The variety and finesse of French cuisine is probably unique. Vegetables, cheese, butter and fruit are always fresh in French restaurants. However, cafeterias and fast-food restaurants are springing up like mushrooms here too, and good quality is not always guaranteed. The simple, delicious food that has made France famous can be found in the bistros and restaurants. A distinction is made between »gastronomy« (haute cuisine) and home-style cooking. The time and expense involved make it almost impossible to indulge in haute cuisine in everyday life. However, the home cooking tastes just as good. It determines the menu in most French households, and recipes are often passed down from generation to generation. Almost all restaurants offer two menus: à la carte (large choice for each course and therefore expensive) and le menu (daily specials at fixed prices). In simple restaurants there is no extra cutlery for each course. The Tourist Office publishes a restaurant guide for Paris and the Ile-de-France. Many restaurants close one day a week and for a month during the summer. You should inquire about the exact opening hours, especially on Sundays many restaurants are closed. Eating out doesn’t have to be expensive. In France, mealtimes are generally fixed – lunch is served between 12pm and 1.30pm, and dinner between 8pm and 9.30pm. As a rule, the larger the city,
Duck pies, ficelle Picardie (egg pancakes with ham and mushrooms) and Flemish aux poireaux are also served in Picardy. In the Champagne-Ardennes region there are hams from Reims and sanglier (wild boar), fish specialties are ecrevisses (crayfish) and brochets (pike). Alsace-Lorraine is the land of choucroute (sauerkraut) and tarte flambée (onion tart). Spicy and distinctive sauces characterize Breton cuisine, and shellfish is their speciality; the Homard à l’Américaine (lobster with cream sauce) deserves a special mention. Lyon, the main city of the Rhône Valley, is the center of French gastronomy. A local specialty is quenelles de brochet (pike pie with crayfish sauce). Bordeaux competes with Lyon for the title of »French culinary capital«. Aquitaine cuisine uses a lot of goose fat. The nickname “Perigord” stands for the addition of truffles. In the Pyrenees, especially in and around Toulouse, you’ll find salmon and cassoulet (bean stew). France is famous for its 365 types of cheese. The best known are Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, Reblochon and the blue cheeses of Auvergne and Bresse. Soufflé Grand Marnier, Oeufs à la Neige (meringue and custard), Mille Feuilles (puff pastries filled with vanilla cream), Ganache (chocolate pastries), Paris-Brest (cream puffs with hazelnut cream filling), fruit tarts and pies are just a few of the delicious desserts.
The opening hours are determined by the innkeeper, in large cities and holiday resorts the bars are usually open all day, some until 2 a.m. in the morning. There are also bars and cafes that are open at night. In smaller communities, the bars close a little earlier. Alcohol may not be served to young people under the age of 18. Children and young people are only allowed to enter taprooms when accompanied by adults and are not allowed to drink any alcoholic beverages. In the restaurant, only one person pays the bill. It is not customary to pay separately.
In the restaurant or cafe 10-15% are given. The tip is simply left on the table along with the payment. A 10-15% service charge is included in hotel bills, but it’s also customary to leave a few coins on the table. Ushers, porters, bellhops, cloakroom and toilet attendants, hairdressers and beauticians receive tips. Taxi drivers expect 10% of the fare as a tip.
Wine is by far the most popular drink among the French, and the offering varies from region to region. Inexpensive wine (Vin Ordinaire) is of very variable quality. There are the following categories: AC (Appellation contrôlée), VDQS (Vin delimité de qualité supérieure), Vin de Pays (country wine) and Vin de Table (table wine). France has several wine regions, the best known being Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Rhône and Champagne. The waiters help with the selection, in the expensive restaurants the sommelier or cellar master is responsible for this. If in doubt, you should try the house wine, which is usually the pride of the innkeeper and is relatively inexpensive. Coffee is always served after the meal (not with dessert), black and in small cups, unless you order café au lait (or crème). Liqueurs such as Chartreuse, Framboise and Genepi (a special liqueur made from local herbs) are offered. Some drinks like calvados (apple brandy) and eau-de-vie are quite strong and should be consumed with caution, especially after a few glasses of wine. Spirits are served as “doubles”, smaller amounts should be ordered as baby. The choice of aperitifs is enormous. Typically French is pastis (e.g. Ricard and Pernod). The Nord, Pas-de-Calais and Picardie regions do not have their own wines, beer is brewed and cider is made here. Alsace is said to brew the best beer in France, but there are also good white wines like Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sylvaner, as well as fruit schnapps like Kirsch and Framboise.
Minimum age for consumption of alcoholic beverages
In France, you can drink alcohol from the age of 18.