When it comes to cuisine, the French value quality over quantity and presentation above all. A feast for the eyes as well as the palate, it's little wonder that many look at French cuisine with the highest regard. From sumptuous dinners with Burgundy wine and freshly baked bread to delectable teatime treats from the local patisserie, these essential French dishes are a must while visiting France.
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7 Classic French Foods You Have to Try While in France
Pain au Chocolat
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The pain au chocolate, meaning 'chocolate bread' is sweet, flaky roll similar to a croissant, filled with a strip or two of dark, quality chocolate. In some areas of France, they are also known as 'chocolatine'. These sumptuous treats are a staple of Paris bakeries, and are best enjoyed fresh from the oven with a cup of strong cafe au lait (coffee with milk). According to some, pain au chocolat was introduced to France along with the croissant sometime during the eighteenth or nineteenth century. The original recipe calls for a dough similar to brioche, a heavy sweet bread, but these days, the pain au chocolate is best with a flaky, buttery shell.
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Quiche has been a part of the French lexicon since the early 1800s. These filling, savory tarts are made with base of eggs, cream and cheese in a hardy pastry shell. The most well-known variant of the quiche is the quiche lorraine, a rich, creamy variant made with fatty bacon (lardons) to add flavor. The quiche florentine, made with spinach, and the quiche au fromage, made with cheese as the dominant ingredient, are other popular varieties. From the lunchtime bistros and cafes of France, quiche are now popular worldwide, but traditionalists will insist the original recipes cannot be duplicated. Decide for yourself while enjoying an authentic French quiche with the soup du jour (soup of the day).
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It's no secret that French pastries are some of the most sought-after, and the delicate, mildly sweet macaron is no exception. These desserts are notoriously difficult to perfect, as the smooth mixture of ground almonds, egg white and icing sugar can easily crack while it dries. Around the 8th century, the earliest versions of macarons were served as a single cookie, but sometime during the 1930s, the modern sandwich variety became popular. In France, Laduree has been making their signature macarons for over 150 years. The French macaron is so ubiquitous, however, that even McDonald's in France sells them.
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The French baguette is the perfect combination of a crusty shell and soft, fluffy bread inside. These long, narrow loaves of bread are made with a very basic dough of wheat flour, water, salt and yeast for rising. The absence of any fat or oil is an essential component of the baguette's texture, and any variation cannot legally call itself a baguette, according to French law. The simple recipe and versatility of baguettes has propelled their popularity, and they can now be found almost anywhere in the world. In France, freshly baked baguettes are used to make appetizers with pate (liver paste) or cheese, or more commonly a crispy, filling sandwich typically eaten for lunch.
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For the more adventurous palate, escargots are high on the list. While it might be daunting for some, it helps to remember that people have been eating snails since prehistoric times. Today, escargots are a delicacy made from edible snails, typically served in-shell. The can be compared to mussels, an ocean-dwelling mollusk also served with the shell intact. The most traditional preparation of includes garlic, butter and fresh herbs, and is known as the 'Escargots a la Bourguignonne'. Escargots are popular as hors d’oeuvres and are typically enjoyed with slices of baguette. Other types of snails, such as bulots, can also be found, but most prefer the traditional recipe doused with garlic and butter.
Coq au Vin
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Coq au vin is a savory French dish of chicken braised in wine, onions, mushrooms and fatty bacon, or 'lardons' in France. The classic coq au vin is made with red wine from the Burgundy region of France, but there are many local variants throughout the country. Additional ingredients like garlic, carrot, celery, potato and fresh herbs can turn the dish from an elegant dinner into a rustic 'one pot dish' popular with home cooks. Coq au vin became well known in the United States after celebrity chef Julia Child introduced it in her cookbook 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', published in 1961. Today, coq au vin is often enjoyed as a hardy dinner that goes well with freshly baked baguette.
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The croque monsieur (mister crunch) is a deceptively simple dish made with ham and cheese, preferably Emmental, traditionally sandwiched between slices of brioche bread, though any kind of bread is acceptable. The sandwich is topped with more cheese, toasted to form a cheesy crust and served while it's still warm. Two popular variants are the croque madame, a version topped with a fried egg, and the Monte Cristo, where the sandwich is dipped in batter and pan fried. Today, the croque monsieur is comfort food often enjoyed at home, but its can still be found on cafe menus throughout France.
Around the world, French cuisine is regarded as the gold standard for quality, presentation and taste. The quintessential French cuisine requires a balance of flavor - never too sweet, too rich or too bland - and minimal flavorings to allow the quality of the ingredients to shine through. Experience the cuisine of France firsthand by eating through this list of essential French dishes.