France is known for its romantic cities, fashion, stunning landscapes, and wine. And French cuisine is world-renowned and revered by many, stemming from a long history of traditional methods and recipes.
Through the centuries, French food has had influences from its surrounding countries like Belgium and Spain. So, what is so special about French cooking? There are quite a few things to know. Here are 43 facts about French food that will open your eyes to French cuisine.
Tip: If you are touring France, here are some facts about the Eiffel Tower that you could read up on before making your way to the top.
43 Facts About French Food
Here are some amazing facts about French food for you to break out during your next dinner party or trip to France.
1. There is a Bread Etiquette
There is a special way of eating bread in France, believe it or not. No nibbling on the bread before your meal arrives, and don’t even think of using a knife to cut the bread.
Bread is a staple in French cuisine and one of the few things that you should eat with your hands. Use the bread to dip into any sauces if they are provided and to clean your plate-it displays a sincere acceptance of the meal.
2. French Fries Were Not Invented in France
French fries, or frites-as the French call them, were actually made in Belgium but there are different stories about their origin.
The recipe for French fries was taken to the USA by Thomas Jefferson after serving as the American Minister to France. Some also claim that they were introduced to US soldiers in World War 1 by French-speaking Belgian soldiers.
3. French Toast Isn’t Really French
Believe it or not, the origins of French toast can be traced back to the Roman Empire. The term itself was coined in England during the 17th century.
It is known as “pain perdu” in France, which translates to “lost bread” since the bread that was originally used was mainly stale bread.
4. Breakfast is Not the Most Important Meal of the Day
A French breakfast, or le petit déjeuner, is usually a light meal. This is because the French typically skip breakfast in favor of coffee or tea. If eaten, the breakfast is often sweet with just a pastry and some jams or honey.
5. There is a Lot of Cheese in France
It is estimated that there are between 350-450 different varieties of cheese that are produced in France. There are then over 1000 sub-categories of cheese in France with Bleu d’Auvergne, Camembert, Brie and Emmental being popular and loved worldwide.
France produces around a billion tons of cheese each year. It’s easy to see why the joke of having a different cheese for each day of the year is so popular.
6. The French Love Their Baguettes
Around 10 billion baguettes are baked and sold every year in France. The French not only enjoy these iconic loaves of bread but protect them as well.
There are actually strict laws that govern baguette production. The law states that traditional baguettes may contain only four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. And they must be prepared and sold in the same place and cannot be frozen or contain additives.
7. Eclairs Have an Interesting Meaning Behind Their Name
An eclair is a chocolate-covered choux pastry filled with a fluffy light cream that everyone loves. Its name translates to “flash of lightning” in English. This is because the idea behind the pastry is that it is eaten in a flash.
8. The Famous Croissant and Baguette Were not Invented by the French
Like French fries and French toast, these two famous French food items originate in Austria. The legend is that Marie-Antoinette made the croissant popular by insisting that she could not live without them.
After she moved to France to marry the future King Louis XVI, she requested that the royal bakers prepare her favorite homeland treat.
9. Milk is Kept Outside and Not in a Fridge
Visit any grocery store in France, and you will come to notice that all of the milk is stored on shelves. This is because milk in France is pasteurized at a higher temperature than in the USA. As such, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
A French scientist, Louis Pasteur, developed the process of pasteurization. So, it’s safe to say that they know what they are doing.
10. Escargot is a Staple Appetizer in French Food
The famous snails that you can buy at almost any restaurant in France. These are normally some of the edible species that you can find in a forest, like the Roman snail. But they are cooked in oil with garlic and pesto.
Many French people love eating snails, and they are high in protein and low in fat. The nutritional value of snails explains why the average French citizen eats around 500 of these little guys a year.
11. Macarons are Rarely Eaten by French People
France is best known for its luxurious desserts. But interestingly, most French people don’t actually eat them on a regular basis.
A firm favorite, the macaron, and other desserts are usually only bought for special occasions or offered as a gift. The average home dessert for French dinners comprises yogurt, fruits, and maybe a little dark chocolate.
12. Presentation is as Important as Taste to French Chefs
To many French chefs, it is the presentation that makes the dish. They spend a substantial amount of time on perfecting the appearance of a meal, with the idea that you also eat with your eyes in mind.
Chefs are trained to pay close attention to simple things like cutting techniques that take hours of practice to do correctly.
