The Famous "Art de Vivre à la Française"
Parisian cuisine and cooking are often considered the underpinning of many cuisines across the West, thanks to the intricate and well-thought techniques.
A lot in the famous culinary world comes from French cuisine.
Even the word and idea - restaurant - come from the end of the French Revolution 178, when the nouveau riche had more money to spend.
The world owes cafés, bistros, and the grilled cheese sandwich (croque-monsieur in French) to the French food culture. Not only did the culture give the world dishes and delicacies but also critique gastronomique or food critic, and the Michelin Guides.
The added elegance and flair make the cuisine intimidating for beginners, making cooks feel they must live up to a certain unattainable couth.
What is it about the Parisian cuisine that earns it this status? Let’s begin with the beginning to understand.
What is the Food Culture in Paris?
Food in France is a big deal in general, and Paris serves the sprucest of its dishes and delights. Rows and rows of opulent restaurants, chic cafés, and charming bistros stud the cobbled streets of the French capital. Every recipe has its go-to wine. The appearance and aesthetics of the dishes matter just as much as the texture and taste. In everything you order, there will be a pop of colour.
Food in Paris is more than just about satiating hunger. The French spend much time at the dining table, and much socializing is done around lengthy meals. Hence the time, effort, attention to detail, and intriguing cooking methods.
Because French cooking styles are bold in their culinary experiments, they evolved from saucier and more complicated to what reflects a more modern yet sophisticated society. The present-day French cuisine is a balanced amalgamation of new recipes but old ingredients. The classics like ratatouille and "coq-au-vin" remain international favorites.
From a native guide perspective
Contrary to the fancy and intimidating image of French cuisine, the dishes of the local diet are simple. While you will be hard-pressed to find someone with a bowl of quinoa or a glass of green juice, they do tend to use unprocessed, natural ingredients that are vitamin- and mineral-rich.
What do people eat in the world’s most famous culinary destination?
The baguette stereotype is not very far from the truth. The French are fond of simpler meals like bread, soups, honey, butter, jam, pastry, and yoghurt. It is especially true for the breakfasts, which the French call le petit-déjeuner meaning small lunch. Breakfast is also a skippable meal in the country, often replaced with a cup of black coffee, tea, or café au lait.
The déjeuner is the heartiest meal of the day and runs multi-course. It usually starts with an entrée like salad or soup, moves on to plat principal or main course with a choice of meat alongside potatoes, vegetables, rice, or pasta, and ends with either a cheese course or a dessert. When not eating at a restaurant, the lunch typically includes having a sandwich or bread with spreads, salad, soup, or charcuterie. In any case, the essential part for them – as stated before – is to eat in the company of others.
Le dîner, the dinner, depends on how indulgent the lunch was. The French like to keep their end-of-the-day meal light. It starts with a starter like salad, vegetables, soup, or raw meat. It gradually moves forward to the mains that usually include stew or gratin alongside a meat dish with boiled vegetables. Fruits in yoghurt mark the dessert, and everything is paired with wine!
History of the Evolution of the Food Culture in Paris
Up until the 16th century, France had - what we call - peasant food, meaning it was simplistic and underdeveloped in taste and appearance without extravagant adornments of any sort.
Culinary renaissance of Paris
On September 1st, 1533, Catherine de Medici of Italy left Florence for France to marry the future King Henry II.
Notice that the French were still eating large buffets by hand or with a tablespoon off wooden or metal plates when Italy had table service, silverware, Murano glass, and porcelain.
In Medici’s Florence, the elite had already gotten rid of buffets and feasts, adopting the more sophisticated “Russian style” consisting of 3-12 services.
This “modern” culinary culture was soon passed on to the French. Although, the medieval tradition of enjoying lengthy meals in the company of others remains deeply rooted in the French food culture.
Catherine brought with her culinary refinements, Florentine cooks, Italian dining etiquette, and speciality food. And with that, French cuisine underwent its very own culinary renaissance.
Gone were the buffets. Catherine taught the elite how to eat at the table and patiently wait as different course meals were served one after the other in an organized way.
Catherine’s cook, Panterelli, invented the hot dough, known by the eponym pâté a Panterelli. The dough was later perfected to pâté a chou, the base of several popular French desserts.
With the help of Florentine artisans and travellers, Catherine imported and introduced jams, jellies, nougats, glazed chestnuts, macaroons, and much more to France.
Soon large portions of over-cooked meat replaced the small plates. Dishes incorporated more vegetables and butter. Exotic truffles were now being introduced into stews. The “modern” herbs like thyme, chervil, and parsley added the fresh taste and aroma of the new world. Brought by the would-be queen herself, these desserts became the new way of eating for the high aristocracy.
The evolution of French cuisine had only started. Later, it would undergo gastronomical revolutions like the “nouvelle cuisine” in 1760. The course lightened the cream sauces and insisted on focusing on only selected tastes using fewer ingredients. It was essentially a backlash to Italian gastronomy. People wanted the Classique simplistic preparations and unelaborate presentations back.
In the twentieth century, dramatic haute cuisine further replaced nouvelle cuisine. It was made famous for its flair, intimidating preparation, and precise presentation until the critics deemed it too flexible.
What Makes the Food in Paris Taste So Good?
The secret to the deliciousness of French cuisine lies in the Middle Ages. With few ways to keep the freshness of the ingredients preserved, people then decided to cook based on what was readily available.
Modern cooking continues this tradition by utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients. Chef goes every morning looking for locally grown, seasonal produce from Fresh Markets. This old farm-to-table gourmet culture is what makes the food in Paris taste so good.
Rungis Market: The Centre of All Food in France
The belly of Paris, the Rungis Market, has its roots in the 5th century on the Île de la Cité. The original market later transferred to the Place de Grève (were Hôtel de Ville now stands). It survived several reigns through the Middle Ages, Modern Era, and Contemporary Era to become the world’s largest wholesale market for fresh game, produce, and ingredients.
The market also adheres to the EU-implemented bio and organic food rules, which strictly bans chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, and synthetic fertilizers and limits livestock antibiotics. It insists on crop rotation to ensure quality organic produce and efficient use of resources. Tailored animal husbandry practices guarantee animal welfare too.
Bio is the organic Food in Paris
When in Paris, eating healthy and clean is right on-trend!
The city boasts a string of natural restaurants as well as canteens. You will find eateries that are cosy, friendly, chic, in-vogue, and even vintage-style. A quick peek into their menu reveals organic, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options that do not compromise taste.
But what does a “natural” restaurant or canteen mean?
These are the eateries with seasonal menus using regional farm-to-table ingredients. The serving dishes will depend on the produce available in the season. The practice indicates that the owner is using fresh ingredients for cooking.
TIP : Beware of restaurants with all kinds of food. If the restaurant has a long menu, with many choices and a small cuisine, this means they freeze food or serve canned food.
As restaurants in Paris do not have too much space to cook a wide variety of meals, those serving an extensive menu probably store frozen or canned food.
Interested in a Food Tour with Flora ?
Given how comprehensive the history of French cuisine and the vast food culture in Paris is, the best way to experience them entirely is by taking a food tour in Paris.
Learn hidden French food culture facts to get a fresh perspective on the eclectic, world-famous cuisine. Hire a tour guide in Paris to show you the culinary practices, reveal cooking techniques, and the Paris café culture.
Take advantage of my experience and steal adapted tips to find good (natural) restaurants with your preferred setting.
In short, make most of your Parisian food tourism.
Contact me by email : flora@tours-in-paris