If you are wondering what French people eat for lunch, I must say it is a lot like the typical French dinner. And that is because most working adults and schoolchildren in France have access to a canteen where lunch is heavily subsidized.
In general, French employers are legally required to provide easy access to lunch or provide food vouchers to be used at a local restaurant. As such, the normal French lunch can include a 3-course-meal (starter, main, and dessert), all prepared by proper chefs! And that goes for adults and children.
But there are still occasions when the French have to fend for themselves and have to prepare a packed lunch, or decide what to eat at a restaurant at mid-day.
So with that caveat, here are the top meals that the French usually have for lunch. Allons-y!
1. Croque Monsieur
The Croque Monsieur may be a glorified ham and cheese sandwiches, but it is a French national treasure. Croque translates in English as “to bite” and was originally the traditional lunch in France for busy people on the go.
Laden with French butter, cream and cheese, this is the sort of sandwich you must eat as the French do, i.e. with a knife and a fork. You can also try a Croque Madame which has a fried egg on top. You can get the recipe for Croque Monsieur here.
2. Jambon Beurre
Before the American burger came to France, it was the jambon beurre that reigned supreme. A simple sandwich it was meant as a quick lunch, to be put together quickly and eaten on the go.
Jambon means “ham”, and beurre means “butter” and that is literally all it was. Unlike the croque sandwiches which take more finesse to prepare and are not always the easiest to transport, a baguette with butter slathered in it and pieces of ham is much simpler. You can read more about preparing a jambon beurre here.
3. Steak Tartare
Tartare is a French culinary term, referring to a number of dishes served raw, rather than cooked. It usually involves raw meat in a steak tartare but you can also see fish chopped or shredded into small pieces.
It is usually served with a salad and fries for a light lunch or dinner, and is a very popular mid-day meal in France. You can find recipes for the steak tartare and salmon tartare here.
Yes, the burger was not invented in France, but these days sales of burgers have actually largely outstripped those of other sandwiches like croque monsieurs and jambon beurres. And this is especially the case at lunchtime.
Once resisting the “American invasion”, burgers are now ubiquitous on every brasserie and café menu, with Michelin star restaurants starting to get in on the action. In addition, there is even an annual televised competition for the “meilleur burger de France” (meaning “best burger in France”)
5. Salade Niçoise
If you are looking for a healthier meal option for lunch, the salad niçoise may be just what you are looking for. Now I should mention, the salad niçoise is one of those recipes that even French chefs can’t agree on. Green beans and potatoes? Tuna or anchovies? And mayonnaise!?
The biggest controversy is over the green beans and potatoes. Several famous French chefs have weighed in on the topic. Former Nice mayor Jacques Médecin proclaimed in his 1970s cookbook: “never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salad niçoise.”
You can get the traditional salad niçoise recipe from Nice and see what the controversy is all about.
The classic quiche dish comes from the old department of Lorraine in France, on the edge of the French-German border.
These days the department of Lorraine is part the Alsace region, and the traditional quiche lorraine is dish that is much loved. It is usually eaten at lunchtime in Frannce with a light salad and fries.
The traditional recipe includes bacon lardons, cheese and cream, and plenty of it.
With a base of pie crust and egg, chefs everywhere can add any other types of ingredient they want, such as spinach and cheese, salmon, leeks, etc. You can read the recipe for a quiche lorraine here.
A crêpe is one of those things that you can have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on its toppings. In France, we have two types of crêpes, sarrasin and froment.
Froment is regular wheat and is usually used for the crêpe sucrée (sugary crêpes), such as crêpes with honey, fruit toppings, or ice cream.
Sarrasin crêpes, on the other hand, are made from buckwheat, and it is a typically light French lunch that you will see all across the country. You can get the recipe for crêpes salées (savory crêpes) with cheese, ham, eggs here.
8. Moules Frites
The region of Normandy and Brittany on the west coast of France is quite famous for its seafood. One of the delicacies of the area are the moules frites, meaning mussels and fries.
This is one of the classic French dishes served for lunch that you will find all along the west coast of France, where seafood is aplenty.
The moules are usually steam cooked and then served mixed with a variety of sauces such as with parsley, or with cream and lardons, and many many more.
9. Savory cake salé
Now, if you are looking for a packed lunch idea, consider the savory cake. Cake salé is not a sweet cake but a savory one. Salé means salty in French.
They tend to be a staple at for a packed lunch (or at apéro hour) since they are so easy to make in advance and transport. It is also great as finger food as people can pick it up directly and eat.
You can make them in as many varieties as you like, such as bacon lardons and olives, spinach and cheese, and more. Get the recipe for savory cakes here.
11. Pan Bagnat
If you saw a pan bagnat in a boulangerie window, you might mistake it for just an ordinary sandwich. A lunch staple in Nice, this sandwich uses similar ingredients to the salad niçoise.
Posed on a large round bun are ingredients such as the anchovies, tuna, tomatoes, black olives, eggs, red and green peppers, mesclun leaves and olive oil. The word pan is Occitain for the french pain, meaning “bread“. It was considered a dish for the poor, serving as a quick lunch similar to the croque monsieur.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about a typical French foods. A bientôt!