Since I wrote about it being one of my favorite things in France, this week we’ll take a deep dive into French cuisine! Many (most) French restaurants offer a discounted lunch menu, which makes it a great time to eat out! For a price that’s often barely above the dinner “plat” price, you can have a three-course meal!
Not to be confused with the American usage (meaning the main dish), the entrée in France is the appetizer or starter. It’s also not a massive platter (usually) that could serve as a full meal or be shared with the table.
Various soups and salads are often offered as the entrée, but a small slice of quiche, pâté or other savory treats can be found as well. I am particularly fond of quiche, but also the soups and salads! There are hot soups, cold soups (like gazpacho) and the salads can be a simple mix of shredded veggie prepared similarly to coleslaw or standard lettuce with various meats and/or cheese. The types of lettuce often change with the season also though.
I haven’t seen soup yet, but I know that it will be a frequent option soon! I was pretty unaware of the natural growing season of many fruits and vegetables when I lived in the US, but you rapidly become knowledgeable in France. A fruit or vegetable will be everywhere and served in a variety of dishes, then it disappears until the next year!
In France, this is the main dish. It’s generally a meat or fish dish, although there are French restaurants that offer vegetarian options. Of the four places that I eat most often, two offer vegetarian options, but none of them are included in the daily lunch specials. The vegetarian options are typically only offered at restaurants with a larger menu. The two places that don’t offer vegetarian have the limited menu of two entrées, two plats and a few desserts to choose from.
When I first arrived, I was a little horrified by the limited options – what if none of them sounded good? In reality, it forced me to try things that I might not have tried otherwise and I’ve learned that I like a much larger variety of vegetables than I thought. Of course, when I tried some of the same vegetables in the US, I didn’t like them . . . or at some large-menu French restaurants. A restaurant owner told us that the daily choices are generally the best (I concur) because they are made from whatever was fresh at the market. The other options (when offered) are probably frozen, canned, etc. in order to be available at all times. Apparently, I have a strong preference for fresh veggies that were harvested at full ripeness. Even when available, my veggie consumption in the US goes way down because they often don’t taste good to me. For example, I don’t like tomatoes or peas in the US, but I like both (in moderation) in France.
So, dessert is going to be split into two categories because café gourmand really needs to have its own section! At some restaurants, you’ll be offered a separate cheese course before dessert; however, at others, a variety of cheeses are a “dessert” choice within the three-course meal.
I don’t often select cheese because it’s not quite a dessert from an American perspective! Plus, look at these beautiful desserts! It’s not uncommon for some sort of fruit to be included in the dessert, which is often fresh and seasonal. While I was never a huge fan of strawberries in the US (and I still don’t like the massive ones here that come from Spain), I love the small, sweet French strawberries. It’s also hard to get “bored” eating in France because the menu is always changing. We’re currently in root vegetable, apple and fig season based on the recent offerings.
The French frequently have coffee after a meal, especially a larger meal, and it does actually seem to help. I think it may be for the same reason that they like to have a small salad with a vinegar-based dressing just after, or with, a fatty dish – it helps cut the fat from the meal and makes it easier to digest. Of course, I’m no expert, so I can only say that I have noticed a difference when I have an espresso after a heavy meal and when I don’t. I clearly feel better after having a hot beverage.
While the French usually drink the espresso AFTER dessert (not with), the café gourmand combines the best of both worlds – mini desserts and an espresso. It’s a brilliant idea and the tiny desserts are a fun way to try different options without it being too rich.
Some restaurants also offer a thé (tea) gourmand or even a (hot) chocolat gourmand. I’ve had a couple “gourmands” that were only “ok” with desserts were clearly sub-par compared to the dessert menu offerings. “Gourmand” remains a favorite though and I’m lucky that we have a restaurant in town that does one of the best café gourmands that I’ve tried (O City’ven – pictured below).
After this tasty preview of French food, I’m sure you can understand why it is one of my favorite things about France!