By Briana Seftel
France is synonymous with gastronomy. From five-star Michelin restaurants to hole-in-the-wall bistros, dining out in France is a joyful, sacred experience and certainly a big part of any French vacation.
To help you decode menus in France, we've created a cheat sheet to signature dishes from ten regions in France. Bon appetit!
Paris - Île de France: Macaron
Where the kings of France lived, the Paris - Ile de France region is famous for its artful desserts and iconic dishes like French onion soup and croque monsieur. Perhaps no specialty is more emblematic than the elegant macaron, a delicate pastry consisting of two almond meringue cookies filled with buttercream or ganache. Available in all sorts of flavors and colors, macarons are a delightful treat you won't feel guilty eating.
Other notable specialties: Brie de meaux, baguette, Jambon Blanc de Paris, potage St. Germain, rabbit fricassée, French onion soup, Paris-Brest, Saint Honoré, Parisian king cake, Croque-Monsieur, chouquettes, macarons, Parisian brioche, mille feuilles
Alsace: Tarte Flambée
Also known by its German name Flammekueche, tarte flambée (meaning "pie baked in the flames") is the Alsatian answer to pizza. A thin, cracker-like crust is topped with crème fraîche or fromage blanc, thinly sliced onions and lardons, and baked in a wood-fired oven until golden and crispy. Traditionally, the tart was a bread baker’s treat made from leftover dough.
Other notable specialties: Baeckeoffe, quiche Lorraine, Munster cheese, choucroute, gingerbread, charcuterie, pain d’épices, kouglof, Mirabelle plums, andouillette, Potée champenoise, Gewürztraminer wine
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Bouillabaisse
Meaning "to reduce the boil," bouillabaisse is seafood stew from the port city of Marseille on the Côte d'Azur. Originating as a humble fisherman's dish made with discarded cuts of rockfish, the saffron-infused stew is made with many types of fish, shellfish, tomatoes, mustard and egg yolks. It is served in two parts - first the soup, then the fish. The fragrant dish is best enjoyed with crusty bread and a chilled glass of rosé wine from Provence.
Other notable specialties: Ratatouille, anchoïde, Niçoise salad, Pastis, pissaladerie, socca, Rosé wine, soupe au Pistou, nougat
Calling a galette a crepe is a major faux pas in France - don't let it happen to you! A galette is a buckwheat flour pancake that is the crepe's savory cousin. Dark in color and served in a square shape, a galette is traditionally filled with ham, cheese, eggs or andouille sausage, although more inventive combinations are popping up all over the country. Pair it with a crisp, dry cider and you have the quintessential Breton meal.
Other notable specialties: Sweet crêpes, oysters from Cancale, cider, moules marinières, beurre salé, kouign amann
Aquitaine: Confit de canard
A specialty of Gascony, duck confit is a decadent dish of duck cooked in its own fat. A traditional method of preservation, the meat (usually duck legs) is rubbed with salt and spices, left to cure for up to three days, and slowly cooked in on oven until all the fat has rendered. The beautifully burnished duck can be served over mashed potatoes, salad or creamy flageolet beans.
Other notable specialties: lamprey à la bordelaise, cannelés bordelais, clafoutis, Sauternes wine, garbure, poulet basquaise, salade landaise, pralines de Blaye, gratin de poires au Sauternes, poule au pot, Cabernet Sauvignon, cognac
Burgundy: Boeuf Bourguignon
Made famous by the American chef Julia Child in the 1960s, boeuf bourguignon is a hearty stew made with Charolais beef, carrots, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, bacon and copious amounts of full-bodied Burgundy red wine. Simmered for several hours until the meat is achingly tender, the stew is usually served with boiled potatoes or crusty baguette.
Other notable specialties: Dijon mustard, escargots, gougères, Epoisses, Comté, Mont D’Or, Morbier, Burgundy wine, absinthe.
Languedoc-Roussillon: Crème Catalane
Bordering Spain, the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France shares many similarities with its neighbor to the south, including this dessert. Similar crème brûlée, crème catalane (or crema catalana in Spanish) is a creamy custard dessert flavored with orange zest and cinnamon and topped with a crisp caramelized sugar crust. This light dessert is the perfect ending to a rich meal of cassoulet.
Other notable specialties: Cassoulet, gratin dauphinois, Thau Basin oysters, small pâtés of Pézenas, cod brandade, anchovies gratinés with herbs, tuna à la catalane, Roquefort, Limoux king cake, croustade languedocienne, les grisettes de Montpellier, rousquilles.
Normandy: Tarte Normande
With its cool climate near the Atlantic Ocean, Normandy is the ideal place to grow apples, which are incidentally featured heavily in the region's cuisine. One of the most celebrated specialties is tarte normande, a tart made with a rich pastry dough (pâte brisée), sliced apples and almonds, sugar and a creamy egg custard.
Other notable specialties: Camembert, brillat-savarin, cider, Calvados, canard à la rouennaise, moules au cidre, tripes a la mode de Caen, pintade au Calvados, sole dieppoise, coquilles St Jacques, boudin noir
Loire Valley: Rillettes
Similar to pâté but coarser in texture, rillettes are made of pork that's been heavily salted and cooked in fat. Often served on a slice of rustic bread, rillettes are a must-try especially if you're in Le Mans, a city in the Loire famous for the rich and fatty spread. Eat your rillettes with cornichons (small French pickles) for the ultimate bite!
Other notable specialties: fleur de sel, beurre blanc, Vendée Atlantic oysters, Gâtinais saffron, goat cheese, tarte tatin, truffiat
The French Alps have a lot in common with its Swiss neighbors, including a delectable cheesy dish known as raclette. Coming from the French word racler meaning “to scrape,” raclette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese heated until gooey and scraped onto boiled potatoes or cured meats. A perfect accompaniment to raclette is a glass of white wine from Savoy.
Other notable specialties: Côte d’Auvergne wine, fondue Savoyarde, tartiflette, truffade, Puy lentils, quenelles, bugnes lyonnaises, Reblochon, Beaujolais wine, Côtes du Rhône wine