France is a country with some of the most delicious and highly regarded cuisine in the world. French cuisine is one of the biggest attractions to visitors to the country, and for locals, enjoying their local food is a way of life. Not only is French cuisine known for its finesse and flavour, it also has an amazing breadth of regional specialities that reflect the culture, history and local produce of each region. The livestock and farmland, the climate, the types of fish in the sea, local cheeses and wines, even the influence of neighbouring countries all helped form France’s incredible array of recipes.
To break down the many dishes of France, it’s a good idea to look at the different regions. France is divided into 13 administrative regions in metropolitan France on continental Europe, and five overseas regions. Each is a mixture of different cultural identities, history, and food culture. Some dishes were created with limited ingredients during sieges or wars, some created to maximise leftover ingredients, and others were happy accidents in modern kitchens or created to celebrate events. Some dishes were born in that particular region; others were adopted by neighbours and popularised locally.
From sauerkraut to crêpes, ratatouille to garlic snails, here are the most notable dishes around the metropolitan regions of France (European continent), and why they are so important to the people who cook and eat them.
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Hauts-de-France is the northernmost region of France, formed from Pas-de-Calais and Picardie. Its busy port, Calais, makes it well connected with England, and it also has several important 20th-century battlefields such as the Dunkirk beaches and memorials like Vimy Ridge that attract visitors interested in historical events. Its capital, Lille, is known for its amazing architecture and bustling market squares. With a strong influence from Belgium, food from Hauts-de-France features lots of hearty ingredients such as cheeses, potatoes, leeks, and meats, which go well with the region’s best accompaniment – strong beer.
Also known as stoofvlees in Belgium and The Netherlands, this hearty beef and onion stew is made with a generous amount of dark beer to give it it’s rich flavour. Carbonnade flamande usually contains thyme, mustard and juniper berries.
Ficelle Picarde, which translates to Picardy string, is a savoury pancake stuffed with cheese, mushrooms, and ham, in a rich creamy sauce. While most often associated with Picardy, the dish was invented in the city of Amiens in 1950, by a chef named Marcel Lefévre for a public event.
Bordering Germany (and historically sometimes annexed by Germany), the Grand Est was formed from the regions Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne. While the main attraction for many is tasting champagne from Champagne, Grand Est is known for its postcard-pretty German influenced villages, fairytale castles like Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, and vast national parks. The capital of the region is Strasbourg, famous for its grand cathedral and lively Christmas markets. Grand Est is a notable wine region, while German-style food specialities include stewed potatoes, choucroute, pork sausages and the one and only quiche Lorraine.
Choucroute garnie (sauerkraut) is one of the most famous dishes from the Grand Est region, making good use of the region’s love for meat to bring this dish alive, as well as a strong German influence. The sausage used is typically Morteau, Montbéliard or Strasbourg sausages. The cabbage is cooked with riesling and onion, and served with potatoes and pork or bacon.
Similar to a pizza, the tarte flambée is made with a thin dough rolled out into an oval or rectangular shape, and then covered in crème fraîche or fromage blanc (a creamy soft cheese from the region). It it sprinkled with lardons (bacon) and onion, and baked. The name translates to ‘flamed tart’, which carries over to other version of the dish; in Alsatian it is known as flammekueche, and in German it is a flammkuchen.
A baeckeoffe (meaning baker’s oven) is a traditional Alsatian casserole dish of beef, pork, lamb, onion, leek, potato, and white wine. Pork trotter is also sometimes added to the mixture. Traditionally, the casserole would be taken to the local baker, who would seal the dish with a pastry crust, and cook them in the oven. These days, it’s much easier to bake one at home!
While quiche Lorraine is often thought of as one of France’s quintessential dishes, it actually originated in 12th century German state, Lotharingia (Lotharingie). Today, the French portion of Lotharingia is named Lorraine, after many border changes and annexations throughout history. The quiche Lorraine is the most famous in the wide variety of quiches available, made with eggs and milk (or cream), and lardons, baked in a pie crust.
