10 traditional French meals you need to try
Published on August 31, 2022 / Updated on January 5, 2024
France regularly appears in the list of top tourist destinations in the world as it offers stunning landscapes, a rich history, renowned regional wines and of course, food. Each region serves its own French dishes using locally-sourced ingredients, meaning that you can very easily go on a foodie trip across the country.
To get you started, we’ve created a list of ten traditional French meals you need to try. Whether you’re ordering at a restaurant or having dinner at a friend’s house, these dishes should be on your bucket list of French food.
Many people think it’s a myth that the French eat snails, but that’s simply not the case. Snails, or escargots, can be found on restaurant menus and are part of traditional French Christmas food. The most famous French snail dish originates in Bourgogne-France-Comté, in the east of France. It involves filling the snail shells up with garlic, parsley and butter and cooking them in the oven.
Onion soup is one of the oldest French meals in the book, dating back centuries. As a traditional French food, it was often associated with poor people as it was very cheap and easy to make because onions are easy to grow and they grow in abundance. The more modern French recipe is made up of caramelized onions, croutons and beef stock.
If you’ve heard of the American cooking legend Julia Child, you will no doubt know the traditional French dish Coq au vin. Child helped bring French food to the masses in the States and this was one of her most popular dishes. It is essentially a red wine stew with meat (usually chicken) mixed with butter (of course!), mushrooms, beef stock and bacon. The red wine is traditionally a Burgundy wine but different regions in France use their own local wine, such as Beaujolais nouveau.
If you’re looking for a more regional dish, look no further than bouillabaisse. This traditional Provencal dish is from Marseille, a city in the south of France. It is a fish stew that was originally made by sailors using fish scraps they were unable to sell. Nowadays, it is an iconic French dish in Marseille and can include up to six different types of fresh fish!
No, we don’t mean the 2007 Disney/Pixar film! We’re talking about the French vegetable dish. It originated in Nice in the south of France but it can be found in every region of the country. It is a much more modern dish, as it only appeared in print in 1930. The recipe requires using high-quality and fresh vegetables, mixed in a flavorsome tomato base. Vegetables are the star of the show in this French meal.
Skiing is a very popular sport in France and with cold, snowy days on the slopes come yummy, warm French meals. Gratin dauphinois originates from the Dauphiné region of France and is often linked to the city of Grenoble. This mouth-watering French meal is very simple – it is a mix of sliced potatoes, cream or milk and garlic which is cooked in the oven, creating a crispy layer on the top. The traditional French cooking of this dish is without cheese, but some chefs use cheese to add more flavor.
This French comfort dish was created in the south-eastern region of Languedoc-Roussillon. The recipe for this French meal is made up of white beans, meat and pork skin. The trick to cooking it well is to slow-cook it in a casserole, a deep, round dish (hence the name). That’s what gives it the rich, deep flavor it has become so famous for.
France is famous for its crêpes but in the Brittany region, they make wonderful buckwheat pancakes (or galettes). In traditional French cooking, these crêpes are savory and can be eaten with a variety of ingredients. Wheat crêpes tend to be sweet, with the addition of butter, sugar and Grand Marnier (known as a crêpe Suzette) or Nutella, to name a few.
The traditional French dish tarte Tatin is probably the most famous French dessert after crêpes. It is an upside-down caramelized apple pie created by Stephanie Tatin in 1898. The story goes that she was making a traditional apple pie in a rush and therefore had to improvise, thus adding a pastry base to the top of the apples and cooking them in the oven. Once cooked, she turned the dish upside down, creating what we know now as tarte Tatin.
The final traditional French food we’d like to mention is for all our sweet tooths out there – macarons. It is a small, round sandwich dessert – the outer layers are made of almond-based cookies and in the middle is a ganache filling. Today, you can find every flavor under the sun, from caramel and chocolate to matcha. The most famous brand to make macarons is La Durée, a historic Parisian pâtisserie.
We recommend trying out some of these French meals on your next trip to the country, along with a glass of French wine or champagne to toast your trip. It’s a good idea to get to grips with some basic food terms in French first before you go, so you know what the ingredients are in each recipe (and that will help you to practice your reading skills too). Bon appétit!