Finding a good pot of moules frites in Paris
When traveling in Europe, there were a few items on my "must eat" list. Most of them were admittedly desserts, but in the category of savory dishes, I was determined to eat some authentic moules frites.
As a resident of New York, it's not hard to find good moules frites nearby, but as I had never eaten the dish in either one of its "birth places," Belgium and France, I was eager to see if these countries would make my New York mussel experiences feel insignificant.
For several reasons, including a tight schedule, Belgium was left behind without one single mussel in my belly, and I was left with Paris as my moules frites go-to.
Needless to say, this steaming pot of shells and long, golden french fries could be spotted on street-side restaurant tables all over the city. Though my initial plan was to research some top-rated restaurants, a long day of walking got the best of me, and once seated at Le Bruant in the Montmartre neighborhood, I decided to just "go for it." I can happily say that this was an excellent decision, as the gigantic pot of mussels and thick-cut french fries proved to be the best I ever had (so far).
The Best Moules Marinières (Sailor-Style Mussels) Recipe
A pot of classic French Moules Marinières is fast food at its best. Made with fresh, inexpensive ingredients that still seem celebratory, this dish comes together in around 15 minutes from start to finish. Make sure to serve it with the rest of the wine left in the bottle and with plenty of toasted bread for dipping into the garlicky, briny broth. While the traditional version from Normandy is made with cider, a dry white wine will work wonderfully as well.
Note: Examine mussels before using. If they're gritty or have lots of beards (it'll look like bits of hair coming out from between their shells), scrub them well under cold water and pull out the beards by grabbing them and pulling towards the hinge-end of the mussels. Farm-raised mussels are generally quite clean when they are sold.
Discard and cracked mussels or open mussels that don't close when tapped with another mussel.
Mayonnaise is not essential for this dish, but it does add extra richness and lots of flavor, particularly if served alongside for dipping mussels into. When using mayonnaise for this dish, be sure to use fresh homemade mayonnaise—store-bought mayonnaise will not combine with the sauce properly. I like to add extra garlic and substitute half of the canola oil for extra-virgin olive oil when making mayonnaise for mussels.
Culinary Adventures with Camilla
It's time for Group B's Secret Recipe Club June reveal. This month I was assigned to The Tasty Cheapskate, a blog written by Jean. She humorously writes about the name of her blog and how cheapskatery was a major theme of her childhood. She admits that she cooks now. And eats. "Though--for the record--I'm still really cheap (not margarine cheap, my friends, but cheap). It's in my bones."
Too funny. Glad to have gotten to know her. and her glowing liver!
Jean has a Cheap Eat Challenge where she's attempting to feed 6 people on 6 dollars a day. Click to read more about that: here. These Balsamic Strawberries cost just over $1 Dal with Tomato and Cream is just less than $2 and her Skillet Lasagna was $5.
I wanted to try something completely new to us and settled on her Okra Chips. But I will definitely give her Dilly Beans and Quick Pickles a try this summer. We, as a family, as not anti-okra, but I have never made them this way. Enjoy! We surely did.
- 12 okra
- 8 T cornmeal
- splash of oil to coat the bottom of your skillet (I used olive oil)
- dash of salt
Cut okra into thick slices and sprinkle them with salt. Place them in a small mixing bowl and dust them with cornmeal.
Heat a splash of olive oil in your skillet and heat till bubbles form. Place okra in the skillet and cook until golden or a little browner than golden. Flip and do the same on the other side. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool a bit before serving.
- 1 pound okra, stem-end trimmed
- 8 T cornmeal
- splash of oil
- dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the okra in a medium mixing bowl and toss with salt, cornmeal, and oil till completely coated. Place okra on a baking sheet (I used a baking stone) and bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly before serving.
The jury is still out on which preparation was better. R liked them pan-fried. J like them baked. D didn't get to try any because he didn't get home till later. And I liked them both. So, we'll have to try again and see which one really wins our hearts.
Created by Qi on July 18, 2016
- Prep Time: 30m
- Cook Time: 20m
- Total Time: 50m
- Serves: 4
- 4 pounds mussels, scrubbed well and beards removed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil or butter
- 1 onion, minced
- 3 celery stalks, minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 springs of fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper to taste.
- 4 big russet potatoes, cut into desired fries size.
- 2 quarts peanut oil or canola oil for frying
- Make the fries: Put the peanut oil in a 6 quart dutch oven, heat the oil to 375Fº, then add potatoes and cook until golden brown and crispy, 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fries to a plate lined with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, cook the mussels: Heat a 8 quart wide pot at medium-high heat for 1 minute then add olive oil. Add onion and celery into the pot and saute for 5 minutes. Don't brown the vegetables, just soften them. Add thyme, bay leaves, mussels, salt and pepper, mix everything well, add white wine and cover. Cook 5-10 minutes, until all mussels are opened. Stir during half time. Serve hot and don't forget to pour the sauce over the mussels.
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Dishes that take me back to Ireland instantly are colcannon, white pudding and Irish stew. They are some of the best foods from Ireland and two can be made at home very easily.