Formed by merging Bourgogne and Franche-Comté, this eastern region borders Switzerland. This is the region of Burgundy wine and Dijon mustard, and outdoor activities such as hiking in the Vosges Massif mountain ranges, admiring the region’s grand lakes and tall forests, and skiing in the winter. Burgundy is one of France’s most popular wine tasting regions. When eating, think all things melted cheese! Food here is influenced by Swiss winter warmers, such as boeuf bourguignon, tartiflette, and escargots.
The department’s most famous dish is the beloved beef bourguignon, a slow-cooked stew of beef and red wine, with vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, celery, onions, and lardons. The dish traditionally uses tender Charolais beef from the region, as well as Burgundy red wine. The stew is usually served with mashed potato and bread, though fries and rice are also great accompaniment choices.
The alpine region of Savoie is the place of origin for the tartiflette, a winter dish made up of layers of potato, cream and lardons, as well as reblochon, a soft smear-ripened cheese with a washed rind that is commonly found in Savoie. This hearty dish is best served with a green salad, a glass of white wine, and cornichons.
Escargots De Bourgogne
When one thinks of specialty French delicacies, snails is one of the first dishes that comes to mind. A popular gastronomic delight in many countries in Europe and North Africa, escargots are often attributed to French cooking because of the escargots de Bourgogne cooking style. Roman/Burgundy snails (helix pomatia) are removed from the shells to be cleaned, then cooked in plenty of garlic, butter and herbs (such as parsley), and served in their shells. The escargot are eaten using special tongs to grip the shell, and a fork to remove the snail.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is the Alpine region of France, home of the tallest mountain in western Europe, Mont Blanc. It’s a region of natural beauty and diverse landscapes, from the river Rhône and tributaries, the winery regions of Beaujolais, to the Alps mountain range. It is home to the Chaîne des Puys, a chain of extinct volcanoes. France’s third largest city Lyon is here, a centre of great food and historic architecture. The mountain city of Annecy is known for its alpine lake and paragliding. Food of the region is very cheese-based, such as fondue savoyarde. Blanquette de veau is another famous dish, invented in Lyon.
Cheese lovers, you’re in the right place! Raclette is a winter dinner party favourite which is centred entirely around melted cheese. The verb racler translates into ‘to scrape’, which is how the huge wheel of raclette cheese is delivered to your plate. It is heated against a heating element, and then scraped directly onto the plate once the cheese melts and the rind browns. Raclette is served over potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons. Raclette is thought to be hundreds of years old, with medieval texts describing a similar dish in 1291. Swiss cow herders, when moving their livestock in the alpine regions, would place their raclette cheese next to a campfire to soften it before eating with bread.
Blanquette de Veau
Blanquette de veau is a veal ragout cooked using a method called ‘en blanquette’, in which the veal and butter are kept from browning during cooking. Vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, celery and carrots are often added, with a white creamy sauce and lemon juice. The blanquette is usually served with rice, fries or potatoes.
The home of Marseille, Nice, Cannes and Aix-en-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is beloved for its sunny beaches, clifftop drives overlooking expensive resorts, and expensive private yachts. Moving away from the playground of the wealthy, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is one of France’s premier spots for history buffs, with historic buildings that range from Roman ruins to medieval chateaux. When it comes to food, seafood reigns supreme with the darling signature dish of the region, bouillabaisse. Other dishes include ratatouille, salade niçoise and pissaladière, accompanied by a glass of pastis, or Provençal rosé.
Marseille’s most famous dish is the Provençal fish soup, bouillabaisse. Created in the 18th century by Marseillaise fishermen to cook their leftover produce, it evolved into a local classic. To maintain its authenticity and to differentiate it from ordinary fish stews, a bouillabaisse charter was drawn up in 1980 to standardise its preparation. The soup must contain the bony rockfish rascasse (a red scorpion fish), which gives the dish its distinctive taste and high price. Other meats added are congre (European conger eel), grondin (sea robin fish), and even mussels, crabs, lobster and squid. The soup is made with tomato, onion, garlic, and Provençal herbs, as well as orange zest, saffron and fennel. The dish is usually served as two separate courses. The first consists of the rich soup with toasted bread spread with rouille sauce (a mayonnaise-like sauce of olive oil, egg, bread crumbs, garlic and herbs) which is floated on the soup, and the second is the serving of the fish.
