Ultimate France Food Guide: What do people eat in France, Traditional Dishes & tips

France is a paradise for foodies. No matter where you go, you will always find delicious things to eat!

France is proud of its well-deserved reputation when it comes to cuisine.

The French know how to cook and make yummy dishes better than anyone. For this reason, food became one of the most important aspects of French culture.

Eating in France is a process and there is a lot to know about it.

In this ultimate France Food Guide, we tell you everything about the best French dishes, what people eat in France, when and how!

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What do French People Eat

What do people eat in France?

French people eat a variety of things. Unlike what you may think, France is a big country in Europe and there are a lot of regions.

Moreover, France also has dozens of overseas regions (in every single continent).

For this reason, French food is extremely varied.

French meals

Firstly, let’s talk about the meals (spoiler alert: there are more than 3 in France!), meal times and what they include.

7AM to 10AM: Breakfast (“Petit Déjeuner”)

Pain au Chocolat in France for breakfast

French people love their breakfast and if you are visiting soon, it may very well be your favourite meal as well!

The traditional French breakfast includes:

  • Coffee
  • Orange Juice
  • A viennoiserie (this can be a croissant, pain au chocolat or pain au raisin)
  • Baguette with butter and jam. This is known as “tartines”

This is usually eaten on weekends and during holidays.

As you may imagine, it takes quite a bit of time to eat this breakfast and most French people don’t take the time to do so before going to work.

On workdays, most people will opt for a drink (coffee or fruit juice) and cereals, yoghurt or a quick “tartine”.

Baguettes and viennoiseries can be bought in any bakery (“boulangerie”). Ideally, you need to buy them on the same morning so they are fresh.

12PM to 2PM: Lunch (“Déjeuner”)

Lunch Duck Confit in France

Starting from 12PM, French people start going for lunch. Anytime between 12PM and 2PM is considered as a “normal” lunch time but most people choose to eat between 12:30 and 13:30.

A typical French lunch includes:

  • A starter – this can be a salad, charcuterie or quiche
  • A main dish with meat/fish and vegetables, rice, potatoes or pasta
  • Cheese – it usually is a platter with several types of cheese and you take a piece of each (or whichever one you want)
  • Dessert, yoghurt or fruit – desserts are patisseries. They are usually eaten at the restaurant or at the weekend. The other days, people go for something lighter which is a fruit or yoghurt.
  • Coffee – all French people end their lunch with a “café”. This is a small coffee, espresso type. They would never order a cappuccino or something big. If they want milk they would ask for a “café noisette” which has a drop of milk in.
  • Optional: a glass of wine. France is known for its wine and it’s true that a lot of French people will have a glass of wine during lunch. They tend not to do it when they are working though unless that’s a business lunch.

When they are in a rush, the French will opt for a sandwich. In France, sandwiches are made with baguettes. The most famous one is the “Jambon Beurre”. It’s a half baguette with butter and ham.

No matter what, the French like to keep it simple. There shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 ingredients inside the sandwich.

It’s also important to know that sandwiches are seen as junk food in France so people try to avoid them. In the UK, it’s normal for people to eat a sandwich every day for lunch.

In France, it’s not. All workplace provide a microwave so workers can take a Tupperware and re-heat their meal.

4PM: Snack (“Goûter”)

This one is probably the most french meal of all. At 4PM, people eat a little snack. This is known as the “goûter” and can sometimes be referred to as “Le 4 heures” which literally means “the 4PM”.

This meal is typically for children. Once they leave school, they get their snack which then will make them wait until dinner.

A goûter is a biscuit, cake or fruit.

Every single french child gets it, every day! Adults don’t eat it as much but it’s still very common for grown-ups to do so as well.

6PM to 8PM: Apéritif – OPTIONAL

Kir Aperitif in France

The Apéritif (also called Apéro) is not exactly a meal but more of a gathering with friends for drinks.

After work (and before dinner), people meet up with friends or stop by their house for an apéro. This usually includes:

  • A couple of drinks (Pastis, Moscatel, Kyr…)
  • Quick snacks (peanuts, pistachios…)

Obviously, the French don’t do that every day but it is a very popular concept. It happens at least once a week.

Also, when they invite friends for a meal, they will always ask them to come a couple of hours early for the Apéro.

Please note that the word “Apéritif” also refers to this specific category of drinks.

If you go to a restaurant in the evening, the waiter may ask you if you’d like an “Apéritif”.

In this case, he would be referring to sweet drinks or spirit we usually drink before dinner.

7PM to 9PM: Dinner (“Diner”)

French people usually eat dinner between 7PM and 9PM. It really depends on the household and their habits. People with kids tend to eat between 7PM and 8PM. Younger people often eat later, between 8PM and 9PM.

No matter what, NOBODY eats before 7PM. It may be normal in Northern Europe to eat dinner at 5 or 6 PM, this is not the case in France.

As a matter of fact, you will never find any restaurant that will serve you at this time. They start serving at 7PM until 10/11PM.

Traditional French Dishes

1. Duck Confit

Duck Confit in France

The French love duck! Especially in South West France. They cook it in many ways but the favourite is the duck confit (“Confit de canard”). The pieces of duck are kept in a jar, in its own grease and then cooked in the oven. The grease makes the meat extremely soft and tasty. It will literally melt on your tongue. An absolute delight to eat with salad or fries!

2. Escargot

escargots france

Yes, the French do eat snails! But so does their Spanish and North African neighbours. Yet the French make them in a very unique way, which is why it is so good!