Colcannon is often known as a left-over dish. It is comprised of mashed potato and cabbage, and in our house, is typically served with boiled ham. It may sound like a strange or weird combination, but it is a homely dish that instantly transports myself and my husband back to our days as children in Ireland. It is often a next day dish and it has been known for us to eat it at breakfast with some Irish sausages, rashers and white pudding.
Another dish that is a very homely Irish dinner is an Irish stew. It used to be made with mutton as the meat, alongside potatoes and onions, but nowadays it is typically made with lamb. For families who aren’t fans of lamb, beef can be substituted, but that makes it less of a traditional Irish stew. Carrots are often an addition along with herbs such as thyme, rosemary and bay leaves (at least in our house). It is a hearty winter dinner and is another dish that takes us back to the homeland.
Another food item that is something we often covet living away from Ireland is white pudding. While black pudding is often part of a full English breakfast, for us, a full Irish has to include white pudding. It is essentially the same as black pudding minus the blood part of the ingredients and is one of a handful of items we ask family to bring with them when they come to visit us, as it is not readily available in shops in Portugal. There is nothing like an Irish breakfast after a member of our family has visited.
Earth Eats: Moules-frites from Belgium (mussels and french fries)
The Kingdom of Belgium is a unique Western European country bordered by France, The Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. Belgium is made up of Dutch and French speaking people, with a small German speaking minority. Due to it’s location it is a unique mix of culture and languages.
This small country has given art, culture, beer, chocolate, waffles, and french fries to the world —yes, that’s right french fries are not French, they are said to have originated in Belgium. Fries (or frites as they are called) are so important to their cuisine that they are present in the national dishes and a very popular snack of french fries served with mayonnaise or other dipping sauces.
On this 5th edition of Earth Eats we will be frying up some Belgium frites (fries) to go with the national dish: moules-frites or mussels and french fries. According to Expatica.com “About 30 million tons of moules frites are eaten every year in Belgium (that’s 3 kg a person), in a season…” I’m not ashamed to say that I can eat way more than that in a month. (haha) This dish is not only popular in Belgium but also in France. When we lived in Paris we used to go out for moule-frites just about every week, and I never got tired of it. This dish is one of my all-time favourite meals —I say that about many, but I really do mean it. This was my first time preparing the dish at home and I would do it over and over again.
The way these mussels are prepared is moules à la marinières, which means cooking them in white whine, shallots, butter, and parsley. The process is quite simple and even if you’ve never cooked mussels before you’ll feel confident doing so.
Bistro-Style Moule Frites
Things are about to get smoochy! Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day. If you’re hoping for a romantic dinner-for-two on Saturday, look no further than your own kitchen. Staying home feels utterly dreamy when you plan a special menu. This year, we’re taking inspiration for our favorite French bistro and serving moules frites (translation: mussels and French fries). Don’t know how to make mussels? Don’t worry! We’ll walk through it together.
To all of my seafood-haters out there, give mussels a try. They’re super mild. They’re sweet and just barely briny…they basically taste like whatever you cook ‘em with. In this case, that’s a delicious white wine sauce spiked with a little curry powder. It’s a lovely, traditional flavor combo you’ll find on the banks of Paris (or tucked down little streets in the West Village of NYC). Served with a bottle of slate-y white wine—come on! Note: If you are deeply, wildly opposed to curry you can always skip or add a little hot paprika instead.
The misconception about mussels is that they’re difficult to make. I promise you they’re the EASIEST protein to cook. Cross my heart. Leah will give you my email address and you can yell at me if you make this and you think I’m wrong. This is what’s going to happen: You’re going to bring the shallots, curry and wine to a simmer…you’ll add the mussels, cover the pot, uncover the pot in 5 minutes…dinner’s served.
Most grocery stores and fish markets are really good about cleaning mussels these days. You’ll get them home and they’ll likely need little to no work at all. If you get a bag and they seem gnarly (they look dirty and have stuff hanging off of ‘em) here’s what you do: Start by rinsing them a few times in fresh water, changing the water and wiping out the bowl in between rinses. Scrub the shells with a brush or a paper towel under running water. And if any of the mussels still have their “beards,” or the stringy thing hanging out of the side, go ahead and just pull that out. Of the two pounds of mussels I bought for this post, only one (ONE) still have a beard that I had to remove. Thanks, Whole Foods!
Before we get cooking, one more thing to add: My favorite thing to do for a romantic bistro meal is pick up a big bag of French fries from a fast food restaurant and soup ‘em up at home like they’re homemade. Depending on how greasy they are, I’ll put them on a baking sheet…drizzle them with olive oil (maybe) and add some more salt before popping them in the oven to re-crisp. It works like a charm. Trust me! Steal this idea.
Traveling For The Food of France
Disclaimer: When it comes to the food of France, French cuisine, and the country itself, I am a little biased. From the moment I started studying French in the 7th grade with Madame Gottlieb on Long Island, I fell in love with all things French. I instantly yearned to travel to France, but had to settle for a class trip to Quebec. Still, my best friend Katie and I had our fun asking every passerby “Quelle heure est-il?” (What time is it?) and cracking up when they answered.
Years later when I visited Paris for the first time with my parents, Mme. Gottlieb would have been appalled when in my excitement at dinner one evening I ordered “le beurre” (all of the butter in the world) instead of “du beurre” (some butter).
