Top 10 French foods – with recipes
French food is known globally for its finesse and flavour. Guide your palette through this list of top 10 French foods, with do-it-yourself recipes.
Traditional French foods rely on simple combinations that enhance the rich, natural flavours of French ingredients. Many French chefs have earned international acclaim for turning French food into haute cuisine and influencing the gastronomic scene worldwide. Food in France has become such an integral part of French culture that it was added to UNESCO's world list of intangible cultural heritage in 2010.
Anyone's first step into the foray of French cuisine should start with experimenting with diverse French cheeses and wines. France is renowned for some of the world's best wines and cheeses, and wine and food paring is taken seriously in France even at informal dinner parties. In many French restaurants you can order a platter of soft, semi-cured, pressed and blue cheeses, although in France it is typically served after the main course and before desert.
Beyond French wine and cheese is a mixture of traditionally peasant and bourgeois French dishes, many which come with long histories, regional variations and modern adaptions. From simple, traditional French recipes to complex French dishes, it's not difficult to find a top French food to suit your taste. Many French recipes are suprisingly simple as well, and it's not as hard as you would think to introduce French food specialties into your weekly menu. Here is a list of top 10 French foods you have to try.
Top French foods you have to try
1. Soupe à l'oignon
This is a traditional French soup made of onions and beef stock, usually served with croutons and melted cheese on top. The soup's origins can be traced as far back as the Romans – typically a poor dish – although the current version dates from the 18th century. The remarkable taste in French onion soup is from the caramelisation of the onions, to which sometimes brandy or sherry is added at the end of the slow-cook process. The liquid is typically meat stock, although variations include using just water, adding milk or thickening it with eggs or flour.
For another popular French soup, try the traditional fishermen’s soupe de poisson à la rouille from Marseille, characterised by a dollap of garlic and saffron mayonnaise (rouille) on top.
Make your own:
2. Coq au vin
This quintessential French food was popularised by Julia Child through her television show and book and seen as one of her signature dishes. It is a dish of chicken braised (pot roasted) with wine, mushrooms, salt pork or bacon (lardons), mushrooms, onion, often garlic and sometimes brandy. Although the name translates as 'rooster or cock in wine' – and braising is ideal for tougher birds – the recipe usually uses chicken or capon. A red Burgundy wine is typically used, although French regional variations exist using local wines, for example coq au vin jaune (Jura), coq au Riesling (Alsace), coq au pourpre or coq au violet (Beaujolais nouveau) and coq au Champagne (Champagne).
Make your own
- Watch a video of Julia Child's coq au vin.
- See renown French chef Paul Bocuse's coq au vin recipe.
- Martha Stewart provides a recipe for coq au Champagne.
Cassoulet is a comfort dish of white beans stewed slowly with meats, typically pork or duck but also sausages, goose, mutton or whatever else the chef has around. This peasant dish originates from southern France and is popular in Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary. The name of the dish comes from the pot (cassole) it's traditionally baked in, which is typically shaped like an inverted cone to give the greatest amount of tasty crust. This is a rich, hearty meal perfect for colder months.
Make your own:
- Try French chef Raymond Blanc's cassoulet recipe.
- An explanation of possible cassoulet variations.
- This recipe is a Toulouse regional version.
4. Beef bourguignon
Boeuf bourguignon is a traditional French meal that has become internationally well-known. Coming from the same region as coq au vin – Burgundy (or in French, Bourgogne) in east France – beef bourguignon has several similarities. The dish is a stew made of beef braised in red wine, beef broth and seasoned with garlic, pearl onions, fresh herbs and mushrooms. This recipe is just one example of how traditional peasant dishes have been adopted into haute cuisine; the method of slowly simmering beef in wine was likely developed to tenderise tough (or cheap) cuts of meat. Traditional preparation time is two days to tenderise the meat and intensify the stew flavours. In Burgundy in late August, the Fête du Charolais celebrates the prized Charolais beef with music, meat and bœuf bourguignon.
Make your own:
- French-language recipe from Larousse.
- This recipe of Julia Child's beef bourguignon includes a video.
- Delia’s delicious bistro classic.
5. Chocolate souffle
The word souffle derives from the French word to 'breath' or 'puff', and it is an airy, baked egg dish with origins in early 18th-century France. Souffle is eaten savoury or sweet in France, and you've likely found chocolate souffle on desert menus worldwide. The crispy chocolate crust with an oozing, creamy chocolate centre gives this desert a sweet suprise.
