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French Food: 25 Traditional Dishes to Look For in France

EDITOR’S NOTE: Traveleater Claire Ngonga-Gicquel – a French food expert from Nogent-sur-Marne – shares with us 25 dishes you need to try on your next visit to France.

French food is one of the greatest cuisines in the world. It’s almost a way of life for French people and a passion for those who have tried it and fallen in love with it.

French cuisine is a mix of using all kinds of food products – some of them can be surprising at times – and experiencing great flavors while still having a balanced diet.

If you like French food or if you’re simply curious to know more about the cuisine, then you’ll want to try all these famous French dishes that have made Paris and the rest of France a place to eat fancy, tasty, and highly varied food.

These French dishes are all amazing and will give you a real taste of France.

FOOD IN FRANCE QUICK LINKS

If you’re visiting France and want to learn more about French cuisine, then you may want to go on a food tour or take a French cooking class.

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French pot-au-feu

Photo by margouillat photo

WHAT IS TRADITIONAL FRENCH CUISINE?

French food is famous worldwide for its amazing variety, often mixing different types of ingredients together. Did you ever think that snails were edible?

However, French cuisine is also recognized for its plating and visual appeal – offering a healthy, tasty, and fun combination that’s just as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach.

The French style of cooking is a tradition that’s deeply embedded in French culture and history. French kings used to spend days banqueting. French people are proud of their cuisine and are keen on helping people discover it.

The French culinary arts is a passion that’s shared and exposed. With all the media programs about French cuisine and French pastries, it’s a passion that even young people can invest in.

It is indeed a real way of life to share food at home or have great meals at French restaurants offering a variety of traditional French specialties with an abundance of flair and flavor.

THE MOST DELICIOUS FRENCH DISHES

This guide on famous French foods has been organized by category to make it easier to go through. Click on a link to jump to any section of the guide.

  1. Soups / Salads
  2. Starters / Sandwiches / Sides
  3. Mains
  4. Bread / Pastries / Dessert

SOUPS / SALADS

1. Soupe à l’oignon (French Onion Soup)

Soupe à l’oignon is an onion-based soup “au gratin” and a real tradition in French cuisine. It’s a popular dish to warm yourself up with on cold winter evenings, but it can also be part of a festive meal on special occasions and holidays like weddings or New Year’s Eve.

When ushering in the new year, soupe à l’oignon can be eaten well after dinner! But in my opinion and in the opinion of many French people, it’s best to have it as a starter.

Soupe a l’oignon needs to be cooked slowly and gently to get the desired taste. It’s made with a bulk of onions, meat broth, a bit of butter, and Emmental cheese. If desired, you can impart more flavor by adding a pinch of grated nutmeg and eating the soup with bread.

French onion soup

Photo by zi3000

2. Bouillabaisse

This fish recipe was once a traditional fishermen’s dish made from unsold fish. Today, the bouillabaisse from Marseille is a French classic made with all sorts of cooked seafood that can be found in the south of France.

Whenever I eat bouillabaisse, its bold ocean flavors and plethora of spices always make me feel like I’m on holiday.

Bouillabaisse is a delicious fish soup made with different types of fish and seafood like scorpion fish, red mullet, St. Pierre, galinette, conger eel, lobster, and mussels. It’s also made with non-seafood ingredients like potatoes, leeks, onions, and saffron that gives the broth its characteristic rusty color.

For the best experience, eat it with some bread. And take your time to enjoy it!

French bouillabaisse

Photo by Yevgeniya Abayeva

3. Bisque

Like bouillabaisse, bisqueis a lovely fish soup with lots of flavor. It’s traditionally made with a base of seafood – mostly lobster or crab – along with white wine, herbs, and spices.

Bisque is rich and creamy but it doesn’t feel heavy in the stomach. It makes for a tasty starter so I highly recommend ordering it at French restaurants to start your dinner.

French bisque

Photo by Foodio

4. Salade Niçoise

This salad is a typical French dish from the city of Nice. It can be eaten throughout the year and brings a burst of sunshine to your meal!

Salade niçoise is made with eggs, tomatoes, black olives, beans, radish and cucumber slices, tuna, lettuce, and a bit of lemon dressing with some olive oil. It’s very tasty and healthy and can be enjoyed as a starter or as a main course.

French salade niçoise

Photo by Mironov Vladimir

STARTERS / SANDWICHES / SIDES

5. Escargots

You may not be used to eating snails, but many French people are. They may not be for everyone but you simply cannot have a list of famous French food without including escargots.

In France, snails are regarded as a dish to be served at some special occasions. They aren’t eaten everyday like many non-French people might think. They’re cooked in their shells with garlic butter which gives them flavor. Otherwise, they don’t have much taste.

Snails are a great source of iron, calcium, vitamin A, and other minerals. If you’ve never eaten snails, then escargots is something you should definitely try in France.