A few years later, I lived in Paris for 3 months in a tiny 6th-floor walkup studio apartment across from a boulangerie in the 6th arrondisement—it was heaven. The best part was purchasing a baguette that was too hot to carry and running up 6 flights of stairs without dropping it!
My language skills improved, especially while drinking (wine was cheaper than water) I fell in love with the food I discovered, shopped at the neighborhood farmers’ market, and began re-creating delicious French dishes like Cassoulet, Croque Monsieur, and Moules Marinieres.
For me, food and travel have been linked ever since. Before my last road trip through France, after mapping out a route that included the most beautiful villages of France, I spent endless hours researching everything having to do with the food of France. It was not only about finding the best restaurants I wanted to know what I should eat where, what are the customs and traditions, what do I need to eat before leaving certain cities, what are the best local cheeses, and more! It was an incredible trip filled with amazing food experiences. My goal here is to share with you what I have learned so that if or when you travel to France, you have amazing food experiences too. And when you return, you can re-create some of your favorite dishes—but in a healthy way.
As with most trained chefs, I studied French cooking in cooking school. The most-used ingredient in French recipes is butter, and lots of it, so it’s not always the healthiest of cuisines. Don’t get me wrong, I love butter, and French butter is probably the best in the world. However, when I am at home, I try to consume less fat, and I spent 14 years at California Chef creating healthy recipes that satisfy the most discerning palates. My French recipes are inspired by the traditional flavors, but with much less fat and fewer calories. But enough about me let’s talk about the food of France, and start with some fun French food facts!
Fun French Food Facts
By law, a traditional baguette can only have three ingredients: yeast, flour, and salt, and must weigh 250 grams.
Over 500,000,000 snails are consumed in France each year.
The French consume more cheese per capita than any other county, about 57 pounds per person per year.
The French enjoy eating horse, frog, and rabbit.
A 2-hour lunch is acceptable in most parts of France, and many shops close between 12:00 and 2:00 pm to accommodate such meals.
The French eat cheese for dessert. It can also be consumed any other time of day.
Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, just a piece of bread and jam with coffee or hot chocolate.
Supermarkets cannot throw away unsold food it must be donated. France was the first country to institute such a law in 2016.
You can order a beer in McDonald’s. (But you’re in France, so, don’t.)
It is common to see unrefrigerated milk on grocery store shelves.
French Cuisine History
Modern-day chefs, cooks, and foodies owe a lot to the French. Not only because of the delicious French foods many of us salivate over, but also because the French have a rich food history, and it has impacted the world as we know it. To start, where would we be without restaurants? The French take credit for the first restaurant in the world, which opened in Paris in 1765 it served one dish—sheep feet in wine sauce. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of traditional French food in Paris, but hey, it’s a restaurant, nonetheless.
And although Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with romance, historical sites, and exquisite shops galore, the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of Paris is food! Paris currently has over 40,000 restaurants, and in addition to the best French dishes, you can find almost every kind of cuisine from around the globe!
French cooking techniques and recipes are taught around the world. In cooking school, I was taught Auguste Escoffier was the father of modern French cooking. In the late 1800’s, he didn’t invent French cooking, rather he simplified techniques and codified recipes so that they could be taught and replicated. Among those recipes are the “5 mother sauces,” which are the foundation for traditional French recipes, and are still taught to students in cooking schools today.
Some French food recipes are centuries old. Some recipes were invented for royalty, and others were created out of necessity and passed down from generation to generation. These generational recipes are considered to be traditional French peasant food, and many have evolved into fashionable dishes. There are many examples of meals that were once exclusively a poor man’s dinner that are now regional specialties sold in gourmet shops, and even listed on upscale dinner menus.
The French take food very seriously. As with the baguette, laws can even dictate how certain foods are prepared. The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) seal of certification ensures that cheese, meats, butter, wine, lentils, lavender, and other agricultural products meet specific criteria and stringent standards. AOC products must originate in geographically designated areas and must adhere to specified traditions and ingredients. Some products have more rigorous rules than others. For example, the prestigious “Poulet de Bresse,” or Bresse chicken, has strict requirements on everything from the diet of the birds to their slaughter, even the farmland to bird ratio is regulated—10 square meters of land per bird!
French Food Culture and Cuisine
France has one of the most revered cuisines in the world, and the United Nations recognizes French cuisine as a cultural heritage. According to UNESCO, French food culture is important for “bringing people together to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking” and its power to create “togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature.” In other words, in France, meals are savored, ingredients are valued, and the experience is made better by sharing. I heartily agree with this philosophy!
Most of all, mealtime is to be enjoyed. It is almost impossible to rush a French meal, especially in a restaurant. One of the great wonders of the world is why the French people are not obese. A classic French dinner menu (or lunch menu) consists of 3 or 4 courses: 1. An appetizer or starter (une entrée) like a soup, salad, or pâté. 2. A main course (le plat principal), typically a meat, a starch (rice, pasta, potato), and/or vegetables. 3. A cheese course, and/or 4. Dessert. The answer to the question “What is the typical dish for each of the courses?” is “It depends.”
