Eating in France
WAYS TO DINE
In France there are countless ways to dine: on the hop, at the bar, seated on a terrace for a leisurely meal, in fast-food restaurants, at sandwich shops, in bakeries, brasseries…and Michelin-starred restaurants. In short, there’s no lack of choice. International cuisines are also available as well, including Mexican, Japanese, Indian, Turkish, Indian, Scandinavian, and more. You can also prepare your own meals by buying fresh produce at one the many local markets, which usually feature local specialities.
In France, people dine three times per day.
• Breakfast, between 7 a.m and 9 a.m, usually consists of a hot drink (coffee, tea, or chocolate) and a croissant and/or bread with butter and jam.
• Lunch, between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., is a real meal, usually lasting one hour, that includes first course, main course and dessert, often capped by a cup of espresso coffee.
• Dinner, sometime around 8 p.m., also lasts an hour and includes an hors d’oeuvre, a hot dish, and dessert.
For the first time ever, the ‘French gastronomic meal’ was listed as part of Intangible Cultural Heritage on 16 November 2010. Never before had UNESCO’s cultural commission thus honoured a culinary tradition. It all began back on 23 February 2008, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy, upon opening the country’s annual Agricultural Trade Show, announced that France would apply to UNESCO to have its gastronomy listed as part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
UNESCO recognition pertained to the following elements of a full, traditional meal (first course, second course, dessert):
• The choice of dishes from among an ever-growing body of recipes;
• The purchase of good, preferably local, produce whose flavours marry well;
• The right combination of food and wine;
• The attractive appearance of the table;
• Special techniques for appreciating dishes (smelling and tasting what is put on the table).
But to what end? The point is to encourage, support and help finance the development of tools and initiatives for defending and preserving French culinary traditions.
In order to reach these goals, a certain number of concrete measures have been taken:
• The organisation of educational campaigns in schools (for example, by encouraging partnerships with hotel-and-restaurant schools),
• The documentation of elements that comprise this intangible heritage (for example, a national register of culinary heritage)
• The establishment of lists of cultural events (for example, developing wine tourism).
These measures include the national food program presented by the French government in September 2010, as implemented in partnership with private and institutional partners. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fish, Rural and Regional Development has been collaborating with the Ministry of Culture and Communication to valorise culinary products and expertise, to encourage gastronomic tourism in France, and to promote French culinary heritage abroad.
There are many gourmet guide books that list good restaurants. The most famous is obviously the Michelin guide, which awards the country’s greatest chefs a certain number of stars (from 1 to 3) on the basis of highly demanding criteria that include not only the quality and originality of the food but also the standard of welcome, service and ambiance. The Gault & Millau guide is also well known, as are the Hachette and Petitrenaud guides. Bon appétit!