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And where to find them!

France is known for its food, and no trip to France would be complete without trying the best food that the country has to offer. Fortunately, it’s easy to eat the best French food without spending a fortune; it’s a matter of knowing where to find it! Before the advent of supermarkets and hypermarchés, the French – French women, to be specific – did the shopping every day for that day’s meals, buying only enough for one day. Each town had shops that sold the basic foods and despite the lure of easy shopping at supermarkets, these small specialist shops have survived in many places.

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Shopping for a picnic in France

Here are the shops you should look for if your plan is to picnic, with some advice about what you absolutely must try from each one:


A boulangerie is a bakery, specifically one that deals in bread. Given that bread is a staple of the French diet, included in every meal, you’ll find a boulangerie even in the smallest village. The bread is never as good the second day, so even if the rest of the shopping comes from a supermarket, the French will stop at the boulangerie on a daily basis. The bread is usually baked early in the morning on site, and often sells out before noon. Visit in the morning, because boulangeries close in the afternoon.
Definitely try a baguette: a long loaf of white bread, crusty on the outside, fluffy on the inside. If you buy a thinner type, you’ll get more crust. If you prefer whole wheat bread, they’ll have that too, though perhaps not in a long loaf.
Boulangeries are also where you can find French croissants, which are nothing like the croissants you might have tried at home; they’re much better! They’re flakier and don’t need butter on them – though a bit of jam can be nice. Also try pain au chocolat, which is essentially a croissant but with a bit of chocolate in the middle.


Cheese shops, obviously, are where you can find the best French cheeses. Try the classics like Brie and Camembert – both of which are heaven as a simple sandwich on a baguette. Regional specialties like Emmenthal, Comté, Roquefort, and many more are available nowadays in every fromagerie.


There are two kinds of meat stores: a boucherie and a charcuterie. A boucherie is where you buy raw meat like steaks or pork to cook yourself. Instead, look for a charcuterie. This is where you’ll find a huge variety of sausages from all over the country and beyond.
A charcuterie is also the place to try patés. The one that’s most well-known – and quite expensive – is paté de foie gras, which is made from duck or goose liver. But try a paté de campagne, which has a courser texture, often made from pork. Make sure to choose a homemade paté, not one in a tin or jar, so you can sample a truly local specialty. Paté de campagne tastes wonderful on a slice of fresh bread.


A patisserie is pastry shop, and in France a shop can’t be called this unless its baker is a fully-qualified professional. You’ll find a dizzying selection of sweet masterpieces here. Here are some to look for:

  • Macarons are small airy rounds making a sandwich with a layer of creamy filling between them.
  • Millefeuilles, which translates literally as “thousand leaves,” is made of many flaky layers with custard filling between them. Eat it over a plate because there will be many crumbs!
  • Meringues are hard but airy confections made of beaten egg whites and sugar. If they’re made right, they should melt in your mouth.
  • Tartes are small individual pies. Choose whatever fruit filling is in season and it’ll be wonderful.



A confiserie is a candy store, and they usually focus on chocolate. If it’s a good one, it should be producing the chocolates and truffles right there in the back room, and the quality will be excellent. Choose from a range of fillings, or just let the shopkeeper choose a variety for you. Quality chocolates like these make a perfect gift to take home; they keep well as long as they don’t get too warm. Ask the shopkeeper to box them up for you.

Eating out in France

If you don’t want to picnic, there are, of course, plenty of options for eating out. This will help you navigate the choices, as well as giving some suggestions of classic foods to try:

A café

Unlike in some other countries, a café is France is primarily focused on drinks: coffee, but also soft drinks or alcohol. They’ll often offer some light food, more like snacks than meals. A typical snack is the croque monsieur, which is essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. A croque madame is the same, but with a fried egg on top.

Restaurant, bistro or brasserie?

Restaurants, bistros and brasseries all serve food, but bistros and brasseries are more casual. The service is likely to be less formal as well. Restaurants – and sometimes bistros – have a prix-fixe menu that is definitely worth taking: it’s a set menu usually consisting of three courses, and the price is always distinctly better than ordering dishes separately.

Meals to try

As an appetizer, try escargots: snails. Your first thought might be to say “No way!” but they’re really very tasty. They’re removed from the shell, cooked, and returned to the shell for serving, usually in a wonderful garlic and butter sauce. Dip your bread – meals always include fresh bread – in that sauce and you won’t want it to end. (Speaking of bread, it will be served with your meal at any restaurant. Do not ask for butter; the French only put butter on bread at breakfast, and it is considered gauche to use butter on bread at lunch or dinner.)
Another classic starter is soupe à l’óignon: onion soup. The soup is served with a large crouton on top, which is topped in turn with melted cheese. Delicious.

For the main meal, try a classic like boeuf bourguignon, a beef and vegetable stew with a rich broth. Or a cassoulet, which is a flavorful bean stew with meat. Ratatouille is another favorite: a baked vegetable dish.
Most regions have local specialties as well. In the French Alps, try raclette, in which you melt cheese at your table and eat it with potatoes. At Mont-St-Michel on the Normandy coast, enjoy the extremely puffy specialty omelets. If you’re in Provence, try bouillabaisse, a seafood stew in a white wine sauce that is heavenly.
Desserts are just as heavenly. Crème brûlée will make you wish you had room for seconds, and so will chocolate mousse. A crêpe suzette, with a butter and orange sauce, puts on a show: it is traditionally lit on fire (flambé) at your table.


Speaking of crepes, a crêperie is another type of restaurant worth mentioning. Crepes are very thin pancakes that can be sweet or savory. The savory ones are made from buckwheat or wheat flour, but without any sugar. There are lots of choices for fillings: cheese, ham, mushrooms, and so on. The sweet ones are made with wheat flour and are a bit sweet. You can order from a range of sweet fillings: chocolate sauce, jam, sugar, syrup, and so on. Usually you order crepes just one at a time, deciding after each one whether you want to order another. They’re prepared quite quickly so despite perhaps ordering several rounds, the meal doesn’t drag out too much.

This should be enough to get you started in France, whether you want to enjoy a picnic or relax with table service. French food is unparalleled, so eating is one of the highlights of any trip to France, no matter what your budget. Try the classics listed above or bring a translation app on your phone and see what other menu options catch your eye – it’s bound to be good!

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If you have any questions about our offerings in France – where you could try all of these amazing foods – or any of the other countries we offer tours in, feel free to contact us at +31 20 72 35 400 in the Netherlands or (203) 814 1249 in the US.

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