French cuisine changes with the seasons, and the food of France varies widely by region, with each touting local specialties. Discovering a local cheese, honey, or regional delicacy at the local farmers’ market can be the highlight of a trip for me. I love strolling through the outdoor markets—some dating back to the 14th century—searching for new ingredients and gawking at the beautiful displays of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and cheeses (especially the cheeses!). Most big cities in France have at least two market days per week, and even the small towns often have one a week. Residents shop the farmers’ markets and can find everything they need to prepare each of their meals. Restaurateurs purchase seasonal, local ingredients and highlight them in the menus they offer. For example, if you take a trip to Paris in late April or May, be prepared for lots of white asparagus and rhubarb on the menu. Using local, seasonal ingredients is not a fad, or a new way of life, it’s called cuisine du terroir. It’s how it’s always been it’s the essence of French food culture and French cuisine.
Food of France by Region
The staple food of France is the baguette, which is reportedly eaten by 95% of the population, and as stated in Fun Food Fact #1, there is not a lot of room for variation. Not counting the baguette, French food and drink varies widely by region. The diversified landscape and geography of the 16 different regions affects the agricultural crops that farmers cultivate, the animals they raise, and the cheeses and wines that are produced. France borders 6 other countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Spain, and Switzerland), and the gastronomy of the regions that border these countries is often influenced by these neighbors. For example, Italy’s Chicken Francese inspired France’s Chicken Francaise, and the Swiss Chicken Cordon Bleu has been basically adopted by France. With so many variables contributing to the cuisine of each region, I think the regions need to be discussed individually.
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: Famous for the best skiing areas in France and its unique wine varietals, this area also offers numerous culinary specialties.
One of the Alp’s best-loved dishes is one of France’s most well-known—Fondue Savoyarde, made with a combination of Comté, Beaufort, Gruyére, and Emmental cheeses. But beware, in Savoie, if your piece of bread gets lost in the fondue pot, you may be buying the next round of drinks!
If you prefer potatoes with your cheese, you’ll love Tartiflette, a decadent potato gratin, and Truffade, a thick pancake commonly found as a side dish to steak. Visit Clermont-Ferrand to try these traditional Auvergne dishes.
If you are determined to try one of the most quintessential French dishes, Cuisses de Grenouilles (frog legs), head to the area known as the Dombes, where you will find them fried in butter, garlic, and parsley. Regional sweets include chocolate truffles and marron glacé, candied chestnuts whose origins date back to 16th-century Lyon.
Many consider Lyon the gastronomic capital of France, and I think it may well be the capital of French culinary decadence. Known for rich, heavy meals, even the Lyonnaise Salad will have you tipping the scale—but it’s worth it!
I highly recommend eating at a traditional bouchon, a tavern-style restaurant, and visiting Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse food hall. Les Halles offers delectable assortments of local specialties of quenelle, cheese, pastries, chocolates, charcuterie, and basically anything that you can eat. Lyon’s Quenelle de Brochet, the biggest fish dumpling ever, may not sound so appetizing, but is one of my personal favorites when served with Sauce Nantua (crayfish sauce).
Bretagne (Brittany): With more than 1,000 kilometers of coastline, it is no surprise that Brittany’s specialties include an array of seafood.
Moules Marinieres, translated as Mussels Sailor-Style, are marinated in white wine and onions. Cotriade, a fish stew with potatoes, leeks, onions, and garlic can be made with any or all of the following fish: red mullet, mackerel, sprat, herring, and hake.
Enjoying the scenery of the ocean at a seaside terrace eating a fresh seafood platter is one of the greatest pleasures Brittany has to offer. The Plateau de Fruits de Mer may consist of a raw and cooked combination of freshly caught shellfish and mollusks such as oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, winkles, crab, and prawns.
However, the region is even more famous for its traditional Breton pancakes, known worldwide as crepes. In fact, in Bretagne, creperies outnumber cafés. The Breton Galette, a savory buckwheat pancake, can be stuffed with ham, bacon, eggs, and mushrooms, and makes it perfectly acceptable to eat pancakes all day long. You will even see these galettes wrapped around sausages and sold from food trucks. Legend has it that these pancakes were invented by a farmer who spilled some buckwheat porridge onto his griddle, and the whole region seems to have learned from his mistake!
The specialty cake of the region is, hands down, Far Breton. What originated as a savory side dish has evolved into a sweet custard cake with prunes and raisins, and has become one of France’s most beloved desserts.
Bourgogne-Franche-Comté: This region produces some of the best wines and cheeses in the world, and that alone is enough for me to consider it paradise.
It is the birthplace of some of France’s most celebrated recipes, many of them incorporating the notable wines of the region.
One of the oldest recipes, Coq au Vin, translated as rooster in wine, traces back to ancient Gaul. Modern renditions use chicken and braise it in red wine, lardons, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and garlic.
Similarly, the other dish synonymous with the region, Beef Bourgogne, is a hearty stew of fall-apart-tender beef that is slowly cooked in red wine with carrots, celery, onions, and lardons, and served with noodles or potatoes.
The Bourguignons even poach eggs in red wine to make Oeufs en Meurette.