French Escargot

Photo by Mikhail_Kayl

6. Terrine

This French delicacy is a long-standing culinary tradition in many French households. In fact, almost every family has its own recipe!

Terrine can be made with different types of meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables. It’s gently cooked for hours before being eaten cold, typically as a spread on bread. It makes for a lovely starter or snack that almost everyone is sure to enjoy.

Terrine can be prepared in a number of ways but some of the most common are made with pork meat and mushrooms, chicken with wine, but also goose or duck meat. There are also vegetable versions of terrine made with broccoli or spinach.

French Terrine

Photo by Lyutik_Ryutik

7. Foie Gras

Foie gras is one of the most popular French foods. It’s a classic French dish that French people are quite proud of.

Foie gras is very tasty and rich. In France, it’s traditionally enjoyed cold but in other parts of the world, it can also be served hot. When served cold, it’s presented as a cold block that’s sliced and spread on toast or soft bread.

This classic French dish is viewed as a gourmet luxury dish that’s typically enjoyed on special occasions like Christmas, wedding parties, or special cocktail or dinner events. It’s delicious when paired with good toast, bread, and some white wine.

French cold foie gras

Photo by margouillat photo

Foie gras in France is typically eaten cold but in other parts of the world, particularly in the United States, it’s often pan-seared, often only on one side.

French seared foie gras

Photo by PhaiApirom

8. Ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of the most comforting French foods. Originally from the south of France, it’s a delicious and healthy mix of vegetables like onions, garlic, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant.

Many French people make it with a mix of aromatic herbs called “herbes de Provence”. Herbes de Provence is a multi-purpose spice blend that includes thyme, savory, marjoram, rosemary, fennel, and basil.

Ratatouille is a delicious French side dish that brings a lot of warmth and brightness to your meal. It’s also quite simple to prepare.

You can eat it with grilled meat or any kind of fish, along with a splash of olive oil and some rice, pasta, or potatoes for a truly delicious and comforting French meal.

French ratatouille

Photo by Diana Sklarova

9. Croque Monsieur

If you like sandwiches, then you need to try croque monsieur. It’s a type of French sandwich with a delicious filling that’s as simple to prepare as it is to eat. This hot sandwich is classically filled with ham and gruyere cheese.

The recipe for croque monsieur is as simple as can be. It’s made with toast bread filled with layers of ham and cheese, and then topped with butter and cheese to make it just a little bit crunchy. Add a poached or fried egg on top and the sandwich becomes a croque madame.

If you’re a vegetarian, then the sandwich can also be filled with non-meat alternatives like spinach, mushrooms, and onions. No matter what it’s made with, the croque monsieur is always tasty.

French croque monsieur

Photo by Dpimborough via Depositphotos

10. Quiche Lorraine

Quiche lorraine is one of the most well-known French dishes. It’s a traditional type of quiche that’s delicious and very easy to prepare. Originally from the east of France, it can be enjoyed either as a starter or as a main course.

Traditional quiche lorraine is a delight for the whole family. It’s made of eggs, cream, lardons (not bacon but smoked pork belly), gruyere cheese, and a nice short-crust pastry.

French quiche lorraine

Photo by Slawomir Fajer

11. Tartiflette

Tartiflette is one of the most delicious traditional dishes from the French Alps. It combines the amazing taste of a soft melted cheese called “reblochon” with fried onions, soft potatoes, and diced ham.

Tartiflette is a tasty French dish that can be enjoyed for dinner with a glass of white or red wine. It’s the perfect dish to eat in winter when the weather gets cold. In fact, it’s something French people love to eat when they go on a ski trip, to get their energy back after an exhilarating but exhausting day on the slopes!

Admittedly, tartiflette is quite rich and may not be the healthiest dish, but you must try it when you come and visit France.

French tartiflette

Photo by from my point of view

MAINS

12. Coq au Vin

Coq au vin is an important dish in traditional French cuisine. Coq means “rooster” in French and is considered a symbol of France. It’s a robust animal that becomes a delicious dish when simmered in another great French symbol – wine.

To fully appreciate coq au vin, it should be prepared and enjoyed with good red wine, preferably from Burgundy or the Rhone Valley. A traditional recipe and good wine will release all its flavors. In the end, you get a nice medley of flavors in a smooth, tasty, warm sauce.

This dish is made with a rooster (or chicken) that’s been cut into pieces and cooked with small onions, garlic cloves, bacon, a glass of liquor, red wine, herbs, carrots, mushrooms, and parsley. It’s usually served with steamed potatoes or fresh pasta.

French coq au vin

Photo by BBA Photography

13. Confit de Canard

Confit de canard is an incredibly tasty culinary specialty from the southwest region of France.

