How I eat in France.



I remember when I first moved to France having trouble understanding what to buy at the grocery store. On the surface, French food and American food are nearly the same: aisles of dairy, meat, canned foods, fresh fruit and vegetables… yet somehow it was still very confusing. I didn’t get what lardons (=chopped up bacon) were used for. I came home with things I wouldn’t eat today, like pre-packaged croques monsieur.

Anyway over six years my diet has more or less settled, and living with a Frenchman has given me some insight into French food rules, and made me miss and wonder about some American ones.

So here are some things I’ve learned and/or adjusted to…

  1. Cheese after the main dish. In Poitou, this is very often goat cheese, and though the cheese aisle still overwhelms me a little bit (J accuses me of buying three new cheeses for every one left in the fridge), I’ve become a big fan of the cheese course.
  2. A warm or cold entrée before the main dish. J likes to cut open an avocado or tomato, and every once in a while we buy something small and hot from the butcher or the grocery store. Something with lots of flaky dough and meat or fish on the inside. Things I’d definitely never seen in the States.


    Faisselle. Miam.

  3. Yogurt after the meal (though not always if I’ve eaten cheese). Like the cheese aisle, I’m also a fan of the yogurt aisle, and all the yogurt-like dairy products: faisselle, fromage blanc, yaourt grec.
  4. Apéro! The apéro is such a wonderful part of French eating, yet it’s also possibly the least healthy. J managed to shed weight this year just by quitting all those gateaux apéritifs. We call them gateaux but they aren’t sweet, and they aren’t even remotely cake-like. They’re typically store-bought things like pretzls and chips, and we’ve tried to switch to cherry tomatoes and humus over the past year.
  5. Le petit quatre heures: This one I have trouble with. When kids come home from school, they have their goûter: normally cookies or something to carry them through to dinner. So French afternoon snacks are sugary and not salty. In fact J told me yesterday that what you need in the afternoon is sugar and not salt. I have no idea if that’s true, and I hope not, because I love salty snacks. Sweet food at 5 pm will never tempt me. I’ll always miss my American snacks: Pirates’ Booty, cheese puffs, flavored pretzls, veggie chips… sigh.
  6. A hot meal at lunchtime: Though I take a sandwich to school (I can’t be bothered to prepare a hot meal in advance), when I’m home, I never eat a cold lunch.


And here are a few American rules that no one observes in France:

  1. A glass of milk with dinner, for kids.
  2. No cookies for breakfast. Though J hardly ever eats breakfast, contenting himself with a coffee, when he does, he often goes for cookies. In fact breakfasts in France are always sweet, even if the cookie-eating is maybe a bit extreme.

Know any other “rules” out there that are totally different from one culture to another?

10 thoughts on “How I eat in France.

  1. Mom says:

    i sure do know some now but they’re about Spain. Wanna hear? Tapas is not what you learned in the US, small goodies you can inhale or share. No, they are free things that arrive at the table IF you are in a university town and IF you ordered beer or wine. Someone (Franco maybe?) thought you should never drink without food, especially if you are a student, so tapas is the free goodie that comes with beer. It sometimes comes without even looking at a menu and sometimes you get to choose. Patatas bravas and skewered grilled meat are frequent. Tonight we got little bacon sandwiches. We’ve seen creepy things like eggs scrambled with squid tentacles (huevos con gulas).

    Of course you all know the Spanish eat late, so, beer and tapas are at about 6-9 and dinner starts between 9:30 and midnight.

    Remember that great tapas dinner we had the night before Liam’s graduation? Not authentic in the least.

  2. I’m not a fan of the sugary goûter either. Triscuits with Colby Jack cheese is my favorite snack ever, and neither of those exist in France.

    How I view dessert has definitely changed! In the US dessert was something sweet after dinner and I didn’t have it every day. Now I feel weird if I don’t have dessert after eating, but it’s a yogurt or piece of fruit and very rarely cake or some sort of pudding.

    I think I still follow the don’t snack before dinner or you’ll ruin your appetite rule. I’ll only have a drink during apéro and won’t eat the gateaux apéritifs unless it’s actually going to be a long time before we eat. My boyfriend thinks he needs apéro no matter what, and will look for anything to munch on while I’m making dinner, which drives me crazy.

    • The apéro as a snack before dinner still essentially bothers me—especially when I’m at a friends house and they bring out chips! What’s that idea about eating an apple before dinner to keep yourself from eating too much? Chips seem like the ultimate opposite of that helpful concept…

      Otherwise I have grown to like dessert after dinner, be it yogurt or fruit—it feels like the meal isn’t over without it. But I remember my American dad being a stickler for that growing up, so maybe some corners of the US are or were like that too.

      Also, I miss triscuits!

  3. Hi, I love reading your blog, and I just nominated you for a Liebster Award. Feel free to participate or not, but I wanted to let you know! (And if you want to, you can find the instructions and questions in my last post.)

  4. I love apero!! We’ve been going through hummus like it’s water. Seriously. Addicted. Thinking of going to get it out of the fridge right this second.

    One thing I can’t adapt to is the sugary breakfast. I mean, I know as Americans, we’re not exactly known for healthy breakfasts (hello, pancakes), but cookies? Uh uh. It’s so hard to find non sugary cereal, and there are only so many bowls of corn flakes a person can take.

  5. The cookies for breakfast thing makes me crazy. Though I have been known to eat chocolate ice cream for breakfast (I blame college dining halls) . . . I’m super into the cheese and fruit after dinner, though we never buy cheese, so that’s mostly for eating chez la belle mère. She also does salad before the cheese, but literally just lettuce leaves with vinaigrette. This is still hard for me, I really prefer eating my greens before, I never have room left after the meal for salad AND cheese AND dessert!

  6. Yeah, the sugary breakfast is a bit weird. But I have adjusted to the brioche+nutella since it’s just so freakin fast and cheap.

    As for the salad, I’m pretty sure any salad after the meal is limited to just lettuce with vinaigrette, and any more complicated salad is eaten before the meal. That’s what someone explained to me once and what I’ve observed since then. It does require planning for stomach space!

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