French food is one of the world’s most beloved cuisines. Although some of us might balk at the thought of eating escargot (snails) or question the ethics of consuming foie gras, many of France’s favorite dishes are also delicious and worthy of sampling.
From a trusty baguette for breakfast to a cheese board loaded with brie, camembert, and roquefort, the rest of the world has embraced French fare with gusto. If you’re keen to expand your repertoire, we’d like to suggest these 11 unique foods to try in France.
Cuisses de Grenouille (Frog Legs)
Did you know that the French devour around 160 million frog legs every year? Unfortunately, declining frog populations and strict laws on poaching mean that most of these edible amphibian limbs are now imported from Indonesia rather than locally harvested from Vosges in northeastern France. Rich in protein, Vitamin A, and potassium, frog legs have a mild flavor sometimes compared to chicken. They’re usually sautéed, though they are also quite tasty braised in white wine and butter.
Cassoulet is a rich stew originating from the town of Castelnaudary near Toulouse and Carcassonne in the south of France. It gets its name from the dish it’s cooked in — the casserole dish. Cassoulet is hearty peasant fare — both filling and nutritious. Cooked slowly to enable the flavor to develop, the stew’s signature ingredient is white beans accompanied by sausages, pork knuckle or belly, or duck confit roasted in thyme, bay leaves, parsley, and copious amounts of garlic. As the stew boils, a crispy crust develops, though cheaters will add a layer of breadcrumbs to speed up the process.
Clafoutis is a mouthwatering dessert that hails from central France and became popular in the 19th century when chefs across the country got wind of this Limousin specialty. To make the dish, one must arrange unpitted cherries at the bottom of a baking dish and pour a thick batter gently over the top. (The clue’s in the name: clafir in French means “to fill.”) The slight tartness of the fruit balances the sweetness of the batter. As the dish bakes, the cherry stones infuse an almond-like flavor into the dessert — delicious!
Kouign Amann (Butter Cake)
Kouign amann has a lot in common with the more famous croissant — it’s flaky, buttery, and a little sweet in flavor. But unlike the croissant, which the Austrians introduced to France, kouign amann is a home-grown treat invented in Brittany more than 150 years ago. In Breton, the word kouign means cake and amann means butter. To make kouign amann, pastry chefs layer sugar and butter with bread dough. In the oven, the butter puffs up the dough and the sugar caramelizes. The result is a deliciously sweet cake which is then cut into slices.
In some respects, galettes are similar to crêpes — both are thin pancakes stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. So what’s the distinction? A galette contains buckwheat flour; a galette complète typically has a fried egg with a combination of ham, cheese, mushrooms, spinach, or onions. After you slide the galette out of the pan, use your spatula to gently fold over the edges to make a square parcel that partially encloses the filling.
Andouillette (Chitterling Sausage)
Andouillettes are a type of sausage, usually made with pork but also with chitterlings, which are boiled pig intestines. The coarse cut meat is combined with plenty of seasonings, finely chopped onions, and a dash of wine. Though the smell of andouillettes can be a little too pungent for some delicate noses, the French can’t get enough of them. They consume these sausages hot or cold; pan-frying them in breadcrumbs is especially common. Though you’ll find andouillettes all over France, the best sausages are from Troyes, a pretty town about 100 miles southeast of Paris.
Bouillabaisse is a rich fish stew that originates from the Mediterranean port city of Marseille. Fishermen would bring home any fish too small to be sold and throw them in the pot. The stew’s name tells you how it’s made: start by boiling the broth (“bouille”) and then lower the heat (“abaisse”). Authentic bouillabaisse (there are many inferior imitations) should contain at least four types of fish. Rascasse, a bony rockfish, is one of the most popular choices. A blend of Provençal herbs and spices further enhances the taste and aroma. When dining out, the broth component of the bouillabaisse will be poured over the bowl of cooked fish at the table.
The French have been eating brioche since at least the 15th century. This bread differs from regular dough in that it has a higher egg and butter content; an egg wash applied before it’s proved gives the dough a dark golden crust when baked. Brioche is more versatile than a regular loaf too. The bun is often filled with chocolate chips, fruit, jam, or cream. It’s not uncommon to find brioche dough used in savory dishes too — from burger bun alternatives to the pastry that wraps a juicy fillet of beef en croûte. But nothing beats a brioche served on its own and dunked in a bowl of hot chocolate or café au lait first thing in the morning.
Though the name “ratatouille” now conjures images of the popular Disney Pixar movie, the meal of the same name is a French side dish that’s a clever way of using leftover tomatoes or eggplants. Ratatouille has evolved over the years but the popular recipe includes onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, garlic, fennel, thyme, and basil. The vegetables are fried and then simmered in a thick tomato sauce. Preventing the medley from turning to mush is harder than it looks, but a good ratatouille is a delightful accompaniment to a meal.
If you’re a fan of quiche lorraine, there’s a good chance you’re going to love flamiche. Popular in northeastern France and Belgium, this pie is filled with leeks chopped and softened on low heat in butter. The leeks are spread across the pastry and then covered in milk or crème fraîche mixed with beaten egg. Another layer of pastry seals the mixture before the quiche is baked in the oven until golden brown. Flamiche is often served as a snack or appetizer, but sometimes you’ll find it as an entrée too.
One of France’s most luscious desserts most likely started out as a mistake. As the story goes, two sisters ran the Hôtel Tatin in the town of Lamotte-Beuvron in the 1880s. While making an apple pie one day, Stéphanie Tatin was distracted, and the apples she’d put on the stove to simmer in butter and sugar were overdone. Trying to salvage the ingredients, she placed a pastry base on top — instead of underneath as she usually did. After the pastry was cooked, she took the dish out of the oven and flipped it over. The guests, far from being disappointed, raved about the new creation, and tarte tatin has been a welcome sight on dessert menus ever since.