13. There is a Mushroom of Paris
There is an edible white mushroom called the Champignon de Paris, which translates to the mushroom of Paris. In a recurring theme, Champignon de Paris may have been started in Paris, but is now grown all over Europe and in North America.
Otherwise known as ‘button’ mushrooms, they are a favorite for any mushroom soup.
14. No Substitutions at French Restaurants
If you eat at a French restaurant, it would be within your best interest to order the meal as it comes with no substitutions. A meal is considered to be perfect when leaving a kitchen and any change would be considered an insult.
This is especially important in Michelin star restaurants, where the food is seasoned and paired to perfection. This won’t apply though if you have any food allergies.
15. French Food is Very Simple and Rarely Spicy
French cuisine tends to highlight and celebrate the ingredients on their own with a touch of herbs for added flavor. The most common way to do this is with a bouquet garni. It is a collection of various aromatic plants such as thyme, parsley, and bay leaf.
16. The Foods are Named After the Different Cities and Regions
Funny story; there is a reason behind why you get Dijon mustard from Dijon and Champagne from Champagne or even some Bordeaux from Bordeaux. These are actually legally protected designations internationally, meaning that it’s only authentic if it’s from that region.
17. The Crêpe Suzette was an Accidental Creation
One of the legends is that a 14-year-old waiter was preparing crêpes for Prince Edward VII when they accidentally caught fire. The Prince loved them and named the dish after one of the guests, a French woman named Suzette. And so, the Crêpe Suzette was born.
18. There is Almost Always Wine in French Recipes
Quite a few French dishes contain a splash of wine, like classics such as the boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin. The wine doesn’t always cook off either by the time you eat, which can be problematic if you have children or friends that don’t drink.
19. There is a Ketchup Ban in France
Yes, there is a ban on unlimited ketchup for schools and colleges in France. This ban came into effect in 2011 to preserve French cuisine and improve students’ diets. Children are not allowed to bring any ketchup to school in homemade lunches. The all-American sauce is used for French fries only.
20. An After Dinner Cheese Plate is a Must
Traditionally, a cheese plate is served after the main meal in France. It is a course all on its own, but it isn’t too extravagant. Typically, a cheese plate will have two-to-three types of cheese with a few pieces of baguette to feed four people. But, this will change depending on the number of people at the table.
21. There is a Cheese Etiquette
In France, there is a cheese etiquette when it comes to eating cheese. Essentially, when the tray arrives, all of the pieces of the cheese must be cut up just as you would cut a slice of pie. You would then place your slice of cheese on your plate and enjoy.
22. Traditional French Christmas Menus are Different
When you think of Christmas food, thoughts of giant feasts with roast hams, turkeys, or chickens come to mind. In France, however, Christmas food is taken to another world of luxury.
Their menu consists of French favorites like smoked salmon, oysters, foie gras, escargots, and Champagne.
23. Some French People Drink Their Morning Coffee From a Bowl
Yes, a bowl and the reason for this is that they love to take their morning pastry or bread and dip it into their coffee or hot beverage before eating it. The French then switch to a tiny espresso as the day goes on, with this bowl only being used at breakfast.
24. You Might Struggle to Find Foreign Food at a Grocery
Most of the overseas items that you might love, from Oreos to peanut butter, have been either relegated to the “ethnic food” aisle or can’t be found at all. As food is such a huge part of French culture, they try to preserve it from being polluted with foreign ingredients.
25. Dinners Can Be Long and Massive
Dinners are the feature of the day, with meals normally having up to seven courses. At the very least, you will have three courses: an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. But, in a Michelin star restaurant, expect a few different versions of each course.
26. There are Strict Table Manners When Eating
Traditionally, locals eat most food using cutlery, from fruit to burgers. It is part of French culture. But, funnily enough, McDonald’s in France won’t provide any cutlery, forcing you to eat with your hands.
These traditions are slowly starting to be relaxed. But, don’t be surprised when you see people eating a pizza with a knife and fork.
27. The French Love Their Burgers
Although you will struggle to find any American foodstuffs at the grocery store, the French love burgers. And you can find them at almost any café or brasserie. Although they weren’t too happy about the arrival of McDonald’s in the 90’s, nearly every restaurant’s menu has been Americanized by the addition of burgers.