After being cleaned and prepared, the snail is placed back in its shell with a garlic and parsley butter. A few minutes in the oven and it’s all it takes to be ready.

The butter stuffing is delicious which makes this little dish absolutely delicious.

That having been said, don’t think the French eat snails every day! It’s a dish kept for special occasions such as family dinners or Christmas.

3. Cheese

Cheese in France

Who says France says cheese (and wine, but we will get to that later!). The French love their cheese and eat them at every meal between the main and dessert. Each region of France has its own typical cheeses. Generally, this comes from local productions. For example, in the Pyrenees, you will find a lot of Ewe milk cheese and in Auvergne, a lot of cow milk cheese.

But they don’t only eat them in their natural shape, you can find plenty of dishes based on cheese.

4. Fondue

French food fondue

The Fondue is a swiss and French dish. The cheese used to make fondue is only produced in the Alps, hence the two countries sharing the origin of the dish.

That having been said, it is important to note that you will find two kinds of Fondue. The Swiss fondue is made of melted cheese where you dip pieces of bread. The Bourguignon fondue is boiling oil where you dip pieces of beef.

They are both delicious! Not too good if you are on a diet though.

It’s a very sociable meal as you all share the same pot!

5. Raclette

raclette french food

A bit like the Fondue, the Raclette is both French and swiss. The Raclette cheese is only made in the Alps.

The principle is simple. The cheese is placed in the middle of the table, on or in a machine that melts it. Meanwhile, you put diverse things on your plate such as salami, ham, saucisson, boiled potatoes, beef, mushrooms… and once your piece of cheese has melted, you tip it over your food.

A bit like the fondue, it’s a very sociable meal and the French’s favourite Dinner party in winter.

6. Cassoulet

cassoulet french

The Cassoulet is a speciality from south west France made with meat (Toulouse sausage or duck) and beans, slow-cooked as a casserole.

This delicious dish is the soul of the South West cuisine and is a must-try if you go to Toulouse or Carcassonne.

7. Truffade

Truffade in France

The Truffade is a typical dish made in Auvergne with cheese (young Cantal) and potatoes.

You will generally find it with either sausages or ham.

8. Aligot

Aligot in France

Aligot originates from a neighbour region, the Aveyron. It uses the same ingredients as the Truffade but not cooked the same way. In this case, it’s made with mash potatoes.

You will generally find it with sausage.

9. Frog Legs

frog legs french food

Yes, this is not a myth either. The French do eat frogs. There are different ways to cook them and it would be hard to describe the main way. It’s not common to find them in restaurants but is not impossible.

10. Quiche

quiche french food

Quiches are a very common starter for a French meal. The traditional quiche, the quiche Lorraine, is made with lardons and cheese but each family has its own little variations of it. Here are some of the most common: salmon quiche, onion quiche, leek quiche…

11. Beef Bourguignon

boeur bourguignon france

This beef stew is cooked in red wine and is one of France’s favourite dish. It’s slowly cooked for 4 hours and is generally eaten with either pasta or potatoes.

12. Blanquette de veau

blanquette de veau

A bit like the beef bourguignon, the Blanquette de veau is a stew made with white wine and veal. This absolutely delicious French dish is a must try during any trip to France!

We hope you enjoy these 12 French foods and will eat the best things in France!

Quick facts and things to know about France and French Food

Sandwich in France

Here are a few things that you need to know about France and the French. This will help you understand better the food etiquette and why things are how they are.

  1. French people get between 1 and 2 hours for their lunch break. This may seem long for other people, but in France, we don’t kid with our meals! For this reason, a lot of people go to the restaurant for lunch, hence the “Menu du Jour” and “Plats du jour” you may see on the board of restaurants at lunchtime.
  2. French people don’t drink wine without food. Wine is something you drink during a meal. It’s pretty unusual to get wine without food. When the French want to get an alcoholic drink, they go for an Apéro and opt for a spirit or sweet wine.
  3. Taxes and service are included. In France, all prices are inclusive of tax, service and any other fee there may be. You will never have to add anything. The price you see is what you will pay!
  4. Take-aways barely exist in France. Whether we are talking about food or coffee, take aways really aren’t common. Most restaurants and cafes don’t do it. If you want to grab a coffee to take away, you should ask beforehand if they do that as you may be disappointed.
  5. French people eat bread at every meal. There is nothing more important than bread in France. You will find it on every French table! Most people literally can not eat without bread.
  6. Water and bread are free at the restaurant. When you go out for a meal, the waiter will always bring you water and bread. You can ask for more as much as you want. This is always included in the price. You will never be charged for it (unless you request bottled water)

Should you tip in France?

restaurant dish in France with view

All workers in France get at the very least minimum wage. The minimum wage is supposed to be enough for anyone to live. Although this is debatable, that does mean that people don’t rely on your tips to live. In the USA, you are very much expected to tip. It would be considered rude not to do so.

This is not the case in France. Most people do not tip. It is simply not our culture to tip. That being said, it doesn’t mean that we never do it!

French people tip when they get outstanding service. This could be that the food was delicious but usually, it’s because the waiter was amazing. When the server is very nice to you and really goes above and beyond everything to make your experience better, you should tip. In this case, 10% of the bill would be a good amount.

Please note that due to the number of international visitors in Paris, waiters in the capital are used to getting tipped more than anywhere else in France. For this reason, you may feel more inclined to tip in Paris.

You may also be interested in:

Best books about France and the French

Things to do in Toulouse

Fun facts about Paris

Things to do in Paris, France