Food is about pleasure, and nobody does food better than the French. Here is just a tiny sampling of actual dishes we swooned over on our various trips through France.Whether it’s a Michelin starred gastronomic experience, a country auberge or tiny inn, or even a bistro, every single item was authentic and the best of its sort. That’s what all of the dishes below have in common: authenticity.
Anyone who has toured France will tell you that it has some of the best food in the world, without question. But with so many dishes to try, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start! We’ve given you a list of Bliss Travels‘ favorite French foods to get you started. Do you have some favorite meals of your own? Let us know if you agree!
This bakery good is a specialty of Provence. With a focaccia-like texture and height, the fougasse has several deep cuts which allow the toppings to infuse their flavor throughout the bread. This could be anything from olives to fresh vegetables to ham and cheese. Our favorite is une fougasse gratins, which is filled with chopped bacon. The bacon fat gives it an incredible crunchy crust and more flavor than one would ever think to find in an inauspicious loaf of bread–marveilleux!
2. Duck- Canard
The French rarely “do” beef. Instead, they specialize in what we would consider “alternative proteins”– and boy, do they do them well! Duck in France is incredibly tender, with a rich, buttery, and unique flavor that simply can’t be copied. In general, the French do not complicate this dish- it will be cooked perfectly and served with potatoes and perhaps some sauteed vegetables. They know a good thing when they have it! The Burgundy region especially has a reason to brag– clients who tour France with us are always ecstatic about this dish!
3. Lamb- Agneau
Speaking of these “alternative proteins,” French lamb is consistently out of this world. One of the reasons these meats are so incredible in France is the way they were raised. Lamb roam the countryside, literally dining on herbs de Provence. Thus, they are flavored with rosemary, thyme and the like –naturally! Raising animals using methods that are considered “organic” in America, with fewer hormones and better quality food– they raise happy lambs! Any version of lamb you get will be to die for. Bliss Travels‘ favorite place is in a small bistro on the Left Bank of Paris, which specializes in an mouth-watering shoulder of lamb for two!
4. Napoleon- Millefeuille
This classic French pastry is crumbly, messy, almost always falls on your lap, and is totally worth it. It has gained notoriety across the world, but France is still the clear winner when it comes to making it. Literally– it’s name in French means, “1000 sheets/layers). And so true! Layers and layers of flaky pastry are interspersed with creamy custard, finished with a distinctively patterned top glaze. Parfait!
5. Any and All Breads- Tous les Pains!
Nothing in France opens before 10 AM, with the exception of the local bakery. And they certainly give you a reason to wake up early–the open storefront fills the street with the heavenly and comforting scent of warm bread. Most of the time, you can find the nearest bakery by following your nose! Baguettes and brioche are always great options. If you feel like branching out, try something with olives or noisettes (nuts), or pain aux cereales, which has whole grains and an pleasant texture.
6. Warm Goat Cheese Salad- Salade du Chevre Chaud
This is a summer favorite! A simple, fresh bed of lettuce provides the counterpart to the the tangy, partially melted goat cheese served on toast that surrounds it. Light and refreshing, yet completely satisfying, every restaurant has their own spin on this dish, usually using local goat cheese. Whether in Provence, Paris, Burgundy or Bordeaux, this is always a great option. As it is summer, a glass of rose is essential to finish off the meal–bien sur!
7. Chocolate Lava Cake- Chocolat Fondant
This is France’s gift to the chocoholics of the world. America has tried to copy this classic dish by dousing it in sugar, but the French know that the chocolate should take center stage. Here, the cake is made using dark chocolate, butter…and that’s about it. Rich and almost bitter, these tiny cakes will almost assuredly make you put your fork down after the first bite to shout a happy, “Mon Dieu, c’est incroyable!”
8. Melon and Prosciutto
Going without this dish on a trip to France is like visiting America without getting French Fries. It is a staple in the spring and summer months, especially in the Provence region, and starts off just about every good meal. The prosciutto’s smooth, mellow flavor is always appreciated. But the melon is what steals the show! The trick here is to look for “Cavaillon” melons, which is the Provencal town where they are grown. These are to die for!
Feeling inspired? Come with Bliss Travels to taste your way across France! Our spring and summer trips to Provence are the perfect opportunity to try Cavaillon melon at it’s finest, while our upcoming September trip to Burgundy gives you a chance to sample the heartier fare of the wine region!
