When I first arrived in Paris to study for the year, I was determined to absorb every aspect of French life. I wanted to mimic how the French lived, not just to fit in (and not be pegged as a tourist), but also so that I could completely understand my new environment. You can’t fully appreciate and embrace another language if you don’t have a solid understanding of its culture. So I set out to eat like the Parisians, walk as much as they did, drink what they drank, and embrace a little “joie de vivre.”
Since so many French people, especially Parisians, are thin, I thought for sure that there was some secret that I would discover while living there. But what I found was pretty much exactly what everyone remarks about the French: there was a lot of bread, cheese, cream, and butter. Hmmm. In the States, that’s a recipe for a Jenny Craig membership. But in Paris, it seemed to work.
What I realized was that there was far more to this diet than initially meets the eye. The French are very focused on eating good food. They make daily trips to the market to get fresh produce. They stop by the boulangerie on their way home from work to pick up a warm baguette. The ingredients they use are hardly ever full of preservatives, sodium, and refined sugar, like so much of what is found in the pantry of Americans. In Paris you will find a lot of things raw or unpasteurized, including (especially) cheese. They allow their fromage to age and ripen and develop incredible flavor. There are no Kraft singles to be found. The French understand that the quality of the ingredients means the food that they’re preparing will taste better, and will be better for their bodies.
Beyond the high quality and freshness of ingredients, there’s the approach to food that is so different for the French than it is for us. They sit and enjoy it. A meal is something to be savored. By not snacking throughout the day, they come to the table hungry and ready to truly taste whatever it is that they are eating. They don’t do so in front of the TV, but over conversation with family and friends. Parisians savor their meals, which they eat slowly and with intention.
In thinking about what foods to present for this article, I realized I wouldn’t find any new trends or fads that have popped up in Paris. I remembered that the City of Light and (France in general) is a place where tradition reigns. And to be honest, they have no need for a new fad or diet, because their food really is exquisite. If you have the opportunity to go to Paris, be sure to enjoy every delicacy available to you. And if you want to create a bit of France in your own kitchen, don’t forget to pay close attention to your ingredients, because they will make or break your meal.
Next page: Breakfast in Paris!
Baguette and jam
Sounds simple enough, but often the French will take the leftover baguette from dinner the night before, and toast it up with some jam. Pair that with coffee or tea, and they’re set.
For Parisians on the go, Muesli is often a breakfast option. It’s similar to granola and is eaten, like cereal, with milk.
It’s cliché because it’s true: many Parisians enjoy a nice croissant (plain, au chocolat, or almond) or some other freshly made viennoiserie.
If you stroll through Paris at lunchtime, you’ll see countless brasseries and storefronts with ready-made paninis and sandwiches. After a quick press on a panini grill, this lunchtime favorite is ready and delicious. You’ll find countless options, including mozzarella and tomato, ham and cheese, or even smoked salmon.
Sandwich jambon beurre
Right next to those paninis are sandwiches made on fresh baguette. A favorite is ham and butter, but you can also easily find ham and camembert, vegetarian, tuna or chicken.
One of my favorite things to eat when living in Paris was cuisine from other cultures. There is a large Jewish contingent in Paris, so you’ll often find unbelievable (Kosher) falafel.
Next page: Typical French dinners
As you walk around Paris, you’re bound to constantly smell Thanksgiving, or that’s what it felt like to me when I was living there. (I may have been a bit homesick.) On what seems like every corner you will find chickens turning on a rotisserie. And they are scrumptious. The French take their poulet rôti seriously. In bistros, it’s often served with haricots verts and potatoes.
There’s not much to be said about this dish, other than it’s unbelievably tasty, and far better than you should expect it to be.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants around Paris offering this dish (mussels with fries). Take advantage of it. The dish is classic and you’ll be licking your fingers for days.
Parisians eat a lot of fish, but my favorite homemade poisson while there was always salmon. My host family often made it with a dill crème fraîche and cooked it in parchment paper in the oven.
Savory tarts are very standard in French homes. On an easy night, my host mother would throw one together with some vegetables, ham, cheese and eggs, but the possibilities are endless.
Cheese and bread
Every good French home finishes a meal with fromage and baguette. They stop by the fromagerie to pick up some family favorites (which often includes camembert or chèvre) and some different options that might stand out. But it’s important to note that they don’t devour the entire cheese plate. Just a piece or two, smothered on some baguette, and then it’s put away for dinner the following night.