No matter how well you’ve studied and practiced recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, there are some French dishes that just don’t taste the same outside France. Here are 9 foods that you just cannot miss when you are traveling through that beautiful country.
You cannot leave the port city of Marseille without trying this traditional presentation of fish (bony Mediterranean fish preferred) and shellfish. The famous restaurant Grand Bar des Goudes, which overlooks the water, seasons it with garlic, fennel, saffron, and cayenne, among other ingredients.
This specialty of Gascony consists of duck leg that has been salt-cured before being slow-cooked in its own fat. While it is likely you’ll find many a delicious confit du canard in this region, you should try it at the July night market in the medieval town of Nérac. Condé Nast Traveler describes the scene like this: “Row after row of tables, each a hundred feet long, stretched in the center, packed with friends and family and neighbors eating and drinking. Here there were lines, many lines, people waiting hungrily for plates of confit de canard and duck fat–fried potatoes.”
This is a dish of chicken — or, in the original, authentic version, rooster — braised with wine, lardons, and mushrooms. Traditionally, red Burgundy is used for braising, but different regions tend to use their local wines; for example, in Alsalce, coq au reisling is popular. For excellent coq au vin at a not-too-touristy bistro in Paris, go to À la Biche au Bois.
The act of eating escargots is a French experience not even the queasiest of eaters should miss out on. Clutch the snail’s shell with your escargot tong, scoop out the meat (which is taken out of the shell and cooked with garlic butter before being placed back in) with your escargot fork, and savor. The most prized escargot hails from Burgundy, where garlicky, herby escargots (“Escargots à la Bourguignonne”) are a must visit. Eat them at the aptly named L’Escargot in Dijon (and try some of the city's famous mustard, too, while you’re there).
Hachis Parmentier, a bed of minced meat capped with mashed potatoes, is not too different from shepherd’s pie, except that the meat is more likely to be cooked in red wine and plated more rigidly (in a cube that stands on its own). One way to make it more French is to use ground duck and comté cheese — as the chefs do, sublimely, at Restaurant du Marché in Paris.
Yes, you can get multi-grain bread in the United States — even in the French style — but the bread in France is something else entirely. Pain aux cereals, in particular, usually comes encrusted in sesame, poopy, millet, and sunflower seeds, and has an almost reluctant softness in the center. David Leibovitz calls it “one of the best breads in Paris, period,” in his guide to Paris’s grainy breads. While the breads at Eric Kayser, which has a location in New York, are top-notch, don’t miss a small, eccentric boulangerie on Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris called Boulangerie Solques, where taxidermied pigs’ heads and cow skulls adorn the walls and a curly-haired baker with the look of an academic kindly explains the different kinds of breads to you in slowed-down French.
Sure, you can find ratatouille outside Provence, but the freshness of regional Provençal vegetables is key to this vegetable melange, so there is no better place to eat it than Provence. Try a host of many seasonal vegetable-heavy dishes at Bistrot L'Aubergines in the idyllic town of Eygalières.
Strasbourg is a fantastic culinary destination for German-inflected French cuisine, which includes dishes like tarte flambée (or flammküchen, in German), a flatbread with fromage blanc or crème fraiche, onions, and bacon. Travel a bit outside the city to a commune called Pfulgriesheim, where many visit Restaurant L'Aigle for their tarte flambée.