28. You Can Buy a Baguette From a Vending Machine
There are vending machines filled with baguettes in the French countryside to make sure that the golden loaves are readily available. There was even a requirement for all bakeries in Paris to gain government approval for a vacation up until 2015 to ensure that there was a supply of bread to the neighborhood.
29. French Bakers Have Their Own Saint
French bakers have a patron Saint, Saint-Honore or Honoratus who is believed to have a baker’s peel that put down roots and transformed into a fruiting tree. Every year a special feast, Feast of St. Honore, is held to celebrate their patron and the bakers of France on 16 May.
30. Expect All Kinds of Meat To Be on the Menu
The French are not afraid when it comes to trying new food. As they are adventurous foodies, you will be able to order foods like horse meat, rabbit and even frog legs from the menu. So, it might be best to brush up on your French to know what you are ordering.
31. The French Love Frog Legs
The French people love a popular delicacy, Cuisses de Grenouille, a dish made with frog legs. This has been a staple in French cuisine since medieval times. As such, some refer to them as “frogs’ legs eaters” or “frog eaters”.
32. There are Different Cuisines Throughout France
Each region has a particular style of French cuisine that they are known for – thanks to the diverse ingredients at local markets. For instance, there are different cheeses in different regions of France. And the cooking styles change drastically from the north to the south of France.
33. French Adults Don’t Snack
Similar to breakfast, adults are not big on snacking. At most, they’ll have a coffee and some fruit in the afternoon. On the other hand, children enjoy nibbling on snacks-especially their after-school snack, known as goûter.
34. A Special Cake is Made to Celebrate Epiphany
La Galette des Rois, or King Cake, is made in early January to celebrate the three kings who followed the star to find the baby Jesus. This occasion is called L’Epiphanie and has the added tradition of a small trinket hidden in the cake. The person who finds it is the king or queen for the day.
35. A French Party Crudités Doesn’t Include Celery
A party crudités is a yummy vegetable platter. It usually consists of celery, raw carrots, radishes, cherry tomatoes, and a few other vegetables with some dressing sauce. But, oddly enough, no celery is included on a crudités for a party in France.
36. Compote is a Favorite for French Kids
Food is such a vital part of French culture that children grow up eating tasty French compote. This is a collection of fresh fruit that is slow-cooked in a sugar syrup, while they are still babies.
37. French Cuisine is on a UNESCO List
French gastronomy, or French cooking, is one of the best in the world. Some would argue that it is the best. In 2010, French cuisine was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
38. France is the Champion of Nutella
Even though Nutella is an Italian product, it is one of the most-sold grocery items in France. The French people consume roughly 75,000 tons a year. That is a lot of Nutella for a country with a population of 66 million people.
39. Duck is the Favorite
Walk into any brasserie, and you are almost guaranteed to find duck on the menu. Canard, meaning duck, is famous in France with a traditional recipe, magret de canard, being a firm favorite.
40. Pâté is a Must on Any Charcuterie Plate
A Charcuterie plate is a mouth-watering traditional French food plate. It usually includes various meats, bread, cheeses, olives and other accompaniments presented beautifully on a board.
A pâté is a delicacy that is a paste made up of different organ meats and ground meats. They usually have some form of goose or duck liver with various herbs and spices.
41. Throwing Away Spare Food is Against the Law
That’s right. Supermarkets are not allowed to throw away any unsold and edible food products. Instead, they should donate it to charities to help feed the poor.
42. There are Two Kinds of Baguettes
There is a thin and fat version of the famous baguette. The thinner baguette is called a ficelle which means “string” in French and the fatter version is a traditional baguette.
43. No One Says Bon Appétit
Just so you don’t make a faux pas, the saying Bon Appétit translates to “good gastric course” and is rude. As eating is an art in France, saying “Bon Appétit” reduces food to its digestive aspect.
Which Fact About French Food Did You Find Fascinating?
With such a long history and a deeply embedded cultural connection, French food is the pride of a nation on a plate. This cuisine serves as the foundation of many recipes and is admired around the world.
Hopefully, these facts about French food have given you a few tips that will come in handy on your next trip to France and maybe even serve as an inspiration guide. Since wine is an integral part of the country, consider brushing up on some facts about grapes before touring the vineyards.
You might enjoy reading my posts on interesting facts about pizzas and interesting facts about ice cream.
Saturday 16th of October 2021
Interesting. But the last point is wrong. "Bon appétit" is used all the time and does not mean good gastric course at all...🤷♂️