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Sauternes, a honey sweet wine, waiting for the tasting.

Baguettes at a typical boulangerie, or bread bakery.

Dried fruit stall at Cajarc market.

Fresh oysters and langoustines on the table in La Rochelle, Brittany.

Foie Gras, fattened goose liver, is a rare and expensive French dish.

Cheeses and apple cider are specialities of the Pays d'Auge region of Normandy.

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France

 

An encyclopaedia of flavours


T
he canon of classic French cuisine with its sauces and reductions, herbs and refined flavourings is only one aspect of culinary France. Rustic local creations and foods of peasant origin have been perfected for the finest tables as well. Consider the hearty bean and meat casserole known as cassoulet; the fisherman's stew of bouillabaisse with its spicy, garlicky sauce called rouille; or the French version of a Mediterranean peasant picnic, the Grand Aioli, steamed vegetables, potatoes and fish served with a garlicky mayonnaise sauce.

 

From the biggest urban districts to the tiniest French villages, you'll find specialist shops bursting with temptations. Nowhere in Europe is the supermarket less important. The French shopper selects crusty bread and tender croissants from the boulangerie, elaborate tartes and rich cakes from the patisserie, candied fruits and confectionery from the confiserie and a vast array of cheeses from the local fromagerie.


A local accent


Look for the best regional ingredients and local dishes when traveling in France. In the north seafood and shellfish feature on menus. Normandy's grasslands produce rich cream and milk for the best cheeses in the country as well as creamy sauces and desserts. Apples from Normandy's orchards go into the bubbly local cider and calvados, a well-aged apple brandy, as well as Pommeau, a blend of both. In the south, herbs like rosemary and thyme join the classic Mediterranean ingredients - tomatoes, garlic, onions in another distinctive style. The Perigord produces such iconic ingredients as foie gras and truffles while its dark forests are rich with wild mushrooms of all sorts.


The French are so proud of their regional ingredients that they often carry a local name and an appellation controllée - similar to wine - protecting their origin and identity by law - Limousin cherries, Charolais beef, Cavaillon melons.


And speaking of wine


When the French talk about "L'Art de Vivre", the art of living, wine leads that conversation. French wines (and such associated products as Cognac, brandy and Armagnac) attract academics, collectors, hobbiests and serious connoiseurs. Luckily for the rest of us, they are also very enjoyable to drink. Touring the various wine growing regions, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire and Rhône Valleys, Alsace and the emerging wine regions of Provence and Languedoc Roussillon is probably the best way to experience France in all its glorious variety.