French food and cooking styles have been developed for generations. Historically influenced by surrounding areas like Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Belgium, France eventually developed a unique style. Today, French cuisine has influenced and inspired various cuisines around the world.
Traditional French cooking features cheese, wine, sauces, and bread as staples. For a look into authentic French recipes from the middle ages, try finding a copy of Le Viandier, one of the earliest-known French recipe collections to be printed. This version even has English translations along with the original French recipes. Le Viandier will take you straight to the source to find French foods your ancestors would have enjoyed.
If you have French ancestors or you’re interested in visiting France, French food provides a unique way of understanding French people and culture. Food and culinary traditions open a window into the daily lives of people in a region. Common ingredients often reflect what was available in the area, and cooking styles provide insight into cultural traditions.
Do you have family recipes for French foods? Record them with FamilySearch Memories to preserve them and share them with your family. You can also explore to find other French recipes shared on FamilySearch.
Breakfast in France is often a simple or quick meal. It’s common practice to eat a slice of bread topped with butter, honey, jam, cheese, or ham. Alongside this, you’ll typically find a hot beverage such as coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
Variations are still usually based on bread with a hot beverage. Pastries such as a croissant are a sweeter treat while more savory versions include meats and eggs.
Alternatively, dishes such as an omelette or quiche are another option for breakfast in France.
Croissant: a buttery, flaky pastry shaped like a crescent
Omelette: an egg mixture that’s cooked and folded
Quiche: a tart filled with a savory, cooked custard
Lunch and Dinner
While breakfast is typically short and simple, lunch and dinner are longer meals that often include multiple courses. Lunch breaks are often one- or two-hour events enjoyed in work cafeterias, at local eateries, or at home with family.
Dinner is typically three or four courses, a tradition developed over centuries. The following are common or famous recipes for the traditional courses of a French lunch or dinner:
Hors d'œuvres are traditionally served as the first course. These dishes are typically small and savory. You can expect a range of French foods, including anything from toast with a savory topping to French soups or frog legs.
Lobster bisque:a thick and creamy lobster soup
Croque monsieur: a ham and cheese sandwich served with béchamel sauce
Tartare de filet de boeuf: finely chopped, raw beef tartare
Grenouille à la Provençale: floured and sautéed frog legs
Escargot: rich and buttery snails
Estouffade printanière: a spring vegetable stew
The word entrée in English refers to the main course of a meal. In France, entrée is more often used to describe starter courses or appetizers. The main course would instead be called plat principal.
The main dish in a French meal is often a hot meat dish served with a side of vegetables. French foods often reflect the foods that are in season, so common dishes might vary season to season.
Pot-au-feu: a simple and hearty beef stew
Steak frites: classic French steak and fries
Ratatouille: baked or stewed summer vegetables
Coq au vin: chicken braised with onions and mushrooms
Cassoulet: a stewed casserole of mixed meats and beans with a crumb topping
The cheese course is referred to as fromage and follows the main course. Most cheese courses feature a platter of cheeses presented alone without additional preparation to preserve their integrity. Some cheese dishes, however, involve baking or melting the cheese.
Baked camembert: camembert cheese baked with seasoning
Fondue Savoyarde: goat’s cheese melted with seasoning
French desserts are beautiful and rich but are served in small portions. Most French desserts center around pastries, creams, and fruits. The dessert ends the meal on a sweet but light note, aiming to prevent people from feeling overly full.
Crème brûlée: a custard baked in a water bath and served with a melted sugar crust
Mousse au chocolat: a soft, cream-based dessert that is airy and rich
Crêpe: a thin pancake served with sweet or savory fillings
Îles Flottantes: an island of meringue floating in custard
Poire tarte tatin: a tart made with caramelized pears or apples
Poire avec orange: an orange-poached pear drizzled with syrup
Bread is one of the staples of French cuisine. While it isn’t its own course, most meals are served with a side of bread. Baguettes are especially popular, but there are many varieties of French bread.
Baguette: a long, thin bread with a crispy crust and airy center
Brioche: a rich and crumby bread similar to pastry
Fougasse: an herbed bread usually shaped like an ear of wheat
Pain de campagne: a country bread made with mixed flours
French pastries can be found at pâtisseries, French bakeries that specialize in pastries and sweets. Pâtissiers, or pastry chefs, are highly qualified after years of training, exams, and apprenticeships.
Mille-feuille: puff pastry layered with cream filling
Macaron: a meringue-based cookie sandwich
Éclair: an elongated pastry filled with cream and topped with chocolate
Madeleines: small, shell-shaped cakes
Profiterole: a pastry filled with cream or custard and served with chocolate sauce
Try your hand at making a traditional French meal of your own to truly understand the French eating experience. It will help you better understand French food, French culture, and French ancestors.