Is everything cooked in red wine? No, some dishes use white wine, like Jambon á la Chablisienne, which is ham in a Chablis sauce. And, yes, some specialties do not have wine at all, like Escargot á la Bourgogne (snails in butter, garlic, and parsley), and one of my favorites, Gorgères (fluffy, savory cheese puffs). Admittedly, I am partial to anything with cheese.
Since the dinners can be rich in this region, many prefer ending a meal with a light Cassis Sorbet made from the blackcurrant liquor Crème de Cassis from Dijon, rather than a baked dessert. Of course, you can find a red wine-based dessert, Poire au Vin, pears poached in Beaujolais. The two most popular alcohol-free desserts are the jam-filled gingerbreads, Nonettes, and the simple yellow cake, Gâteau de Ménange.
The region is also renown for honey, Bresse poultry, Dijon mustard, and numerous cheeses (Morbier, Bresse Bleu, Comté, Epoisses, Soumaintrain, Abbaye de Citeaux, Mont d’Or, Cancoillotte, Delice de Bourgogne, and Ami du Chambertin, to name more than a few). Need help deciding? Cheese lovers most certainly should try the Epoisses and Delice de Bourgogne of Burgundy, and the Comté of Franche-Comté. Want some wine to drink with your cheese? Visit Le Marché aux Vins in Beaune where you can taste and learn about the local wines of the region in their cellar that houses 22,000 bottles.
Food of France: Corsican Charcuterie
Corse (Corsica): The cuisine on this island nestled between France and Italy is a blend of the 2 countries. And, don’t be fooled, although Corsica is surrounded by water, its residents seem to eat as much meat as seafood.
If you have the opportunity to order Civet de Sanglier, a hearty wild boar casserole, the signature dish of Corse, do it! If you are not a fan of boar, try the veal with olives, Veau aux Olives, a flavorful stew with olives, onions, tomatoes, and tender veal imbued with the unique flavors of local herbs and wine.
Try a platter of Corsican-made charcuterie that includes cured meat made from the native black pig, Porc Nustrale. I recommend Jambon sec de Corse (from the leg), Coppa de Corse (from the chine, or back), and Lonzo de Corse (from the loin). The Nustrale feed on the plentiful chestnuts found in groves in the mountains.
You will find Corsicans eating the chestnut as well, mostly in desserts such as Gateau aux Châtaignes. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try the Corsican cheesecake, Fiadone, made with the island’s Brocciu cheese. The name alone is reason to sample another Corsican specialty cheese, Brin d’Amour, which translates to “breath of love,” referring to the cheese’s coating of aromatic herbs.
Food of France: Tarte Tatin
Centre-Val de Loire: In the heart of France, the beautiful chateaux de la Loire grace the historic villages along the Loire river. It is obvious the area was greatly influenced by kings, yet much of its cuisine has humble peasant origins.
The most famous of these dishes is Rilletes de Porc, the incredible spreadable pork product from Tours, also affectionately called “pig jam.” Other country foods include Truffiat, a puff pastry filled with potatoes and cheese, and Andouillette Sausage in Vouvray wine.
Some of France’s best goat cheese comes from this region. These include Crottin de Chavignol, Sel-Sur-Cher, Sainte Maure de Touraine, Bȗcheron, and Valençay.
Do not miss France’s best known apple dessert, Tarte Tatin, invented by the Tatin sisters of Orléans. It is most often served warm and best accompanied by vanilla ice cream. In fact, I’d suggest trying it in more than one establishment!
Food of France: Choucroute Garnie
Grand Est (Alsace, Champagne, Lorraine): This region shares its biggest border with Germany, and this proximity is exhibited in some of the regional specialties, like Choucroute Garnie, sauerkraut with juniper berries, caraway, potatoes, and three kinds of sausages: Frankfurter, Strasbourg, and Montbéliard.
It is believed that the word “quiche” is derived from the German word for kitchen, kuchen, but the- Germans get no credit for the dish itself. Undoubtedly the most famous quiche is also the most famous dish of the Grand Est, Quiche Lorraine, which is named after the former region of Lorraine. Quiches are basically savory tarts, but the Tarte Flambée of this region is more like a thin crust pizza topped with cream, onions, and lardons.
The less confusing Baeckeoffe combines slow-cooked pork, lamb, beef, vegetables, and potatoes in a white wine sauce. Another stew-like dish, Potée Champenoise, traditionally prepared for pickers on grape-harvest day, now appears on menus year-round in Champagne. Driving through Champagne is a feast for the senses, and you’ll never wonder “What should I have to drink?”
Champagne is an obvious must-drink beverage when visiting this region. One of the area’s extraordinary cheeses, like Munster, Langres, or Cendre de Champagne, complement a glass of bubbly quite nicely. And remember, bubbly cannot be called Champagne unless it comes from Champagne!
On the sweeter side, one can enjoy Madeleine cookies from Commercy, Macarons (especially in Nancy), Pain d’Epices (a sort of spice cake with honey), Kouglof (a brioche with raisins), Bergamot candies, and a myriad of tarts and jams made with small yellow Mirabelle plums.
