Any trip to Paris is an opportunity to create incredible tasteful memories. Whether seeking out new and interesting flavors or revisiting old favorites, French foods inspire us to enjoy the culinary culture that continues to dazzle eaters around the world. We are no strangers to the wonderful foods of France, and on each visit to Paris, we find ourselves waxing rhapsodic about the many delicious experiences we have. Though our list could be much longer, here are the first few of many amazing French foods we must eat during every Paris vacation.
The only thing better than fresh bread before a meal is a fresh gourgère. This airy cheese puff feels like the height of decadence, but is so subtle and light it doesn’t spoil your appetite. Our favorite Parisian gougère is the one that precedes a meal at the fabulous and intimate La Bourse et La Vie. Shortly after sitting down, you’re welcomed with this fluffy pouf of cheesy goodness. It’s the best encouragement we know to help you prepare for the deliciousness to come.
2. Steak Frites
This French version of steak and potatoes is world famous. And while you can taste it all over Paris, we stumbled upon Le Relais de l’Entrecôte on a side street in the Saint Germain des Prés neighborhood one night when searching for a place to eat. The line outside was so long, we couldn’t resist. We soon learned that this was not a hidden gem, but one of the most well-known steak frites in Paris and it is the only entree they serve. People have been trying to replicate their secret sauce for decades. We head there to eat every time we’re in Paris.
The French love affair with the wafer-thin pancakes known as crêpes is contagious when visiting Paris. Crêpes can be found at street carts, kiosks, and restaurants from homey to fine dining. We often smell the enticing aroma in the air as we walk along some of the major shopping streets. Sweet crêpes filled with fruit, ice cream, and even Nutella are popular. Savory crêpes with cheese, ham, veggies, and more make a light but satisfying meal. There are many places to try them but Breizh Café, Holybelly, and Chez Alain Miam Miam top many lists of favorites.
4. French Cheese
“How can anyone govern a country which has 246 different kinds of cheese?” asked French President Charles de Gaulle in 1962. Today, France has some 1,200 varieties of cheese. Fortunately, we don’t have to govern anything other than our appetites for incredible French cheese. One of our favorite ways to spend time in Paris is to go to a store and get a few different cheeses to try. A creamy Brie, buttery Comté, and Bleu d’Auvergne enjoyed while people-watching makes for a perfect Paris afternoon. Visit an excellent fromagerie (cheese shop), such as the venerable Androuet, for great selections and recommendations.
If France has a national comfort food, Cassoulet may well be it. This tummy-warming stew uses a variety of ingredients including beans, sausage, duck, pork, vegetables, and herbs. It’s tradition comes from Southwest France, where it served as a hearty meal for peasants using whatever ingredients were available. Now, it’s a dish that is popular even in Paris. It may appear only on certain days of the week or as a special like when we had it at Cafe Monte Carlo, a local brasserie buzzing with lunching locals. Be sure to check and ask around to find who’s serving Cassoulet when you’re ready to give it a try.
6. Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame
Sitting in Cafe de Flore or across the street at Les Deux Magots and thinking of the movers and shakers that did so before is one of those things that never gets old. Sipping on a coffee is a morning ritual. But for us, having a Croque Monsieur, the classic grilled ham and cheese sandwich (topped with a fried egg for the madame) is a guilty pleasure that is so Parisian, we can only say “oui!”
It’s hard to imagine a visit to Paris without enjoying a baguette (or many baguettes). This quintessential French bread is seen hanging out of purses, backpacks, bicycle handlebars, and tucked under arms of Parisians going about their day. We won’t claim to know the best there is, but the Best Baguette in Paris contest is where it’s decided every year, so ambitious eaters can check out as many as they like while visiting.
8. Jambon Beurre
There’s beauty in simplicity and the jambon-beurre is a testament to that. This simple, classic sandwich contains only Parisian ham and French butter on a fabulous baguette. The quality of ingredients makes this the “little black dress” of French foods we must eat during every Paris vacation. Grab one at Epicerie Julhès or Caractère de Cochon and be amazed.