Make your own:
- Rachael Ray makes an easy chocolate soufflé.
- Make hot chocolate soufflé or try a flourless, gluten-free version.
- Madame Le Figaro’s soufflé au chocolat for two (in French).
- Try a savoury soufflé au cantal (French recipe).
Flamiche means 'cake' in Flemish and this dish originates from northern France, near the border with Belgium. It is a puff-pastry crust filled with cheese and vegetables and resembles a quiche. The traditional French filling is leeks and cream. There is also a pizza-like version of flamiche, which is without the top crust of the pie. For a southern French twist, try the thin crusty pissaladière which is topped with anchovies, onions and olives.
Make your own:
- Quick and easy French-language recipe.
- Try it with wild mushroom and artichoke;
- This flamiche recipe uses leek and tarragon.
- Try the sourthern France version pissaladière.
7. Confit de canard
Confit de canard is a tasty French dish of duck – although goose and pork can also be used – and is considered one of the finest French dishes. The meat is specially prepared using a centuries-old preserve and slow-cook process (confit), where the duck meat is marinated in salt, garlic and thyme for up to 36 hours and then slow-cooked in its own fat at low temperatures (an alternative to deep-frying). It is typically served with confit roasted potatoes and garlic on the side. Today this French dish is served all over France, although it is considered a specialty of the Gascony region.
Make your own:
- See an illustrated step-by-step French recipe.
- A skinny version of 'famously fatty' French dish.
- Try duck confit with lentils.
8. Nicoise salad
Salade niçoise is a typical French salad from the Provence region, which can be served as a side dish or a meal on its own. It's typically a filling salad of lettuce, fresh tomatoes, boiled eggs, canned tuna, green beans, Nicoise Cailletier olives and anchovies, although many variations exist.
Make your own:
- A basic guide to salade niçoise.
- For a twist, use salmon or beets.
- French-language recipe for the 'true' salade Niçoise.
Ratatouille is another globally known French dish, hailing from the southeastern French region of Provence. It is a stewed vegetable recipe that can be served as a side dish, meal or stuffing for other dishes, such as crepes and omelettes. The vegetables are generally first cooked in a shallow pan on high heat with a small amount of fat, and then oven-baked in a dish. French chefs debate the correct way to cook ratatouille: some do not agree with sauteing all vegetables together, such as Julia Child, and argue the vegetables should be cooked separately and layered into the baking dish. The ingredients consist of tomatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, bell peppers, basil, marjoram, thyme and other green herbs, such as Provence herbs. A similar dish popular in the French Basque country is piperade, which typically adds ham and sometimes eggs to the stewed vegetable mix.
10. Tarte tatin
They say this French apple tarte was made by mistake in 1898 by Stephanie Tartin when trying to make a traditional apple pie. When she accidentally left the apples in sugar and butter too for long in the pan, in a hurry to rescue the desert she put the pastry base on top of the burning fruits and placed the pan in the oven. She supposedly served the upside-down tart to her guests at Hôtel Tatin and the result turned into the hotel's signature dish. Although the tarte's origin is disputed, the delicious result is not.
Make your own:
- The ultimate guide to French wine and cheese explains the different regional varieties and how to select a top French wine or cheese.
- This French-language guide to French wine explains the wine of each region, its appellations and which food complements each wine.
- Here's how to pair French wine with food.
- This A to Z of French cheese contains everything you'll want to know about le fromage.
- Wine and cheese is the perfect partnership: find out what goes best with what and a list of French cheeses.
- An easy French-language recipe for a classic Fondue savoyarde, with suggestions for wines to accompany.
Absinthe, ‘The green fairy’
You’ll find wine bars all over France, with a great selection of wine bars in Paris. Even the smallest villages have bars, sometimes in part of a private house, where you can have glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a café. Find a traditional bar à vins with a zinc top counter and ask for a glass of absinthe. This bright green, aniseed flavoured liqueur was popular amongst Parisian writers and artists in the early 20th century. It was banned for 100 years, up until 2011, for its supposedly hallucinatory effects.
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Photo credit: Jacques Lameloise (thumbnail), Ludovic Peron (Soupe à l'oignon), jules (Coq au vin), Ewan Munro (Cassoulet), Noodles and Beef (Boeuf bourguignon), Klearchos Kapoutsis (Chocolate souffle), Eric Chan (Flamiche), Roboppy (Duck confit), Canterel (Salade nicoise), manuela barattini (Tarte tatin).
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