Popular in the coastal city of Nice, this pizza-like dish consists of a thick base of dough, topped with anchovies, soft caramelised onions, black olives, and Provençal herbs. It can trace it’s history back to the Avignon Papacy (around 1305-1377). Pissaladière has roots in neighbouring Italy, where it is thought to have been invented in Genoa. The name is comes from the Niçard words ‘peis salat’, or ‘salted fish’.
Also hailing from Nice is ratatouille, a stewed vegetable ragout made from tomato, courgette, onion, garlic, aubergine and bell pepper. Stirred together with salt, olive oil and herbes de Provence, ratatouille is served as a side dish or a main meal, either hot or cold. The name comes from the Occitan word ‘ratatola’, meaning ‘to stir/toss’. While the dish has been popular nationwide since the 1930s, the Disney Pixar film Ratatouille cemented the dish as one of the classics in French cuisine.
A rich winter warming dish is gratin dauphinois, made with thinly sliced potato, milk (or cream), and gruyère cheese. It is baked in an oven dish until the potatoes soften and absorb the garlic cream, and it often served as a side dish. It is named after the Dauphiné region of France, which traces its name further back to Guigues IV, Count of Vienne. His coat of arms featured a dolphin, which over time became the standard title for the heir apparent to the French throne.
Bordering the Mediterranean coast and the border to Spain along the Pyrenees mountain range, Occitanie is a department of wine regions, hilltop fortresses, Roman aqueducts and hiking trails. It’s capital is Toulouse, the historic river city known as La Ville Rose (the pink city), after its characteristic pink-hued brick buildings. Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast is the main gateway to the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. When it comes to food, Occitanie proudly lays claim to inventing cassoulet, a baked stew with sausage, duck and haricots. Fish is popular along the coastline, with its own version of bouillabasse, and poultry and sausages are favourites too. Don’t forget Occitanie’s most famous cheese, roquefort, which originates from the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
Cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole dish, usually containing pork garlic sausage, white beans, and duck confit. Tomatoes, onions, and garlic are also added, and the dish is sealed with a delicious crust of bread crumbs and goose fat. The name comes from the dish it is baked in, known as a cassole d’Issel. The dish has long standing origins as being a dish for peasants, which has been perfected over time. Popular legend goes that the besieged city of Castelnaudary, under attack by the English in the hundred years war (1337-1453), threw all their available ingredients together to create a hearty dish to strengthen the defenders.
Hailing from the port city of Séte, the tielle Sétoise is a spicy octopus and tomato pie made with a bready dough. The tielle is a small pie with fluted edges, and a golden brown crust. It is usually eaten as starter either hot or cold, and can also be found at market stalls during the city’s annual water jousting festival. Originally with Italian origins, the tielle was created as a way to preserve the seafood within, perfect as a meal on the go long before refrigeration was invented.
Translating to ‘leftover stew’ in Occitan, this dish originated as a way for families to cook everything that was leftover into a big stew. Perfect for cold winter nights, the ragoût has many variations, but usually contains ingredients such as veal, sausages, olives, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes.
France’s largest administrative department is Nouvelle-Aquitane, which borders the Atlantic coast, and the Pyrenees bordering Spain. It is home to the city of Bordeaux and the Bordeaux wine region, the university town of Limoges (famous for its fine porcelain), the colossal sand dune of the Dune du Pilat, the Camino Frances (part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage walk) and the seaside resort city of Biarritz. The department of Nouvelle-Aquitane has amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the prehistoric rock paintings of the Vézère Valley. The south-western corner is French Basque Country where it borders with Spain, which has a gastronomic identity all of its own. Basque dishes include marmitako (a tuna and potato stew), bacalao al pil pil (salted cod fried in olive oil and garlic), and poulet Basquaise (a stew of chicken and ham in a tomato and pepper sauce).