The traditional recipe consists of frying or grilling the duck meat in a small amount of its own fat until the skin becomes brown and crispy. The remaining fat is then used to roast garlic-seasoned potatoes.  The potatoes prepared in this way are called pommes sarladaises and are delicious to eat with confit de canard.

Confit de canard is a delicious and filling all-in-one meal that you absolutely cannot miss when you visit France.

French confit de canard

Photo by Anna_Pustynnikova

14. Boeuf Bourguignon

As its name suggests, boeuf bourguignon is a traditional dish from the Burgundy region of France.

Boeuf bourguignon consists mostly of beef that’s been cooked for quite some time with onions, wine, carrots, and a bit of wheat to make the meat tender. The longer you cook the meat, the tastier it gets. People often prepare the dish a day before serving to make sure the meat is tender enough.

For the best boeuf bourguignon experience, I highly recommend eating it with some rice, pasta, or potatoes to fully enjoy its delicious sauce. Of course, a glass of good red wine is the perfect match for it.

French boeuf bourguignon

Photo by Stephanie Frey

15. Pot-au-feu

Pot-au-feu is a traditional French dish that’s best enjoyed in winter. It’s a hearty dish that’s sure to warm you up on the coldest winter days.

Pot-au-feu is a fun main course made with different cuts of beef (shank, chuck, rib steak, scoter) cooked with a variety of vegetables like carrots, potatoes, leeks, onions, turnips, and celery. Enjoyed with a bit of soup, it’s an ideal dish to share with family or friends.

For the best experience, I suggest eating pot-au-feu with some pickles and mustard. At the end of your meal, you can drink the broth as a soup. It’s incredibly delicious!

French pot-au-feu

Photo by margouillat photo

16. Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a very traditional French dish originally from the southwestern part of France. It’s cooked in a specific pot that gives the dish its name.

Cassoulet can be prepared in a number of ways depending on where you are in France. Like many traditional dishes, cassoulet recipes can vary greatly as it’s typically made with whatever ingredients are available locally.

At its most traditional, cassoulet is a rich and hearty Toulouse dish made with sausages, duck meat, pork, lamb, and white beans in a delicious tomato-based sauce. It’s a tasty and filling dish that takes a long time to cook, so be sure to take your time and enjoy it.

For the most mouth-watering cassoulet experience, I suggest eating it with good French bread.

French cassoulet

Photo by Foodio

17. Blanquette de Veau

Blanquette de veau is a type of French veal stew that’s often made at home. It’s made by slowly cooking veal in a bouillon with carrots, leeks, and onions. A variety of herbs are often added to impart even more flavor to the dish.

Once the bouillon is ready, it’s mixed with a bit of cream, butter, and cooked mushrooms before serving. It’s simple to make but absolutely loaded with flavor.

When cooked correctly, the veal should be nice and tender. Blanquette de veau is the type of dish that’s best enjoyed with some plain rice.

French blanquette de veau

Photo by Sergii Koval

BREAD / PASTRIES / DESSERT

18. Baguette

Everyone knows about the French baguette, of course! When it comes to the world’s most famous types of bread, this iconic French bread has to be at the top of the list.

The French baguette is a light and long stick of bread that typically weighs around 250 grams. The most well-known is the regular baguette or baguette classique. It’s made with wheat, water, yeast, and a bit of salt.

The baguette classique may be the most famous but there are different types of baguettes depending on how they’re made and what type of wheat is used to make them. Aside from the baguette classique, some of my favorites include the baguette tradition and baguette de campagne.

No matter the type, the French baguette is delicious when you have it in the morning for breakfast with butter or jam. But it’s just as good when you eat it with terrine, various delicatessen meats, and French cheeses.

I love how the bread cracks when you take a bite out of it. It’s crunchy and soft at the same time and offers a gustatory experience like no other bread in the world!

French baguette

Photo by VitalikRadko via Depositphotos

19. Croissant

Like the baguette, the croissant is famous worldwide. It’s one of the most iconic French pastries and is often used as a symbol of the French love for food and the culinary arts.

The croissant may be one of the most recognizable French foods but it actually originated in Vienna, Austria. It’s essentially the French version of the kipferl, which most people in France do not know.

Croissants are sold at every bakery in France. It’s something that you should experience for breakfast with a cup of good coffee or tea.

As you may already know, the name of this soft pastry is due to its crescent shape. Only in French can you find croissants that are so soft. It’s made with butter, wheat flour, sugar, salt, milk, and a bit of yeast. While baking, the laminated dough puffs up and is transformed into a lovely crescent shape.

People in France love them so much that they also make a savory version of croissants. When made with ham and melted cheese, it can become a tasty and filling main course.

French croissant

Photo by Iuliia via Depositphotos

20. Crêpes

Crêpes or flat pancakes are originally from a specific region in the western part of France called Brittany. But today, you can find people selling them on the street in different parts of the world!

