French cuisine may be renowned all over the world, but there are definitely some things that will leave you scratching your head. Even after living in France for 10+ years, I still can’t get over the chicken-flavored chips.
But I will let you judge for yourself. Here are the funniest and most interesting French food facts that will have you saying “hmmmm”. (And do head over to the cuisine quiz at the end 😉 )
1. Eggs are brown
Eggs are brown in France, not white. The color of the eggs depends on the genetics of the chicken and in the U.S., it is the “leghorn” breed being used, which gives white eggs.
Never fear though, the shell color doesn’t change the flavor of the eggs, or their nutritional value. You can read about more items from a classic French pantry here.
2. Milk is kept outside
If you visit a grocery store in France, you will notice that the milk is stored on a shelf, not in the fridge section. This is because it is pasteurized at higher temperatures than in North America, and so does not need refrigerating. (In case you were wondering, pasteurization was developed by French scientist, Louis Pasteur, who incidentally has several streets named after him.)
3. Raw Oysters are served at Christmas
North Americans may have their turkey, but French people usually have oysters, fois gras, and smoked salmon at their annual family Christmas dinner. And that is just for starters. You can read more about the traditional French Christmas dinner here.
4. Wine is cheap
And while you are at that French grocery store, you will find that wines are quite cheap. Considered a “necessity”, wine prices start around €3 for a normal bottle of 70cl.
This is because France is wine-producing country, producing over 8 billion bottles of wine every year. For the biggest names amongst red wines, choose among Bordeaux, Burgundies, and Cote du Rhônes. For whites, try a wine from Alsace or sparkling wine from the Loire.
Now a €3 bottle of wine is probably table wine, so for a better quality bottle, you should aim for an AOC appelation. You can read more about deciphering a French wine label here.
5. Snails are an appetizer
Yes, escargot are the same snails that you might find in a forest, and yes, French people do cook them up (usually in garlic, oil and pesto) and eat them regularly.
6. Legal Drinking age is 16 (but most start younger)
Most French teenagers usually have their first glass of wine at sunday family lunches with their parents, not sneaking off to a bar.
☞ READ MORE: French Culture: 50+ facts and tidbits from France
7. French fries are not French
french fries, or frites as they are called in French, are actually Belgian. Since Belgium is on the French border, and French is an official language in Belgium, the confusion arose.
Potatoes cut into long strips and deep-fried were served to American, Canadian, and British troops in Belgium during World War I. Those troops then took stories of “french fries” home with them.
8. French people don’t eat bread with butter
There may be bread served at a French restaurant, but you won’t find any butter. The bread is meant to accompany the meal (don’t start eating it before the meal comes), and is meant to wipe off any sauces on the plate.
You can read more about French bread etiquette and other dining rules here.
9. French people don’t snack
French kids may snack, but the adults do not. The after-school snack, known in France as the goûter, remains an institution, with many various snack ideas written about what to give the kids.
For the adults however, at the most they will have a coffee at 3pm, and maybe some fruit. Chips and candy are not on the menu.
10. French chip flavors are very strange
Chips are allowed as part of the pre-dinner happy hour apéro, but if you are an expat in France, you will be left scratching your head. With flavors like roasted chicken and merguez sausage, these are not the chip flavors you are used to.
11. Nutella is a favorite
Nutella may be Italian, but it is estimated that French people eat around 1 million pots of nutella per day. With a population of around 66 million, France has been crowned the champions of Nutella.
12. Wine is fine at lunchtime
And if you are out at a business lunch and your French colleague orders wine, well it is only polite to join in as well 😉
☞ READ MORE: Paris: 24+ Fun Facts from the City of Lights
13. Baguettes can be sold through vending machines
Until 2015, bakeries required governement approval to go on vacation, in order to ensure that all neighborhood bakeries were not closed at the same time. These days, there is the baguette vending machine.
To make sure bread is easily accessible to all, you will often see baguette vending machines in the French countryside, dispensing bread all day long.
14. Blue cheese has mold on it
Blue cheeses may be relished today, but they were created by accident. According to French legend, one of the first blue cheeses, Roquefort, was discovered when a young boy, eating bread and ewes’ milk cheese. He left behind his meal in a cave, after seeing a beautiful girl in the distance.
When he returned months later, the mold (Penicillium roqueforti) had transformed his cheese what we today call the Roquefort.
15. French people love burgers
The French might have protested loudly when McDonalds first came to France in 1992, but when Burger King returned to France in 2016, there were long lines out the door with people waiting patiently. And it is not because French people prefer Burger King to McDonalds.
These days, you will find burgers on just about every brasserie and café menu, Americanizing the French food menu.
16. You can get beer at Mcdonalds in France
Speaking of Burger King and McDonalds, you can actually get a small beer with your burger meal. How about that for a happy meal!
17. The favorite drink of the French is rarely sold outside France
Beer may be available widely, but the aperitif of choice in France is usually the Pastis. Sometimes called the national drink of France, this liqueur that tastes like licorice is a big hit in France with sales of 23 million bottles per year. However, it is almost impossible to find outside of France.
You can read more about Pastis here.
18. French people drink coffee from a bowl
In France, the morning coffee is usually drunk from a bowl. This might seem inconvenient, with the liquid sloshing about, but the idea is you could dunk a piece of bread into it. Not the most obvious, but there you go.
Note, the regular coffee that French people drink during the day tends to be a tiny espresso, it is only the morning coffee with breakfast that is taken in a bowl.
19. Entrée is an Appetizer, not a main
One thing that makes francophones when they visit North America is that the Entrée is referred to as the Main dish. Entrée, coming from the word entrer meaning “to enter”, is the starter in France, not the main dish.