Confit de Canard
Confit de canard is made by roasting duck in its own fat, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs such as bay leaves and thyme. Before refrigeration, confit de canard was cooked for up to 24 hours, before being placed into a storage jar. The rendered fat would cover the duck, and the jar sealed tightly to help preserve it for long periods of time. Confit de canard is often served with potatoes fried in duck fat, known as pommes de terre à la sarladaise. While it originated in the province of Gascony in Basque Country, confit de canard is a bistro classic, and can be found in many restaurants in Paris and around France.
Poulet Basquaise (Basque-style chicken) is made with chicken legs or thighs, spiced with espelette pepper (a mild red pepper from the Basque region). The slow-cooked sauce (known as sauce piperade) is made from red and green pepper, tomato, onion, and sometimes white wine, forming a thick and delicious stew to which the cooked chicken is added. Served with a side such as rice, fries or pasta, the red, green and white colours of the dish are reminiscent of the Basque flag.
This thick tuna stew from the Basque region is a simple and delicious meal made with tomato, potato, chilli, onion, and paprika. The name comes from the Basque word marmita (a pot) and ko (from the). While tuna is the preferred fish for this recipe, it can be substituted with other fish types as well. The stew is quite thick due to the potato starch, and is often served with a nice glass of white Basque wine.
Bacalao Al Pil Pil
Another Basque dish which travelled to France from its origin in Spain, bacalao al pil pil is prepared by cooking salt cod with olive oil, garlic and chilli. Using just these four ingredients, this complex dish is dependant on its creamy gelatinous sauce for success. It is formed as the fish is slow cooked, and the juices stirred to create an emulsion. The urban legend behind the dish goes that during the 19th-century 2nd Carlist War in Spain, a fish merchant received a very large shipment of thousands of cod due to an order miscommunication. During the Siege of Bilbao, the limited food supplies meant that the merchant could only cook with fish and olive oil. With this combination, he helped stave off famine in the city.
In the northern centre of France is Centre-Val de Loire, a famous getaway for historical kings of France due to the large number of Renaissance chateaux in the Loire Valley. The region is characterised by its vast plateaus of wheat fields, its snaking Loire River that carries water past the cities of Tours, Blois, and the capital of the region, Orléans. Besides its magnificent castles, the region is home to some other stunning features, such as Chartres Cathedral and La Brenne, an expansive wetland nature park. The region is famous for its Loire Valley wines. Dishes from Centre-Val de Loire are some of the more polarising in France, with rillettes de porc, and especially andouillette, proving to be something of an acquired taste.
One of France’s most polarising dishes, and frequently cited as one of the world’s most disgusting sausages, andouillette is a sausage made with pork, pig intestines and colon (chitterlings), onion, wine and pepper, and herbs and spices. It is known for its unsettling smell, which is often described as smelling like urine, and its strange cross-section of intestine pieces. While sometimes served cold, andouillette is usually cooked by frying, barbequeing, or boiling, and is served with a mustard sauce, vegetables such as onion or potato, or a side salad.
Rillettes de Porc
Rillettes de Porc is a popular spread in France, which originated in the city of Tours. While joking referred to as ‘pig jam’, rillettes is made by slow cooking pork in its own fat, as well as spices (and something white wine), and preserved in a jar so that the layer of fat helps preserve the meat. The jar is sealed, and is sold all over the country. Rillettes to porc is served by spreading on toast, with a side of cornichons and a glass of white wine. Rillettes can also be made with duck, rabbit, goose, and even fish.
As the region that includes Paris and the surrounding countryside, Île-de-France needs little introduction. Paris is the political heart of France, as well as a fashion capital, centre of fine art, literature and film, and home to some of the finest restaurants in the world. Paris is home to some of France’s most celebrated and recognisable icons, such as the La Tour Eiffel, Le Notre-Dame de Paris, Le Palais de Versailles, and of course, Disneyland. Further afield, the region has some great natural sights to explore, such as le Forêt de Fontainebleau. When in Paris, think of its typical brasserie food, such as steak frites, croque monsieur, and steak tartare. Paris is also responsible for bringing some of the most beloved cakes and pastries to the world, such as Paris Brest, opéra, and millefeuille.
