One of my favorite things about the French is that they tend to be well-rounded: The French dress fashionably, travel, read a ton, keep abreast of politics and quite famously, eat well.
Collectively I’ve spent about a year and a half living with French families so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about French home-cooking. But returning to Paris this year reminded me of so many French eating habits I have yet to work into my daily life.
While there are many French food customs I’ll never get on board with- like oeufs en gelée (eggs in aspic – blergh) and small, sweet breakfasts, there are others, like a salad with every meal and good wine that I’m more than behind.
*Note- not every French person or family does these things, these are just food customs I’ve observed personally.
A salad with every meal
Salad is truly an art form in France. In fact, I never liked salad until I lived there.
When I lived in France, I made a simple green salad every day to accompany the main dish at dinner. I loved how it wasn’t a question- at dinner, you always have a baguette, and you always have a salad.
You start with fresh, butter lettuce that you wash and dry with a salad spinner three times. It’s usually from the farmer’s market and speckled with dirt so it’s important to wash thoroughly!
Then you always, always, always make the vinaigrette from scratch. (I’ve never even seen bottled dressing in France!)
And voilà, you have a delicious salade verte!
Yogurt after every meal
After dinner in France, we would bring out an assortment of yogurts: mousse au chocolat, lemon, and strawberry, among other flavors. In my opinion, yogurt is the perfect low-key, weekday dessert, and boasts plenty of health benefits as well.
Sadly, this is one French food tradition I sadly won’t be replicating in America as American yogurt is sugary, processed and terrible for you. You might as well just eat half a candy bar.
Also, if you’re ever in France, the above yogurt, Fjord, is the yogurt of dreams: thick, tangy, creamy, addictive. As in like worth smuggling through US customs.
Interestingly enough, there’s actually no viable English translation for apéro dinatoire! Cocktail party with snacks? Drinks and finger food?
Essentially an apéritif dinatoîre is when you invite guests over to drink and snack on an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. You don’t “officially” serve a meal so it’s not a dinner party; it’s more of a casual, often weekday gathering that lasts late into the night.
(Fun fact- did you know no one says hors d’oeuvres in France? It’s an antiquated word.)
Sparkling water always makes me feel kind of fancy. Plus, if you’re trying to cut out pop, it’s a healthy carbonated alternative.
Always using a tablecloth
Another thing that makes me feel a little more put-together? A tablecloth. The French never sit down to eat without one.
Epic, five-course dinner parties on the regular
Oh god. French dinner parties are so much work yet so worth it. Here’s the drill:
1. Decorate your house beautifully, with a fresh tablecloth, flowers, chic stemware, and your best china. Your best china isn’t just for holidays- it’s also for impressing your guests. And turn on some music!
2. Wait for your guests to arrive- they’re always a little late. Once they arrive, greet them with a kiss and serve them hors d’oeuvres and cocktails (kind of like an apéro dinatoire but with a lot less food).
And don’t forget to thank them for their gift, usually a bottle of wine or flowers. In France, it’s rude to show up empty-handed.
3. Sit down to the table for the first course (entrée in French. Yep, it’s backward from English!)
4. Serve the main course. It is imperative for everyone to rave about the food- in France people talk a lot about food. Points for serving more exotic dishes like tagine or goulash.
5. Serve the cheese course. Ideally, you will have at least 3-4 room-temperature cheeses on a plate- here’s my guide on how to serve a good cheese course.
5. Serve dessert. Also, this isn’t a throwaway course- it’s a lot of work. Ideas: financier with a berry coulis, omelet norvegienne (Baked Alaska), a poached pear in a salted butter caramel sauce.
6. Serve coffee.
7. Chat about politics/sex/family life until as late as three a.m., serving up plenty of wine.
8. Wake up mildly hungover and wash about 8,000 dishes. Each of those courses had a fresh plate, remember?
Buying good wine
Once I grow up (ha) I vow to never buy Yellowtail again- good wine is worth paying extra for, in my book. Unfortunately, good wine in the states is pricey, but in France, you can pick up a decent bottle from 3-5 euros!
Also, someday I will have a badass wine cellar like my host dad in France with a gravel floor and a million wine bottles. #seriously
Ah, I love a good farmers market, especially in France. Most French farmers markets are open two-three days a week, and serve up all the good stuff: charcuterie, seafood, cheese and fresh produce.
Um, I think if I mention one more picnic on my blog you are all going to kill me, but really- I never have them in the states. Picnics=the best.
A cheese course before dessert
Eating healthy on the weekdays and indulging on weekends
This is one healthful custom I’ve observed in France. The French often eat simple foods during the week, and on the weekends indulge in pastries for breakfast, barbecues for dinner and sinful desserts. It’s the perfect mix of abstinence and indulgence. And it’s partially why the French stay thin.
Omelets for dinner
I’ve actually never seen anyone in France eat an omelet for breakfast! But we did often eat them for dinner with chives and other fines herbes on top. Yum!
More cheese and butter in my life
And especially more goat’s cheese.