Whether you’re dining in France or at a French restaurant in your own country, there’s plenty about French cooking you may not be familiar with. Of course, there are famous French dishes that have been adapted broadly by other countries such as Steak Frites and even dishes we feel the need to put “French” in front of like “French Onion Soup”. These are popular for a reason – they are delicious! And therefore you’re likely to be able to find something on a traditional French menu you’re keen to try.
16 Best Traditional French Food In Paris
But if you’re up for expanding your palette and trying new things, it helps to know what you might be ordering! This post was designed to be a helpful directory to demystifying some of the traditional dishes you may be less familiar with. But of course we are also going to discuss some of the best classics that, when done right, don’t get any better.
Whenever I am in Paris, which is often as I am the founder of bespoke travel service Paris, Perfected, I love eating classic French food. It’s fun to be able to recommend certain restaurants for particular classic dishes I have tried and loved.
France is of course a culinary mecca and there are no shortage of good meals to be had – but there are also plenty of spots I tell my clients to avoid and sadly you can be cursed with a bad meal when in Paris. So the more prepared you are with good recommendations – the better!
French cooking continues to evolve and French chefs continue to innovate. Which means it is so exciting to visit France and see how the newer generations are putting their spin on the classic dishes.
This is a dish that has grown on me in recent years. Sometimes shortened to oeuf mayo, this is a simple French egg dish. Kind of an elevated hard boiled egg dish. It is usually seen on menus as an hors d’oeuvre and is considered a classic bistro dish.
Foie gras is one of the most famous specialty food products that hails from France. It is made of the liver of a duck or goose. It is an extremely popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine.
You’ll often find dishes like this on fine dining menus in the U.S. (due to the cost to import) and France alike but in France you’ll also find it at more traditional, casual bistros and cafes. So if you want to try it look for Brasseries or places like Le Comptoir in Saint Germain. It is a more expensive dish as it is a delicacy and there are regulations on how it is made – like much of the Food produced in France.
One of the most famous sandwiches on the planet, the Croque Monsieur is a staple on laid back and casual French cafes and is an extremely popular lunch item. Typically served with a salad or les frites, this hot sandwich features ham, cheese and if it is a good one – a dreamy, creamy béchamel sauce.
You’ll likely also see an offering of a Croque Madame – similar to the Croque Monsieur, but with the addition of an egg atop the sandwich.
I’ve tried the delicacy that is Escargot many a time and personally, they don’t do it for me. But if you’re up for the adventure, it is worth trying this iconic dish of snails at least once! They are traditional cooked with a butter and garlic-parsley sauce and served with a snail fork with which to eat them.
Seen here being tried at La Fontaine de Mars which is a popular French restaurant known for a menu of traditional French food in Paris. If you go, don’t miss popping over to see the nearby Eiffel Tower after your meal!
I love to order duck when it is on the menu. Nobody cooks duck like the French! Duck Confit “Confit de Canard” is one way to prepare it but I prefer when it is cooked like the above. Duck breast with crispy skin left on and often served with potatoes or a sauce.
Soupe à l’Oignon
Otherwise known as in the States: French Onion Soup. This silky soup is usually made with meat stock and loads of onions and you’ll find it topped with melted cheese (“gratinéed”) and large chunks of fresh bread. The perfect Wintertime lunch.
Coq au Vin
Made popular in the States thanks to Julia Child, Coq au vin is a lovely dish featuring braised chicken alongside wine, lardons, mushrooms and garlic. Oftentimes a red wine sauce is used but depending on what region of France you order this dish in you may find other wines used such as a white wine or even Champagne.
Steak with Mustard Sauce
Nobody does sauces better than the French. They are so important to cooking in France that it is often a full course on how to learn how to do the classic sauces. A Saucier is even a title in many French kitchens. It refers to the chef in charge of sauces!
You are likely familiar with Au Poivre Sauce (pepper sauce) but Sauce au Moutard is often just as popular. It’s usually made with Dijon mustard sourced from – yep, Dijon, France and it is silky and smooth and tangy and utterly divine when paired with red meat.
You’ll find mustard sauce on other dishes, too. For example, at Au Pied de Cochon in Paris, you’ll find pig croquette served with whole grain mustard cream.
One of my favorite dishes to enjoy in France in the Winter, Boeuf Bourguignon hails from the Burgundy region of France as it typically uses red wine from the region. in the recipe. It’s a hearty, comforting stew that’ll warm you right up with its inclusions of beef stock, carrots, onions, garlic, pearl onions and bacon.
Pâté de Campagne
Often referred to as a “terrine” on menus, I believe this dish takes the cake for the least attractive French dish. But I love it! It is based off a traditional French preparation most French people grow up having and every family often has their own take on it. If you ever see this on a menu, I always think it is worth trying. They’re likely made in house and therefore the meat and fat emulsions are freshly prepared. Spread it across some crusty bread for a hearty and flavorful bite.
Salade de Chêvre Chaud
Given the amazing cheese in France, you must try a salad with goat cheese on it. Often you’ll find it served similar to the above – warmed up and spread on a piece of bread atop your greens.
I share my very favorite Chêvre salad with my Paris, Perfected clients. It’s one of my favorite dishes to enjoy in Paris as it is at a favorite cafe of mine to people watch. A match made in heaven!
My parents used to make a take on this growing up and of course I loved it because as a kid you couldn’t beat a side dish of potatoes that were baked in cream! Prepared in a baking dish, the potatoes are arranged in slices using the gratin technique which hails from the Dauphiné region South Eastern France.
This is France’s version of roasted chicken. It is often served with potatoes in some form or a small green salad.
Radis Au Beurre
I love this traditional little starter you’ll see on menus that like to offer the old school classics. Fresh radishes are served with a smear of creamy butter and often with good sea salt sprinkled on top. Heaven!
We all know and likely love Steak Frites. You’ll find some of the most famous Steak Frites at Bistrot Paul Bert which is a restaurant in Paris notoriously hard to get a reservation at. But worth pursuing! You’ll dine in a buzzing dining room and have your pick of classic, traditional French fare alongside some pretty stellar desserts, too.
Les Pommes de Terres
Pommes de Terres means “potatoes” in French but if you see it on a menu as a side dish they often will specify how they will be served. Most often, they are whipped and made with loads of good French cream and butter like those above. Their style of “mashed” potatoes so to speak.
Those shown above are some of the best I have ever, ever had in Paris and it’s a spot I recommend to relevant Paris, Perfected clients.
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