A simple sandwich with an unshakeable following. The croque monsieur is a staple of the French brasserie, consisting of ham and cheese sandwiched between two slices of pain de mie, topped with gruyère cheese, and baked or fried until the whole thing melts and toasts. Variations include the croque madame, served with a fried egg on top, and béchamel sauce is also frequently added to the dish. While some form of the croque monsieur certainly existed elsewhere, the first known Paris bistro to sell it was Le Bel Age, listing it on their menu in 1910.
Not a dish for those who are squeamish about raw meat; steak tartare is beef (or horse) mince meat served raw, topped with a raw egg and seasoned with spices, onions and sometimes Worcestershire sauce. Sides such as salad and fries are usually included. While its origins are disputed, and likely go back hundreds of years to places all around the globe, steak tartare is a mainstay on bistro menus around Paris and France. The name is attributed to the Tartars, a blanket term for ethnic groups who inhabited the vast steppes centred around the Volga river.
This potato-based dish is named in honour of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French agronomist who proposed to the French people that potatoes should be included in the French diet in 1772. At the time, many in the country thought them to be poisonous. His legacy lives on today, and he has many potato dishes named after him, as well as his own metro station. This dish is the French version of a shepherd’s pie, with pureed potatoes set on top of a base of mince meat, tomato and egg, covered in gruyère cheese, and baked.
The French dish of rare entrecôte steak (rib eye/scotch fillet), served with fries and a reduction sauce is a brasserie classic all around the country. Together with a green salad and sometimes a bernaise sauce, steak frites is a quintessentially French dish.
Centred around the region’s capital Nantes, Pays de la Loire is named after the Loire river which begins here, and runs through to Centre-Val de Loire. The region is largely rural, with much of the population living in small towns. Pays de la Loire produces beef, pork, dairy and poultry, as well as wheat and corn. Major attractions in the region are Puy du Fou, a huge theme park with a historical theme. Spectacles such as Viking invasions, Gladiator colosseum fights and jousting are fully realised with fully dressed warriors and pyrotechnics. The region also has some of France’s most impressive chateaux, gothic cathedrals, and the one and only Le Mans racetrack. When it’s time to sit down and eat, Atlantic seafood and pork products are king. Try Vendée Atlantic oysters, rillettes de porc, and rillauds d’Anjou.
Mogettes de Vendée
Mogettes are a variety of white beans commonly eaten in Pays de la Loire. While mogettes are versatile and can be eaten as-is, they are often served hot on top of garlic toast, used in slow-cooked stews, or as a side dish to cuts of meat. They are best served with a nice slice of French butter on top.
This dish consists of chunks of pork belly, soaked in brine, fried in lard, and are served hot or cold with salad or bread. The pork belly bites were some of the only sources of meat during parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, and this method of cooking helped preserve the meat for longer. Rillauds d’Anjou have a dedicated local following, with an annual festival known as the Rillaudée de Brissac-Quincé (Fête de la Rillaudée) taking place in the first weekend of July at the Château Brissac-Quincé. It is organised by the biggest fans of all, Le Confrérie des Faiseux de Rillauds d’Anjou (the brotherhood of making rillauds)!
Jutting out into the Atlantic and the English Channel (La Manche) on France’s west coast, Brittany is a region with a proud Celtic culture and history, and home to the ethic Breton people. The capital of the region, Rennes, is beloved for its grand architecture, wide green spaces, and cobblestone old town streets. One of Brittany’s biggest claim to fame are its ancient megalithic sites, especially Carnac, where over 3000 stone alignments date back to 4500BCE, with some functioning as ancient tombs (dolmens), and others with theorised astronomical functions. Also noteworthy is the fortified seaside city of Saint-Malo and the medieval houses of Vannes. When it comes to food, Brittany is the home of buckwheat flour recipes, apple cider, and fresh seafood. It is the origin of one of France’s most iconic foods – Breton crêpes.
Brittany is known for its wonderful fresh seafood, and none may be more celebrated than bouchot mussels. These mussels are grown in the Breton side of the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, and are a protected product because of their specific aquaculture methods. The mussels are grown on spiral ropes which are attached to wooden poles in the water. The mussels are free from barnacles, and have lovely orange meat with a sweet flavour. While there are many ways to eat them, you can’t beat a classic pot of bouchot mussels in a white wine sauce and a side of frites!