Aside from being sold as street food, you can find them at specialty French restaurants called “crêperies” where you can sit down and enjoy savory or sweet pancakes.

If you’re in the mood for savory crêpes, then you should try them with some ham and melted cheese. If you’d like something heavier, then you can order one with mushrooms and eggs and enjoy it as a main course.

Savory crêpes are delicious but personally, I prefer them to be sweet. One of the best ways to enjoy crêpes is to have them for breakfast topped with chocolate sauce or fruit jam. They can also be eaten as a dessert or snack with sugar.

Crêpes are so soft and fun to eat that you can become addicted to them quite easily. Bon appétit!

French crepe

Photo by pitrs10 via Depositphotos

21. Eclair

The eclair is one of the most famous French desserts. It comes from the city of Lyon in the southeastern part of France. The word eclair literally means “lightning”. This classic French dessert is so delicious that it can often be eaten in a flash!

The eclair is a traditional French cake with a fun and easily recognizable design. It’s a type of elongated choux pastry that’s stuffed and glazed with a chocolate or coffee filling.

Today, you can enjoy eclairs in many different flavors like lemon, coconut, or pistachio. It’s a delicious French dessert that’s beloved by people of all ages.

French eclair

Photo by eugeniashulim.gmail.com via Depositphotos

22. Macarons

Like crêpes and eclairs, macarons are among the most famous traditional desserts in France. We can eat them all day long!

Macarons look quite chic with their round shape and fun colors but they do have a reputation for being difficult to prepare. The macaron is essentially a type of cookie sandwich filled with ganache or a flavored buttercream. Light and airy, they have a soft center and a deliciously nutty flavor.

Parisian coffee and tea shops along the Champs-Elysées and around this area have made macarons super famous around the world. If you’re like me, then you’ll find it quite difficult to pick just one macaron. There are so many flavors and pretty colors that I never know what to choose!

Raspberry, strawberry, blackcurrant, lemon, chocolate, vanilla, salted caramel, pistachio, rose, apricot, coffee… there are so many delicious flavors that it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite.

French macarons

Photo by 5seconds via Depositphotos

23. Mille-Feuille

Like macarons, mille-feuille is also a chic and trendy type of French dessert. It used to be called Napoleon so you can imagine how nice it needs to look! The word mille-feuille literally means “one thousand sheets” due to the number of layers it has.

In spite of its name, mille-feuille isn’t exactly made with a thousand layers. It consists of five layers – three layers of puff pastry and two layers of cream filling. It was originally made with vanilla custard but today, it can be made with other ingredients as well like chocolate or nuts.

Whatever it’s made with, mille-feuille is a rich and delicious French pastry that’s best paired with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

French mille-feuille

Photo by a-lesa-lesa via Depositphotos

24. Mousse au Chocolat

Airy, soft, and super chocolatey. Those are exactly the sensations we want when we tuck into the perfect glass of mousse au chocolat or French chocolate mousse.

This classic French dessert is one of the most popular in France. It’s a simple dessert made with just three ingredients – chocolate, sugar, and eggs. Some people may add butter or cream to make it even more soft and creamy.

For the most enjoyable experience, I suggest eating your mousse au chocolat with one or two biscuits. You’ll appreciate its rich, chocolatey taste even more.

French mousse au chocolat

Photo by Cris Canton

25. Crème Brûlée

If you like eating dessert, then you will love crème brûlée.

This is not just a simple custard. It’s made with vanilla custard that’s topped with sugar and then grilled in an oven or burnt with a torch. The sugar is transformed into a thin and crunchy caramel coating that imparts a special taste and texture to your dessert.

The custard itself remains soft and creamy while the top layer is crunchy and sweet. To eat, you crack the top layer with a spoon. The dessert looks fancy but it’s quite simple and easy to make.

Traditional crème brûlée is made with just vanilla custard but some people like to add other flavorings like pistachio cream or cinnamon. Personally, I like the original the best.

French creme brulee

Photo by Ellen19

FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL FRENCH FOODS

French food is an experience. It’s something you need to try for yourself, especially in Paris or any other city in France.

If you enjoyed reading this article and learning about some of the most delicious dishes in French cuisine, then you’ll have plenty to look forward to when you visit France.

I had to limit this list to just 25 so I left out many dishes, one of the most delicious being steak tartare. If you’ve never had it, it’s a popular French pub dish made with raw ground meat seasoned with spices and served with a generous amount of French fries. If you like interesting food, then you should definitely give steak tartare a try.

French food is complex and often takes a long time to prepare and cook. For the most enjoyable experience, you should take your time and savor it.

Bon appétit!

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Cover photo by Stephanie Frey. Stock images via Shutterstock.

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Karen

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Since when is a baguette made with baking powder? It is leavened with yeast or a good sourdough starter.

JB & Renée Macatulad

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Thanks for pointing that out Karen. Claire probably meant yeast.