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French cuisine is all about fresh ingredients, proper seasoning, and creative culinary creations. Paris is particularly well-known for its cheese selection, chocolate candies, pastries, and crepes stuffed with everything from cheese, meat, and vegetables to fruit and whipped cream.
French cuisine is characterized by its fresh ingredients, which are often purchased at street markets and specialty stores. Regional fruits and vegetables are integral parts of many dishes. French chefs incorporate fruits like currants, berries, plums, and peaches into their creations. Common vegetables include carrots, potatoes, leeks, shallots, and eggplant. Mushrooms are also popular, particularly rare, exotic, or distinctive varieties like truffles, oyster mushrooms, chanterelle, and porcini,
French cuisine includes many familiar meats, like chicken, turkey, beef, duck, and lamb. It's also common to find pigeon, quail, frog, snails, and horse meat on a French menu. Seafood commonly eaten in France includes sardines, cod, mussels, tuna, shrimp, trout, herring, salmon, and calamri. Eggs are very popular and are scrambled, used in omelets, or hard boiled and served with mayonnaise.
French chefs draw on many different seasonings, which typically vary by region. Rosemary, fennel, thyme, sage, tarragon, and marjoram are just a few of the flavors you'll encounter in French dishes,
Cheese in France comes in literally hundreds of varieties, made from the milk of various animals like cows, sheep, and goats. Some of this cheese is “cooperative” or “industriel,” meaning that it is produced by large cooperatives or factories, but you can easily find “artisanal” cheeses produced in very limited quantities or “fermier” cheeses made by farmers at the same place the milk was produced.
You'll find cheeses in Paris that come from many regions of France. For example, Roquefort is made from sheep's milk and aged in caves in the southwest part of the country, while Munster, from the northeast, is rinsed in the repeated washings in water from the Vosges River. Cheese is such a highly regarded part of French cuisine that it is served as its own course, before dessert, during multi-course meals.
Crepes are a versatile part of French cuisine, as they can have fillings that make them suitable as part of a main meal, like ham, cheese, or vegetables, or they can be stuffed with sweets like chocolate, cream, or fruit and eaten for dessert. You buy them most commonly from street vendors, although they are also served in many restaurants.
France is well know for its pastries, which run the gamut from simple cookies to rich cream puffs and elaborate eclairs. French bakeries product fresh batches daily, and bakers often customize these treats with their own special flair. Some bakeries specialize in certain goods, like the Ladurée pastry shop, which originated macaroons.
Paris is famous for the quality of its chocolate. Chocolate shops throughout the city sell tempting candies, and cafes serve sweet, velvety hot chocolate to warm away the chill on a nippy Parisian day. Many chocolate shops are family run, and the confectioners take great pride in turning out high quality candies made with recipes that date back for several generations. Some shops have mouthwatering specialties, like the seasonal candied chestnuts at Tanrade.
Classic Parisian Dishes
There are certain classic dishes in French cuisine, some of which sound odd to the American palate, that are must-tries when you visit Paris and try a restaurant. The seasonings and sauces turn them into taste treats even though they might sound a bit intimidating if you're not gastronomically adventurous.
For example, escargot is a dish made up of snails in garlic butter and parsley. This simple classic is typically served in the shell, with special implements for extracting the tasty meat. Frog legs are known as les cuisses de grenouilles, but don't be afraid of them because the old cliché that they taste like chicken is true. They are typically grilled and prepared with herbs. Another French cuisine classic is foie gras, or goose liver, either pan-friend or prepared as a pate on baguettes. Beef tartare is high-grade ground beef served raw, and often mixed with ingredients like egg or onions. If you see cheval on the menu, be aware that it refers to horse meat, a common dish in France.