France is well renowned for its varied cuisines. In fact, each region has its own local customs and its own cultural identity. And these different identities reveal themselves on delicious plates of food!
French regions are proud of their differences; the Parisian brasserie is nothing like the Marseillais Bistrot so be careful you don’t mix them up!
Let us guide you the rich gastronomy of France and each region’s specificities…
The Wonders of the South West
The South West is a vast region that unites Guyenne, Gascogne, Basque Country, Béarn and Haut-Languedoc.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the South West is the generosity and friendliness of the local people.
The poultry of the region is some of the finest in France. Basque-style chicken or ‘Poule au pot’ (Chicken in a pot), which Henri IV said all Frenchmen should eat every Sunday, are just some of the region’s delicious dishes.
The foie gras is tailored to different tastes, whether you prefer the geese of Périgord or the ducks of Gers. Magrets (duck breast fillet), aiguillettes (thin strips of duck), and confit duck legs are also popular choices.
Oh and the truffles! Several princes were known to love the black truffles that came from the South West region.
The meat of the area is even more well-known, in the form of the Toulouse sausage, Bayonne ham, Bigorre’s black pork, and different bovine breeds: the blonde beef cattle of Aquitaine and the mirandaise from the Gers area (the perfect accompaniment to béarnaise sauce or Roquefort cheese)…
The veal of the Solomiac area could be the best in the world, and the beef of Chalosse rivals that of the famous Kobe beef of Japan. Pair with a good ‘aligot’, from the Aubrac region, in the winter (cheese blended into mashed potato what could be better!) or garlic from Lomagne for a kick, delicious!
The Pyrenean pastures are home to quality cheesemongers, the valleys of Aspe and Ossau, among others, are dairy gold mines. The delicious cabécou and Rocamadour goat cheeses are made in the South West area of Quercy.
In terms of desserts, the South West has plenty. Its apple crust is doused in Armagnac brandy, and its pastis landis is a sweet brioche soaked in a good dose of rum.
In Rouergue and the surrounding area, the ‘fouace aveyronnaise’, a brioche from the Aveyron area, is made in many different ways depending on each family recipe!
Local patisserie chefs are also very proud of a couple of other desserts: ‘Le Russe’ or ‘The Russian’ (a delicate cake made with almond, hazelnut, cream and meringue), and the Basque cake (a wheat flour based cake with either almond or vanilla pastry cream).
And not forgetting the incomparable wine of the Bordeaux vineyards which, while they may be great, eclipses the other wines of the region.
The region benefits from its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its delicious seafood: Oysters in Hossegor and Arcachon, fishing traditions in the Basque country, and trout and salmon from the Pyrenean Rivers.
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Favourites from the South East
The Languedoc in the South East is celebrated, for its cassoulet, (similar to the one from the South West) and of course its ratatouille (and other ‘piperades’, tomato-based dishes with peppers), that differs according to the area.
Throughout the South, the Spanish have made their mark in the form of sangria, tapas, gazpacho, and paella.
And of course being by the Mediterranean, the olive oil is essential!
Fish is abundant in the Mediterranean and the salty seabass called ‘loup’ is more in demand than the more common seabass from the Atlantic that we know. And not to forget a good sole or sea bream! Add some mayonnaise or aioli to make it even more delicious!
French Catalonia produces quality tomatoes and summer vegetables.
Provence also has a strong identity with its own set of specialities.
The baker’s cakes are particular points of pride for the region, along with the ‘guardiane de taureau’ (an ox meat dish served with rice) and the ‘bouillabaisse’ fish stew nearer the coast of the South East.
The flavours of "herbes de Provence" and aromatic plants enrich the local cuisine. A leg of lamb with tapenade, or olives as an appetizer: what a treat!
Melons from Cavaillon, ‘pissaladière niçoise’ (anchovy tart) and socca (chickpea paste) are specialities that refresh the plates of holidaymakers to the region.
The wines of the South East are also well known; maybe you’ll recognise the names côtes-du-rhônes or châteauneuf-du-pape? And of course, you’ll know the cheeses of the region; Cantal and Reblochon.
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Flavours of the Centre Region
In the heart of France, Centre is a region literally in the centre of the country. In this region, ancestral traditions have been preserved and dishes are mostly made up of sauces and freshwater fish.
In Bourgogne people like beef stews like ‘la daube’ and ‘bœuf bourguignon’, which of course must be accompanied with wine!
In the area of Berry, condiments are key with all sorts of jerks, stews and terrines. In Poligny-Saint-Pierre the goat’s cheese is heralded as the emperor of all cheeses! And in the area of ‘Mille Étangs’ (literally ‘1000 ponds’ in English, although there are probably more than 1000)!), fish is the speciality with stuffed carp and smoked catfish on the menu.
Lentils and other pulses and vegetables are still largely used in cooking in the region. And in the city of Nevers, meat is king, with the area producing most of the beef France consumes.
The wines of Centre, including côtes-d’auvergne and saint-pouçain, were drank by many Kings in France. Good enough for a King good enough for us!
The Winds of the West
You can feel the sea breeze for miles in this part of France.
A region faced towards the Atlantic, the West has an abundance of fish and the best oysters in France.
The inner land is, however, more grain than seafood. It is home to livestock and produces quality dairy products: goat’s cheese in Charente, camembert in Normandy, butter, and numerous other cheeses.
Artichokes, green beans, onions… gardening enthusiasts will not be disappointed!
And how could we forget the Saint-Jacques scallop and the Breton lobster with its infamous blue shell?
The wines of the Loire Valley, known for being lighter than their southern counterparts, are a must-try, but the cider, calvados and perry of the region may still be the more popular choice.
The sweet pastries of the Western region are unrivalled; the Kouign-Amann, a Breton cake made up of several layers of butter and sugar is sure to give you a boost!
And of course the crêpes, so delicious that you’ll speed through the rest of your dinner just to get to them.
The Specialities of the North and the East
Oh, how we love the warming dishes of this region! Close to Belgium, the specialities of this area stretch to more than just beer and fries (although these are in their own right, delicious!).
Better than the sweet beetroots of the Picardie area or the chicory soaked in béchamel sauce, are the delicious mussels, maroilles cheese and spéculoos biscuits.
Fresh fish is also on the menu, coming from the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Champagne plays a central role in festivities and is a symbol of partying and of success. And along the banks of the river Rhine, the vineyards of Alsace make quality white wine.
Flammekueches are there to save you from the cold in those winter months. A mixture of cabbage, potatoes, crème fraiche and lardons make up this indulgent dish. Oh, and who can forget sauerkraut, a veritable institution in this region!
Rhubarb and plum tarts sing with flavour from the fresh fruits picked straight from the Orchards of Lorraine.
The charcuteries are varied, go down to Lyon where the sausage filled brioche is well worth the visit!
The Capital, Melting Pot of the Nation’s Cuisine
Although clearly situated in the north of the country, Paris acts as a real crossroads to all the different regions of France.
Between the Bretons who moved down to Paris and the people from Auvergne who sought better fortune in the capital, different cultures met in the same city, at the same time preserving their own traditions and mixing with others.
Since the nineteenth century at least, the City of Lights has set the bar for restaurants in France. All kinds of regional and foreign cuisines can be found there.
The local brasseries are fondly thought of by many, while even Michelin starred chefs are happy to eat there.
Thus, in a single neighbourhood, you can eat the cuisine of nearly every corner of France!
But don’t just stick the capital, crisscrossing the beautiful cities and countryside of France lets you taste local gastronomy for real.
Learn more here about the History of French cuisine.
Discover more about traditional French Gastronomy here.
Try out these great French recipes.