The Art of French Gastronomy and Cuisine
The French are known for their love of good food and wine, and this gastronomic heritage permeates the entire culture.
French food enjoys a vaunted global reputation and exemplifies the country’s inimitable art de vivre. And it’s not only the cuisine that deserves such acclaim. In 2010, UNESCO placed the entire French gastronomic meal on its intangible cultural heritage list. The structure of this sit-down meal is particularly important: l’entrée, le plat principal, le fromage and le dessert. Indeed, cafeterias from preschool on up serve all four of these courses at midday, and each municipality prides itself on the high-quality selections prepared on the premises. It’s little wonder that the gastronomy of France enjoys such renown.
Regional specialities of France
It’s not easy to define French cuisine, as every département and even city has its own specialities. Furthermore, each area’s terroir – that unique combination of soil and climate – contributes to its products. Perhaps the most well-known is Burgundy, renowned for its eponymous wines and, in turn, wine-braised dishes like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin. This region is also the home of snails in various preparations, such as escargots à l’ail baked with herb-garlic butter.
Cheesy foods reign supreme in mountainous areas. Tartiflette savoyarde is a comforting dish of potatoes, bacon and onions, topped with Reblochon and baked until golden. Although fondue comes from Switzerland, les Savoyardes have made this communal meal their own with local cheeses and a dry white Savoie.
On three of France’s six sides is the ocean, thus it’s natural for seafood to play a starring role in French gastronomy. No holiday feast would be complete without oysters, the finest of which are raised in Brittany. Another popular bivalve is mussels, giving us classics such as moules à la marinière. The world knows bouillabaisse, the Provençal fish stew; for the real deal, make sure rascasse (red scorpionfish) is on the ingredients list.
French wines and cheeses
Many countries produce wine and cheese, but arguably none enjoys the prestige of those that come from France. The country is highly protective of its gastronomic heritage and certifies select products with the AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée, or controlled designation of origin) label.
As just one example, the third Thursday of every November is when the French government authorises the release of that year’s Nouveau Beaujolais. In order to qualify for the Beaujolais AOC, the grapes must be the Gamay varietal, and they have to be harvested by hand.
Another undeniable aspect of French gastronomy is le fromage. Everyone has strong opinions on which is best, which probably is what led President Charles de Gaulle to have supposedly exclaimed, "How can you govern a country where 258 varieties of cheese exist?" By the way, France now has at least 400 types of cheese.
The evolution of French cuisine
The French have reason to be proud of their culinary heritage, but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to change. For a long time, French cooking was synonymous with rich sauces, meaty portions and complicated recipes. Though that still exists, a new movement starting taking hold in the early 2000s.
Le fooding, a portmanteau of ‘food’ and ‘feeling’, arose from a desire for fewer restrictions and more passion. This informal approach trickled down from Parisian restaurants to household kitchens. One result is the popularity of the apéro dînatoire, a casual get-together that begins as a cocktail party with nibbles, followed by a parade of charcuteries and substantial appetisers. Yet the French never stray too far from their gastronomic heritage, as cheese platters and desserts remain components of every good meal.
(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes. ↩