Bliss Clients Create their Own Gourmet Meal
One thing Bliss Travels prides itself on is giving our clients unique insider experiences on our journeys through France, Spain, and Belgium. Since we customize each trip to suit the interests of the group, these experiences are always a little different. From private wine tastings in 800 year old cellars in Burgundy, to painting lessons in the lavender fields of Provence with a professional artist, to private tours of the Sagrada Familia Basilica of Barcelona with a seasoned art specialist as your guide, Bliss always leaves you with unforgettable memories.
For our clients touring France this May, this proved to be exactly the case! On our journey through Provence, this group of foodies were taken to a renowned restaurant to meet the head chef, a Michelin-starred creative genius and enthusiastic lover of cuisine. But of course things didn’t end there. The head chef led the group to the restaurant’s kitchen for a private cooking lesson, where they chopped, sautéed, and laughed their way to a gourmet meal.
Under the guidance of the engaging chef, who is also a TV personality here, the meal came out stunningly. It was promptly enjoyed with bottles of local wine hand picked by Bliss (Who turns down a local wine when the area includes Chateauneuf du Pape and the other great Cote du Rhone wines?) Of course, it’s not all food and wine. It’s also a great (and small) group of eight fun loving, interesting people that make these sorts of events a success. And this group laughed and enjoyed themselves late into the night.
Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli
One of the best warm weather traditional Provencal dishes is the Aioli. Named after the garlic mayonnaise like sauce used as the centerpiece of the dish (the word Aioli comes from the words for ‘garlic’ and ‘oil’), this is quintessential Provencal fare. It has it’s roots, like many dishes of that region, in Roman times. It has been revered as a symbol of Provencal life for hundreds of years.
“Among the peoples living around the Mediterranean coasts, the use of garlic dates back to the very beginning of cooking itself. But as Leon Daudet observed, with the aioli it attained its peak of perfection, ‘the very highest degree of those truly civilized customs and habits that until health with well-being.’ So that we need feel no astonishment at learning that when the poet Mistral founded a Provencal newspaper (this was in 1891), he called it L’Aioli. The sauce had become a symbol. And he wrote of it with justice: ‘It concentrates all the warmth, the strength, the sun-loving gaiety of Provence in its essence, but it also has a particular virtue: it keeps flies away. Those who don’t like it, those whose stomachs rise at the thought of our oil, won’t come buzzing around us wasting our time. There’ll just be the family.’ And elsewhere again: ‘The ailoi goes slightly to the head, impregnates the body with its warmth, and bathes the soul with its enthusiasm…”
—The Hundred Glories of French Cooking, Robert Courtine [Farrar, Strause and Giroux:New York] 1973 (p. 137-140)
[NOTE: This book offers a recipe for Aioli de Morue. We can scan/send if you like.]
It’s served every Friday at the local cafe (because the fish monger comes on Fridays, and that’s the day of the Provencal market). It’s served at group meals –those community meals offered at village fetes and fares during the spring and summer months. This dish is a market fresh favorite.
There are many variations, but the mainstays are this:
Aioli sauce (recipes below)
Hard boiled egg
Haricots verts (the thin French green beans)
and steamed cod.
Then, the other items you might see are:
mussels (along the Mediterranean)
Everything is served room temperature (unless you have steamed mussels, which of course, are served warm). The sauce is cold. You dip each item in the sauce to flavor it.
How to make a quick and simple Aioli:
Take mayonnaise (1/2 cup) and mixed with crushed garlic clove (4-6), a squeeze of lemon, a few tablespoons of white wine (you can determine how thick or thin you want the sauce by how much wine you use), sea salt –and optional flavors such as saffron or herbs de Provence.
Mix well, cover tightly and let sit for at least 3-4 hours. Best if left overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
For a traditional Aioli, this is what Escoffier says:
“Aioli, or Beurre de Provence. Pound 30 g (1 oz) garlic as finely as possible in the mortar, add 1 raw egg yolk and a pinch of salt and gradually mix in 1 1/2 dl (9 fl oz or 1 1/8 U.S. cup) oil allowing it to fall drop by drop to begin with, then faster as a thread as the sauce begins to thicken. The thickening of the sauce takes place by turning the pestle vigorously whilst adding the oil. The consistency of the sauce should be adjusted during its making by adding the juice of 1 lemon and 1;2 tbs cold water little by little. Note: Should the sauce separate it can be reconstituted by working it into 1 egg yolk as for Mayonnaise.”
—Le Guide Cuilinaire, Escoffier, first translation into English by H.L. Cracknell & R.J. Kaufmann, 1907 edition [John Wiley:New York] 1979 (p. 29)
As the spring and summer seasons in Provence swing into action, you can be sure that people will be dining on Aioli, sipping rose, and enjoying the sunshine. It’s Bliss!
Hope to see you there!
Owner, Bliss Travels