Breton Galettes And Crêpes
Galettes made with buckwheat flour date back to around the 13th century, with the buckwheat brought back from the Crusades in Asia Minor. The batter is made with water and eggs, and poured over a bilig (also called a tuile, or galletière), a large round pan without edges. A T-shaped wooden spreader called a rozell is used to create an even batter, and it’s flipped with a spatula called a spanell. The typical topping is egg, ham and cheese, called le complet. Crêpes are the sweet version of Galettes, made with white flour, eggs and milk, often topped with Brittany salted butter and sugar, whilst jam and chocolate spread also favourites.
The region of Normandy faces the English Channel (La Manche), just west of Paris. While for many, the Normandy name is synonymous with the D-Day Normandy landings of WW2, the region is one of France’s (and England’s) most historic regions. Normandy has been in the hands of Celtic tribes, Roman armies, Germanic invaders from the east and Saxons from the west. Viking invaders coalesced the region into the Duchy of Normandy, which fell under Anglo-Norman rule, and finally, the French kings. Its turbulent history, natural beauty and significance in art history can be seen with sights such as the Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel, the cliffs of Étretat, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. Normandie is the home of Camembert cheese, apples and cider, and fine seafood dishes, such as Coquille Saint-Jacques and Marmite Dieppoise.
The invention of the Marmite Dieppoise, a hearty fish stew, is said to trace back to the 1960’s. It was created in the restaurant La Marmite in the city of Dieppe, catering towards sailors and mariners. In its original form, the dish consisted of leftovers from the catch of the day, as well as mussels and other seafood. Today, a Marmite Dieppoise is made of premium fish catch, such as sole, red mullet or turbot, cooked in a sauce of white wine or cider, celery, onions, leek, and parsley. The mussels are prepared separately, before being added to the mix with a healthy amount of crème fraîche. When it’s ready to eat, it’s best served with a local apple cider, or white wine.
Omelette à la Mère Poulard
This dish has a lovely name – the omelette of mother Poulard. Invented by Anne Boutiaut Poulard (AKA Mother Poulard) from Mont Saint-Michel in the 19th century, it is served all over the island and France, with the most popular spot being La Mère Poulard, the original restaurant where it was created. The omelette is made by beating eggs for several minutes until light and foamy, then transferred to a hot skillet (with plenty of butter) and cooked until golden on the bottom, while the top is left foamy and wobbly.
The island of Corse (Corsica) is the only French region of metropolitan France which is its own island. Located south of France in the Mediterranean Sea, it is the fourth largest Mediterranean island after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. Dominated by mountain ranges and lush forests popular with hikers, Corsica is most commonly visited for its beautiful sunny beaches, to snorkel and sunbathe. Separated by geography, Corsican food and wine has a unique character of its own. Wild boar (sanglier) is served in civet de sanglier, the island’s signature dish. Veal and lamb are also popular, as found in dishes such as veau aux olives and agneau Corse, as is seafood fished from the Mediterranean waters.
Civet de Sanglier
Corsica’s most well known dish is wild boar stew (civet de sanglier). The boar is marinaded in red wine, with thyme, bay leaves, cayenne pepper and onions, and stewed with lardons, carrots and stock. Mushrooms and potatoes are sometimes added, and the stew is often served with roast potatoes.
Veau aux Olives
Veal with olives is a regional speciality of Corsica, a slow cooked stew of veal, pitted green olives, Corsican red wine, tomato, onion and herbs. Olives are grown throughout the island of Corsica, reflected in this delicious dish.
From baked sausages to seafood stews to great wheels of melted cheese, France’s cuisine is in a class of its own. Some dishes are brasserie classics, found on menus throughout the country and across the world. Others are rarely seen outside their place of origin, relying on specific ingredients to perfect, and making travelling to those regions all the more alluring. For lovers of French food, those discovering it for the first time, or locals who’ve eaten these dishes all their life, France’s diverse and delicious gastronomy truly is some of the best in the world.