☞ READ MORE: ABC of French Cuisine (the Food Dictionary)
20. Burgers eaten with a knife and fork
Burgers may be quite common on French restaurant menus, but French people are not ready to adopt the American way of lifting up the burger and eating. Now McDonald’s in France doesn’t provide cutlery either, so there is no choice there, but in French brasseries and restaurants, don’t be surprised to see items like pizza and burgers being eaten with a knife and fork.
21. French people rarely eat macarons
There may be plenty of excellent desserts in France, but in most French people don’t eat them at home on a regular basis. Macarons and the like are usually offered as gifts or reserved for special occasions.
In French homes, the regular dessert consists of fruits, yogurt, or a bit of dark chocolate.
22. Oreos are considered “Ethnic Food”
If you are looking for items like oreos or peanut butter at your local French grocery store, chances are you will have a hard time. These typical American food items have been relegated to the ethnic food aisles, along with typical items from Asia, the Magreb and other foreign regions.
23. French chefs consider presentation as important as taste
French apprentice chefs spend a long time on presentation, rather than just taste, on their way to become master chefs. Something as seemingly simple as cutting an onion properly takes hours of practice to do it correctly. Partly artistic and partly classic, it is the presentation that makes the dish.
24. Cheese after dinner is a must
The cheese plate is a course in and of itself after the main meal is served in France. It doesn’t need to be too extravagant, 2-3 types of cheese for a table of 4, depending on the number of people to share with a few pieces of baguette.
25. Paris has its own mushroom
The common white mushroom species known as “Agaricus bisporus” is, in layman’s terms, referred to as the Champignon de Paris in French, meaning “mushroom of Paris”.
It isn’t actually from Paris of course, it is found all over Europe and North America, but that is its name in French at any rate.
26. No one says Bon appétit
You may think saying “Bon appétit” in France is polite, but you would be wrong. In fact it is rather rude.
The reason dates back to the French Revolution when we began to consider that eating was an art. We no longer eat just to meet simple physical needs, but also for pleasure and as a sign of refinement.
And to say “Bon appétit” means “good gastric course” reducing food to its physical, digestive aspect. Not very refined after all.
27. Eat the meal as it comes
If you are at a French restaurant, you would be well advised to order the meal as it comes. There is no “replace the beans with broccoli” or other such variations. In Michelin star restaurants there may not even be salt on the table, as the chef is considered to have salted it to perfection. And as for ketchup? Don’t even think about it.
28. Duck is a favorite dish
On French brasserie menus, there is one item that is usually always raises an eyebrow amongst foreigners: canard, meaning duck. The traditional magret de canard is a slow-cooked duck that allows the fat to melt off while leaving the skin crispy. Yes, ducks are cute and all, but there you go.
29. French food is rarely spicy
If you like a bit of tabasco on your food, you may not enjoy French food (see #27 above). French meals tend to focus on the ingredients and just a light touch of natural herbs for flavor.
One of the most common ways to add flavor to a dish is the bouquet garni is an assortment of aromatic plants, usually consisting of thyme, parsley, sage, coriander, rosemary, oregano, and garlic. Nothing too spicy here.
30. Pâté is a delicacy
If you are preparing a French charcuterie plate, you really should include some pâté in it. It is a paste made of ground meats and organ meats, usually containing a portion of chicken, goose, or duck liver, along with herbs, and spices. (The cooked version is called a terrine.)
31. French foods are named after cities and regions
A lot of French foods are actually named after regions. Champagne from Champagne, Bordeaux from Bordeaux, Dijon mustard from Dijon, and so on. This is because these are internationally legally protected designations, and can only be produced in that area.
32. No Bunnies for Easter
You may wonder why I’m mentioning the Easter bunny in a post about French food facts, but that is because the French consider rabbits as food! There are several famous rabbit recipes such as lapin à la moutarde (rabbit with mustard) and lapin à la tomate (rabbit with tomato).
If you have a pet rabbit, I am very sorry.
33. Crêpe Suzette was created by accident
Crêpe suzette, aka the crêpe that is set on fire, was created by accident, as you can imagine.
Legend has it that a 14-year old waiter was preparing to serve the crêpes to the future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, when the dish accidentally caught fire.
Prince Edward loved it and insisted that the dish be named after a lovely French woman at the table, a lady named Suzette. And thus was born the Crêpe Suzette.
34. French recipes regularly include wine
From boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin to cheesy classic fondues, a lot of french dishes do contain a dash of wine. And they don’t always cook-off by the time you serve them. A problem if you have small children or friends and family who don’t drink. (Not to worry, I usually include an alcohol-free version in my recipes.)
35. Champagne is an apéritif
Drinking champagne may sound like a luxury, but it is a normal apéritif for a pre-dinner drink in France. There is no need for a particular reason to celebrate, or keep it only for New Years!
36. French kids eat a lot of compote
French kids are trained not to be picky eaters, and one thing they are served right from babyhood is the compote. Fresh fruits that are slow-cooked in a sugar syrup until thick and consistent. And they love it.
37. Epiphany is celebrated with a cake
Epiphany and 3 Kings Day is not one of the most widely celebrated religious occasions in North America, but in France, it is a great reason for cake. Even for the non-religious.
The galette de roi is a pancake-type pastry filled with frangipane, fruit compote, or butter cream. And there’s a competition! A tiny figurine called a feuve is hidden by the baker within the galette de roi, and the person who finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day.
38. Crudités don’t include celery
Everyone loves party crudités, chopped raw carrots, celery and other vegetables that you can dip into a dressing sauce. For some reason though, in France, celery is not on the list. Pick carrots, radishes, cherry tomatoes, etc. just not usually the celery.
☞ READ MORE: Quiz: Do you know your French Cuisine?
So was there one thing on the list that surprised you the most? Comment below and let me know. And if you enjoyed that post, you can read more French fun facts here.
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