Food of France: Pâté de Canard
Hauts de France (Nord Pas-de-Calais-Picardie): Many specialties of this region have Belgian roots, such as the creamy fish stew, Waterzooi, and the national dish of Belgium, Moules Frites, aka mussels and fries.
The battle still continues over who invented the French fry part of that dish, France or Belgium. However, the region also has many of its indisputable own creations like Ficille Picardes, a ham and mushroom crêpe baked in a rich cream sauce that originated in Amiens. Amiens, best known by the masses for its magnificent Gothic cathedral, is best known by foodies for its tasty Pâté de Canard (duck pâté en croute).
From Picardy, try the Flamiche Aux Poireaux, a creamy leek pie whose origin dates at least as far back as its mention in a French soldier’s notebook in the 18th century.
Cheese enthusiasts should enjoy a Maroilles Tarte made from the washed rind of the cheese of the same name. Made in the area since the 10th century, Maroilles has a nutty mushroom flavor, and is also an extremely popular cheese on its own. If it is cheese you are after, the bright orange Mimolette with the cratered rind reigns king here.
When searching for a sweet treat, you can enjoy a slice of Gâteau Battu at the end of your meal, and the buttery Palets de Dames (translated as ladies’ pucks) at teatime. It can be difficult to tell by looking at the iced puck, but the Palets de Dames sold in the pâtisseries typically have a layer of apricot jam under the lemon icing.
Ile de France (Paris): Known historically as the playground of kings, culinary indulgences abound in Paris. Pâtisseries with picture perfect Tartes au Citron, Tartes aux Fraises, éclairs, macarons, and hundreds of other French delicacies line the streets.
One of the most famous desserts is Baba au Rhum, a rum cake with a whole in the center that is filled with fruit or pastry cream. The first Baba was cooked sans rum by France’s oldest patisserie, Stoher, when Nicholas Stoher invented it for the exiled Polish King Stanislas in 1730. Like I said, a playground for kings.
Today, anyone can obtain the best France has to offer in Paris shops. Of course, that goes for French cheeses as well. Brie de Meaux is undoubtably Ile de France’s most famous cheese. If you want something a little more adventurous, ask the cheese monger what is in season.
Walking the streets of Paris, you can tell that the heart and soul of Parisienne food is found in the family-owned bistros and brasseries. Known for comfort foods like Steak Frites, Croque Monsieur, Soupe á L’Onion, and Pot au Feu, these neighborhood hangouts are the perfect place to get an authentic meal. The Michelin guide can give you good insights on other eateries, from the starred upscale gourmet restaurants to the famous guide’s Bib Gourmands picks, which highlight restaurants offering the best values.
And if you have the funds, 4 of the 2019 50 Best Restaurants in the World are in Paris. If indulgence is what you’re after, as a special treat, head to Pierre Hermé, Jacques Genin, or Laudrée for some of the world’s best chocolates, caramels, and confections.
However, the best experiences don’t have to be the most expensive. I encourage you to find the hidden gems of Paris that will make the city special to you. This can be anything from a neighborhood haunt to making a picnic and eating it in one of Paris’s beautiful parks.
Nouvelle Aquitaine (Aquitaine, Poitou-Charentes, Limousin): The southwest corner of France has a rich history of gastronomy, agriculture, and wine making.
The area surrounding Bordeaux is one of the best wine regions in the world, and as in Bourgogne, we see wine used in regional dishes.
Bordelaise Sauce, a red wine sauce traditionally made with demi-glace and shallots, is very versatile and is used to flavor lamb, steak, pork, veal, and even mashed potatoes.
White wine is used for Poulet Basquaise, chicken stew with tomatoes and peppers, and for traditional Mouclade, mussels in a curry cream sauce. Be sure to soak up the Mouclade sauce with some crusty bread! For seafood, like Marennes-Oléron oysters, head to the coastal towns.
Elsewhere, you will find an abundance of local duck on menus, especially Duck Confit—a wise person would not leave the region without having it at least once. And, speaking of duck . . . I hate that I love foie gras, but I do, and this is the place to eat it. Translated as “fat liver,” it certainly doesn’t sound appetizing. In the US, it’s pretty easy to stay away from because if you ever do see it on the menu, it costs a small fortune. However, here, it is not only abundant, it is affordable—and it is delicious!
Some of the best cheeses of the region are Chabichou du Poitou, Chaumes, and Ossau-Iraty. The Ossau-Iraty from Fromagerie Agour won the Best Cheese in the World title in both 2011 and 2016.
Do not skip dessert! Enjoy Clafoutis (black cherry flan), Canelé de Bordeaux (caramel crust rum cake), Gateaux Basque (shortbread pastry layered with vanilla or cherry), or Dacquoise (alternating layers of crispy nut meringue sponge cake and buttercream). If you can only have one, Dacquoise has my vote!
Assortment of French Cheeses
Normandie: In addition to being the site of the historic WWII D-Day landing, today’s Normadie houses the iconic Mont Saint-Michelle, produces the largest quantity of cheese in France, and grows over 800 varieties of apples.
Apples have grown here since the 8th century, with a large majority used to make beverages such as cider and Calvados. Calvados, an apple brandy that can only be made in Normandie, is served after a meal as a digestif, or between courses to make room for the next one by creating the trou normande, literally the “Normandie hole.”
