This is the final installment of our guide to French food and wine. In the first four articles, we explored the regional cuisines of France. Did you miss those stories? Find them here:
Understanding the regional specialties of French cuisine will help you order like a pro while traveling in France. But, there’s one more key to dining like the French: understanding the structure of a French meal.
The Structure of a French Meal
The French word for breakfast “petit déjeuner” translates to “little lunch” with little being the key word. Unlike a hearty English breakfast, the French prefer to start their day with something small. To break the fast like the French, enjoy a café (espresso) or a café au lait (espresso topped lots of steamed milk) and a glass of orange juice to drink, with a croissant or a tartine (slice of baguette toasted with butter and jam).
While many of us eat may opt to grab a quick bite and eat at our desks, French people are serious about their lunch or “déjeuner”. It’s common to take a full hour to enjoy the mid-day meal, often going out to restaurants, even on weekdays. Lunch at a restaurant is typically comprised of two courses. The first is often a soup or salad, while the second course could be something light like a quiche or omelet, or a heartier dish like confit de canard (grilled duck that’s been preserved in its own fat). A glass of wine at lunch isn’t uncommon, either.
Of course, if you’re too busy exploring a port to stop for a full lunch, ham and butter sandwiches are a popular grab-and-go option available at most bakeries. Or, you can pop into a couple of shops or find a local market and put together a little picnic of some fresh bread, meats, and cheese.
A traditional French dinner is comprised of three courses, though for special meals and celebrations, more courses, like a fish course, can be added. When ordering in France, the ‘menu’ is a multiple-course dinner served for a set price. If you want to see the full menu, ask for “la carte”.
You’ll find a breadbasket on just about every French dinner table, but a bread plate is unlikely, so just place your slice on the table next to your plate. It’s also uncommon for any butter to come with your bread, but if you ask the waiter politely, they’ll usually be able to rustle some up.
While we often refer to the main course as the entrée, in France the entrée is the way to enter, or begin, the meal. Entrées are often lighter dishes like carottes râpées (grated carrot salad) or Poireaux Vinaigrette (poached leeks in a mustard-based vinaigrette dressing).
The main course is referred to as the plat principal. French main courses are usually pretty hearty with a meat or fish being the focus of the dish, along with a side of vegetables, and perhaps a starch. Sauces for the protein are common in French cuisine. Many of the sauces you’ll find in France are variations based off of the five “Mother Sauces”: Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, Sauce Tomat and Velouté.
No French dinner is complete without something decadent at the end. A cheese plate is the perfect choice for those who prefer savory dishes, while for those with a sweet tooth there’s a long list of classic French pastries to choose from, like crème brûlée or Île flottante, consisting of cloud-like meringue floating in a crème anglaise sauce, topped with a touch of caramel.
Have we whetted your appetite for some French food and wine? Visit the country on these upcoming cruises:
- The 9-Night Mediterranean Classic Voyage, embarking May 15, 2018
- The 10-Night Normandy & Amsterdam Voyage, embarking June 7, 2018
- The 9-Night Rivieras & Hideaways Voyage, embarking July 26, 2018
- The 11-Night Wine & Romance Voyage, embarking September 10, 2018
- The 14-Night Tall Sails & Remembrance Voyage, embarking May 28, 2019
- The 9-Night Wine & Romance Voyage, embarking August 27, 2019
- The 7-Night France Intensive Voyage, embarking September 14, 2019
Now no matter the mealtime, or the region in France your Azamara voyage takes you to, you’ll know just what to order—not to mention where, and when, to order it. Bonne Appetite!
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