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From Rhône-Alpes to Bordeaux: Culinary Traditions

From starting your day with a coffee and croissant, to ending your evening with a glass of regional wine and cheese fondue, the French are a proud nation where eating together is very important. InterNations provides you with information on French mealtime customs, regional dishes, and wine-growing regions.

At a Glance:

  • France is divided into 13 regions each with gastronomic specialties, such as oysters in Brittany or madeleine pastries in the Grand Est. 
  • A typical French meal includes a starter, meat with vegetables, a cheese plate, and dessert.
  • For many French people, coffee is the most important part of breakfast and is usually accompanied by a croissant or a slice of a baguette.
  • Eating together is highly valued in France, and going to a restaurant during a long lunchbreak is not uncommon.
  • Dishes are often enjoyed with a glass of local wine, because France has several world-renowned wine regions.

 

At the beginning of 2016, France experienced a major reform regarding its regional structure. The number of metropolitan regions was reduced from 22 to 13, and some areas even changed names; Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine are now referred to as Grand Est. France has four broad climate zones, which significantly influences their food production. In northern France, you’ll see that root vegetables — like carrots, potatoes and beets — are common. In the south, farmers take advantage of the sun to grow crops such as peppers, tomatoes and strawberries. This also means that each region has its own gastronomy and specialties.

The Land of Wine, Cheese, and Baguettes

French cuisine is on UNESCO’s list of ‘intangible cultural heritage’, as meals in France emphasize togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the products of nature. Traditional meals usually have a fixed structure starting with an apéro — a small drink to stimulate the appetite before a meal — and ending with another alcoholic beverage. The meal should contain at least four courses, including a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, a cheese plate, and dessert. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner habits are mostly the same across the country, but each region has its own specialties that make them unique.

Breakfast

A typical petit-déjeuner consists of a cup of coffee, sometimes with a glass of jus d’orange. The French have a special place in their hearts for coffee, but tea is also enjoyed in the morning. A sweet breakfast is very popular in France; slices of baguettes are eaten with butter, jam or a chocolate spread. Fruit with breakfast is common, along with yoghurt, or breakfast cereals.

France has mastered the art of baking. Boulangeries and pâtisseries are found on virtually every corner in cities, villages, and country towns. The production of bread is a very serious topic and there’s an annual competition — le Grand Prix de la meilleure baguette de tradition française — to name Paris’ best baguette.

Lunch

Traditionally, lunch in France consists of a four-course meal. Eating together is very important in French culture, and meals are strongly associated with good company and taking time off on a work day. Going to high-quality Michelin Guide-rated restaurants during lunchtime is common, especially in Paris and Île de France. Restaurants normally open for le déjeuner around noon and close at 14:30. A brasserie is also a popular place during lunchtime. These establishments are originally from the former Alsace-Lorraine region, and were created by refugees in the 1870s. Sauerkraut and different seafood dishes are the most popular dishes in brasseries, besides the daily specials.

Dinner

France is known for its rich wines and various cheeses, and each region has put their own spin on these foods. The French consider dinner their most important meal of the day, and it’s generally eaten between 19:30 and 21:00. While there have been many influences from surrounding countries, a lot of restaurants still serve traditional French dishes. For example, the vegetable stew Ratatouille originates from Nice in the south east of France.  Another typical southern plat principal is from Marseille: a traditional fish soup called Bouillabaisse. It’s made with local fish and seafood products, and is popular among locals.

Home to the country’s ‘gastronomic capital’, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes has a great variety of local products that they use in their dishes. Cheese is the hallmark of this region, and especially during the winter months they enjoy a fondue savoyarde where pieces of fresh, crusty bread are dipped into a saucepan full of melted cheese. Heading west, one of Europe’s most popular red-wine regions, Bordeaux, has a signature dish called entrecôte à la bordelaise — rib steak cooked in rich gravy made from Bordeaux wine. Another ‘gastronomic delicacy’ served throughout France is escargots avec le beurre d’ail — plump snails prepared with garlic butter.

Les Vignobles and Their Specialties

The consumption of wine in France is something that is deeply intertwined with the culture.  France was the second biggest wine-producing country in 2016, with around 48 million hectoliters that were produced in the vignobles. It goes without saying, that serving wine in restaurants is taken seriously, so expect that every wine has been selected with great care. You can even purchase une demi-bouteille, a half bottle, to see if a certain wine is to your taste.

Many restaurants in wine-growing regions will serve wine from their area with great pride. One of the best know regions is Champagne.  Centered on the towns of Rheims and Epernay, it’s the biggest wine-producing region in the north. Highly valued brands such as Moët & Chandon, Krug, and Bollinger all have their roots here.

As the only vineyard region with immediate access to the sea, Bordeaux has been France’s biggest wine exporting region for many centuries. Known for their red wines, many people travel to the Atlantic coast to taste them. Many of the region’s top wine estates — such as Médoc and Saint Emilion — have the right to sell their wines as grand cru — a mark of their quality and success. Other high quality wines are listed as cru bourgeois, and usually originate from the south of the river Gironde, and north west of Bordeaux.

 

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