You will also see apples used in cooking chicken or duck au cidre, and in countless desserts.
In addition to being a major apple producer, Normandie’s extensive coastline makes it the chief oyster-cultivating, scallop-exporting, and mussel-raising region in France. And you’ll see all of these mollusks represented in the regional seafood dishes, and maybe even all at once.
Marmite Dieppoise is kind of a kitchen-sink fish stew from Dieppe combining all the best of Normandie into one pot: fish, mollusks, crustaceans, butter, crème fraîche, and cider.
Also from Dieppe, Hareng Saur (smoked herring) harkens back to the Middle Ages as a food that could be stored for long periods of time today it is considered restaurant fare.
If you need a break from seafood, try the classic melt-in-your-mouth Joue de Boeuf, beef cheek braised (for up to 2 days) with apples, cider, carrots, and onions.
And, if you need a break from apples, try the rice pudding meets crème Brȗlée dessert, Teurgoule.
If you’re like me, and come for the cheese, some of the regional standouts are Camembert (the most famous, of course), Pont l’Evêque, Livarot, Neufchâtel, and my favorite, Brillat-Savarin— a luscious triple cream offering with nutty hints of salt and butter. Come for the cheese, but stay for the salted butter caramels, one of my other beloved weaknesses!
Occitanie (Midi-Pyrénées, Languedoc): The signature dish of Occitanie is undisputedly Cassoulet, a hearty white bean stew with duck confit and sausage.
What is in dispute is where this peasant dish originates: Carcassone, Castelnaudry, or Toulouse. I suggest trying it wherever you can, as well as its key component, duck confit, (Confit de Canard), which is a popular dish in its own right. Another Cassoulet component, sausages, or more precisely, Saucisse de Toulouse, are also often served as a French dinner entrée.
You may see them with the Averon specialty, Aligot, a cheesy, creamy, gooey mashed potato with garlic—need I say more? As might be expected, along the southeastern coast of this region, seafood is popular.
Sample the less expensive yet tasty cousin to Bouillabaisse, Bourride, a specialty of Sète. Traditionally made with monkfish and seasoned with aioli (garlic mayo), legend has it that the Greek gods would come to feast on Bourride when they got bored with Olympus.
Aioli is popular in this region, and can be used in Brandade de Morue, the salt cod spread from Nîmes. Grab some Brandade de Morue, a crusty baguette, and some cheese and have a picnic.
If you like blue cheese, you may already know that the king of all blue cheeses, Roquefort, comes from this region. And if blue cheese is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with Cathare, Cabécou, Tomme des Pyrénées, Bethmale, or Briquette de Brebis.
Sip a little Armagnac or Floc de Gascogne with desserts like Crème Catalane (similar to crème brulé), Croustade aux Pommes (apple-filled puff pastry), or some violet-flavored confections from Toulouse.
Pays de la Loire: The traditional French sauce Beurre Blanc (literally, white butter sauce) is this western region’s culinary claim to fame. The story is that a chef outside of Nantes invented the sauce when she forgot to put eggs into her Béarnaise sauce, and her customers loved it. In the coastal areas, the rich sauce is often served with fresh fish, or mussels from Baie de l’Aigullon.
The Pays de la Loire’s coast is short, but the salt marches of Guerande are plentiful, and salt flowers, or Fleurs de Sel, have been harvested there since the 3rd century.
In the seafood arena, Vendée offers delicious Atlantic oysters, but is better known for Jambon de Vendée (prosciutto’s French cousin), and a number of baked good specialties such as the beautifully braided Brioche Vendéenne, the golden oval Gâche vendéenne, and the local version of garlic bread, Préfou. Préfou can be served as an appetizer or as a side dish.
If you have any left over, it’ll serve as the perfect bread on which you can spread the delicious local pâté known as Rillettes de Le Mans, which should not be missed. Not to be confused with rillets, rillauds is another pork belly dish beloved in the region (especially in Anjou). Rillets is usually served in a terrine to spread on bread, whereas rillauds is cubed and can be served hot or cold.
As with every French region, there are many outstanding cheeses to satisfy my decadent vice, among them Saint Paulin, Port Salut, and Curé Nantais. Maybe even more decadent than a plate of creamy cheese is a plate of Sablé.
The ridiculously buttery Sablé shortbread cookies have been a favorite with coffee or tea in Sablé-sur-Sarthe since 1670. Or if you prefer something to take with you, the sugar-iced rum cake, Gâteau Nantais, also known as “Traveler’s Cake” because of its long shelf life, will fit the bill.
Food of France: Salade Nicoise
Provence-Cote d'Azur (PACA): Known worldwide for the purple rows of lavender in Provence, and the crystal blue beaches of the French Riviera, or Cote d’Azur, this region plays host to travelers from around the globe who come to enjoy their dream vacations.
Here, the Mediterranean Sea is the inspiration for the world-renowned fish stew from Marseille, Bouillabaisse, and also for Salade Nicoise. Nice is also the birthplace of Ratatouille, the zucchini and eggplant dish, not the rat movie.
