entre-deux-mers or Grave de Vayres), it is also traditional to serve oysters accompanied by crépinettes; small, flat sausages made from either minced pork, turkey, veal, lamb, chicken, and even from truffles.
C’est le gratin des plats à base de pommes de terre, the elitist of all potatoes dishes in France (unlike tartiflette), some say that the gratin Dauphinois existed before Parmentier introduced the potato in France and comes from the Dauphiné province of the old regime, which is now the Isere, in the Rhône region close to the Italian Alps. The art in making this delectable dish lies in how the well chosen potatoes (Monalisa, Charlotte or Amandine) are sliced: wafer thin which is impossible with a knife so a mandoline should be deployed with care. Potatoes should be cooked in crème fraîche and butter then slow cooked in a buttered dish rubbed with garlic for more than hour. This succulent, soft, melting, slightly crunchy on the surface dish can be savored with wines like Saint-Pourçain and Côtes-d’Auvergne.
Custards in pastry were known in English cuisine at least as early as the 14th century however quiche is considered a French dish with quiche Lorraine (named for the Lorraine region of France) being the popular variant of an open pie with a filling of custard with lardons. This simple recipe made with a creamy, cheesy, savory center and baked on a flaky, warm butter crust is better than just filling up on another baked pie. Quiche Lorraine can be paired with Chablis, Alsace Riesling or a Bourgogne Pinot Noir.