Cream puffs and profiteroles are often thought to be the same thing. And while both delicious desserts employ a choux pastry puff, cream puffs are filled with pastry or whipped cream while profiteroles are filled with ice cream. For us, profiteroles mean choux pastry puffs filled with exquisite vanilla ice cream and topped with rich chocolate sauce, and always served in three. Why three? So there’s no way to adequately split them and you each must order your own. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it. Try the acclaimed “traditional and unmissable” profiteroles at Les Bistro Des Campagnes. Then take a nap.
The idea of visiting Paris and not having macarons is foreign to us. These bite-sized, airy shells sandwiching a wide array of delicious fillings taste like Paris in a bite. Classic flavors like pistachio, chocolate, raspberry, and lemon now share the stage with bold modern tastes. Lavender, rose petal, matcha, passion fruit, salted caramel, red velvet, and many more expand the list tremendously. Visit Ladurée, the grande dame of macaron boutiques and save the beautiful box for sweet memories of Paris.
Starting a day in Paris for us means a croissant with butter, jam, and a coffee or tea. But this flaky, buttery, bread-pastry is a masterpiece to enjoy any time of day. Try a classic croissant from a master baker like Laurent Duchêne. Or check out the evolution of the croissant from modern innovations like the new sleek versions offered by Ritz Paris Le Comptoir. Whatever you choose, don’t forget to enjoy it fresh. We usually eat ours right out of the bag.
12. Soupe À L’Oignon
What could be more comforting than a warm bowl of soup of caramelized onions in a rich stock topped by a large buttery crouton and covered with melted cheese? Exactly, nothing. French onion soup has made it off the continent of Europe into homes and hearts around the world for good reason. Soak up the ambiance as well as the soup at a swanky brasserie like Au Pied de Cochon or a snug neighborhood restaurant like La Jacobine.
13. Boeuf Bourguignon
Though Julia Child probably explained Boeuf Bourguignon to more budding chefs outside of France than anyone, Parisian chefs are still doing wonders with this traditional dish from Burgundy. A hearty stew of beef braised in beef broth with red wine, vegetables such as pearl onions, and mushrooms make it a complete meal on its own. With a name like Au Bourguignon du Maris, this brasserie honors the dish as its speciality.
14. Coq Au Vin
Another dish from Burgundy that became one of Julia Child’s signatures is the spectacular Coq Au Vin. Replacing the beef for chicken and adding some salty pork or bacon, this stew is equally satisfying but a little bit lighter. Dip a hunk of crusty French bread in the sauce — Heaven! To dine in a restaurant that might be about as old as the dish itself, built in 1686, Le Procope (proclaiming status as the oldest café in Paris) has served the likes of Victor Hugo, Diderot, Robespierre, Verlaine, and other famous literary and intellectual figures. Coq au Vin is a must-eat French food for us during every Paris vacation.
15. Pain Au Chocolat
We finish on a sweet note with Pain Au Chocolat. Similar to a croissant, this irresistible pastry holds two ribbons of the finest chocolate within its buttery, flaky layers of dough. Unlike the crescent shape of the croissant, the Pain Au Chocolat is more like a flaky roll resembling bread, hence the name pain which means “bread” or “loaf.” Various theories surround its origins and how it made its way to France. But it’s no mystery that Maison Mulot, one of our very favorite bakeries in Paris, is at the top of our list for getting a buttery, chocolatey mouthful of pain whenever we’re in town.
Pro Tip: One of the best ways to enjoy some of these French foods such as cheese and baguettes is to pick them up at a local shop, take them with you to a park or bench, and eat them while watching the people of Paris go about their lives.
Every Paris vacation is full of wonderful places to explore, culture to experience, and cuisine to celebrate. We find something new and exciting every time we go. But no matter what discoveries we add to each excursion, these are a few amazing French foods we must eat during every Paris vacation. We hope you try some of them on your next visit to the City of Light as well as find some must-have French dishes of your own.
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