A little more inland, look for the Provençal lamb (or beef) stew, Daube, that is made in an earthenware daubiére. Daube has hints of cinnamon and cloves, and simmers for hours until the meat falls apart.
Traveling through Provence, you’ll find the abundance of olives transformed into olive oil and tapenade sauces, and the lavender into Herbes de Provence (as well as wonderfully fragrant soaps).
Many sauces that you find in the south of France utilize garlic as a key ingredient. These include Pistou (basil, olive oil, and garlic, similar to pesto), Rouille (saffron, peppers, and olive oil used with fish stews), and Aioli (egg yolks, garlic, and olive oil). There is also a cake made with olive oil, Pompe à l’Huile, that is flavored with orange and lemon and decorated with cutout leaves or stars.
The diamond shaped iced sweet, Calisson, is a favorite from Aix-en-Provence. The town’s tale is that in 1454, King René’s chef combined almonds and candied melons to create the Calisson in order to cheer up the king’s bride to be, and it did the trick!
Visiting France for Food
France remains one of my favorite countries to visit, and in fact, if it weren’t for COVID19, I’d be there right now. Unfortunately, most tourist don’t get to visit every region of France, especially in one trip.
With so much good food, how do you pick? I’d rather take my time and thoroughly enjoy and explore a region or a city than to zip through multiple stops across the whole country. There are a lot of things to take into consideration in addition to the food when deciding on a place to visit, and those things can vary widely from person to person.
However, since Paris is my favorite city in the world, it would be my place of choice in France if I could only pick, or recommend, one. It is also a great place to start or end a trip. You can do a good job in a week. You’ll need four days minimum to have a proper gourmand getaway. Eat at a neighborhood bistro, sip at an outdoor café, snack at a pâtisserie, buy a warm baguette, stroll a farmers’ market, picnic in the Bois de Boulogne, and don’t miss the cheese shops! Whether you’re cooking French meals at home, or eating them in France, I wish you bon appétit!
Moules-Frites (Steamed Mussels and Fries)
If we could snap our fingers and transport ourselves anywhere, it would be to a charming bistro in Paris (of course). We would be sipping white wine and tucking into moules-frites (aka mussels and fries) as we people-watch on the sidewalk. Can't hop on a plane to France? Luckily, we have the next best thing. Re-creating those Parisian vibes at home is easier than you think with this showstopping recipe. Oh, and guess what? Cooked in a garlicky white wine sauce, you can have dinner ready and on the table in just thirty minutes. Just don't skimp on the lemon-herb aioli. Bon appétit.
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 pounds mussels, debearded and cleaned well
½ cup seafood broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
1. Make the Aioli: In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lemon zest, lemon juice, pepper and parsley to combine.
2. Make the Moules-Frites: In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the celery and leeks, and sauté until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute more.
3. Stir the tomato paste into the pan and cook for 1 minute. Add the mussels and toss gently with the other ingredients in the pan. Add the white wine and broth, and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley.
4. Cover the pan and simmer until the majority of mussels have opened, 5 to 6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open.
5. Divide the mussels between two bowls and pour any remaining broth and vegetables over the mussels.
Although moules-frites are popular in many countries, it is thought that the dish originated in Belgium.  It is likely that it was originally created by combining mussels, a popular and cheap foodstuff eaten around the Flemish coast, and fried potatoes which were commonly eaten around the country in winter when no fish or other food was available. 
In both Belgium and France, moules-frites are available in most restaurants. According to a survey conducted by TNS, moules-frites was identified as the second favourite dish in France, receiving a vote of 20 per cent, narrowly losing to magret de canard which received 21 per cent. 
On average, between 25 and 30 tonnes of moules are consumed each year in Belgium as moules-frites.  [ dubious – discuss ] Much of the mussels consumed in Belgium come from mussel farms in nearby Zeeland in the Netherlands. 
The ways in which the mussels are cooked in the dish can vary significantly. Some common variants include:
- Moules marinière: Probably the most common and internationally recognisable recipe, Moules marinière includes white wine, shallots, parsley and butter. 
- Moules natures: The mussels are steamed with celery, leeks and butter. 
- Moules à la crème: Another common recipe, thickened with flour and cream. 
- Moules parquées: A dish, probably originating in Brussels, of raw mussels on the half-shell, served with a lemon-mustard-sauce.
- Moules à la bière: Mussels cooked in a sauce containing beer instead of white wine. 
- Moules à l'ail: Mussels cooked with sliced or minced garlic. 
Less commonly, fusion variants are seen in which the stock may be flavoured with non-local ingredients such as Espelette pepper or Pernod liquor.  They can also be served with "Mosselsaus", a sauce that is made with mayonnaise, mustard and vinegar.
In various forms, frites or friet play an important role in Belgian culture and cuisine. Within Belgium, bintje potatoes are generally preferred as a basis to make fries because of their high starch content.   They are generally double-fried (fried, left to cool and then fried again) in order to make them both moist in the core and crispy on the outside. 
As a dish, the moules and the frites are usually served separately, to avoid the fries becoming soggy in the sauce. Often, the moules are served in the pan used to cook them.  A second dish is generally provided for the discarded mussel shells.