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A gastronomic tour de France

The highlights of French cuisine, region by region

  Long Read Special

French food is a regional affair, guided by a simple founding belief. This is the notion of terroir, an understanding that each region has its own set of geological, climatic and topological circumstances that guides what foodstuffs are produced and how they are best prepared for the table.

The result is a national cuisine that is as diverse as the landscape, where tradition and innovation go hand in hand. And wherever you eat in France you’ll find sensational flavours and culinary techniques. At Belle France we aim to help you experience these, choosing more interesting, authentic menus where you’ll have a choice to savour.

For us, gastronomy is definitely an integral part of our walking and cycling holidays.
Here’s our region by region run down of just some of the classics and the highlights that you might encounter.

Carbonnade flamande - Northern France
Carbonnade flamande - Northern France

Northern France

The cold, northern winters have long inspired hearty stews and rib-sticking dishes to fill the belly after a long day in the fields – or perhaps a day in the saddle on a Belle France holiday!

Carbonnade flamande

This is a northern Flemish classic, with links to Belgium too. Carbonnade is a beef and onion stew, involving good local beer and a sweet and sour finish. Usually served with fries or potatoes it is a staple on many a menu in the provincial estaminets or cafés.

Want to make this? We recommend following Nigella's recipe

Omelette de la Mère Poulard - Normandy
Omelette de la Mère Poulard - Normandy

Normandy

Known for its rich dairy-based cuisine, with world class cheeses and creams produced from the cattle reared on the lush pastures of this idyllic region. Cheeses like Camembert are prevalent here, also superb fish dishes such as sole meunière made with plenty of Normandy butter. Orchards are prolific, with apples, pears and cherries in abundance - Calvados and cider need no introduction.

Omelette de la Mère Poulard

Sometimes greatness is astonishingly simple. The freshest of eggs and a little traditional savoir-faire ensures the fluffiest of fluffy omelettes, served up like delicate pillows with a sprinkling of fine herbs.

Galette de sarrasin - Brittany
Galette de sarrasin - Brittany

Brittany

A largely coastal regional renowned for its seafood, where the assiette de fruits de mer is beautiful thing. Piled high with crustaceans of every description, it provides as much culinary theatre as sensational flavours. Brittany also offers the world the crêpe and the galette - sublime concoctions that are supremely adaptable to sweet or savoury.

Galette de sarrasin

In Brittany, crêpes and galettes are commonplace everyday classics, designed originally as a substitute for bread. Galettes are made with buckwheat, embellished with additional ingredients and then folded. One of the most common variations is the Galette Complète, served with grated cheese, ham and an egg.

Want to make this? We recommend following the Dove's Farm recipe.

Kouign Amann

A Breton treat, this crusty cake is made with bread dough enriched with butter and sugar. Purists and aficionados maintain the optimum recipe requires a ratio of 40% dough, 30% butter, and 30% sugar. This is not something for the faint hearted or the diet conscious!

Want to make this? We recommend follow the BBC Good Food recipe.

Tarte Tatin - Loire
Tarte Tatin - Loire

Loire Valley

The Garden of France is blessed with pleasant pastures of grazing cattle, plentiful fish from the rivers and large lakes. Goat cheese, an array of vegetables and seasonal game from the swathes of forest will feature on any menu.

Tarte Tatin

The famous story of the ‘upside down’ cake is rooted in Orléans, a city with no shortage of wonderful other pastries and cakes. A mistake was made in an overly busy restaurant in Lamotte-Beuvron and the upended result was pronounced delicious and a gastronomic sensation was born.

Want to make this? We recommend following Raymond Blanc's recipe on BBC Good Food.

Tarte flambée Alsacienne - Alsace
Tarte flambée Alsacienne - Alsace

Alsace

Along the border with Germany culinary influences are blurred and interchangeable. Sauerkraut, fermented cabbage, is ever present here, a regional gastronomic symbol that can stem from three traditional recipes: garnie or dressed, royaleand de la mer.

With ingredients ranging from sausages to bacon, smoked pork, potatoes and even seafood, there’s something for all tastes. Sauerkraut goes superbly with the regional wine, in particular Gewurztraminer, a slightly spicy wine that stands up well to the strong flavours.

Quiche Lorraine

Another simple dish, considered a French classic and widely copied and exported. This is an open pie with a filling of creamy, cheesy custard with lardons, set in a flaky, butter crust. Best served warm, perhaps with a side salad, this is one of France’s iconic regional signature dishes.

Want to make this? We recommend following the Food Nouveau recipe.

Baeckeoffe

A hearty dish from the snowy, wintry hills of Alsace, baeckeoffe (literally ‘baker’s oven’) combines sliced potatoes and onions with mutton, beef and pork marinated in white wine and juniper before being slow-cooked in a tight-lidded casserole.

Clearly a recipe that evolved through the practicalities of the hard working life, this dish was a way for women to have something to put on the table on laundry day. In the morning, they would take their prepped casseroles and pots to the baker, who would keep them in his oven during the day, with the children usually collecting them on their way home from school.

Tarte flambée Alsacienne

Sometimes known as flammenküeche, this is a dish made of bread dough rolled out very thinly, covered with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and lardons before being cooked in a wood-fired oven. Other variations involve mushrooms or cheese.

Want to make this? We recommend following Rick Stein's recipe on BBC Good Food.

Moules marinières - Atlantic Coast
Moules marinières - Atlantic Coast

Atlantic coast

The endless sandy beaches and sheltered harbours are famed for their seafood. Oysters in particular from the Ile d’Oléron, amongst other places, are highly prized.

Moules marinières, a combination of super fresh mussels cooked in white wine, garlic and parsley is the quintessential French holiday dish. Served with thin fries they are hard to resist. For a bit of a twist, try Mouclade, where the sauce is thickened with crème fraiche.

 Want to make this? We recommend following Rick Stein's recipe on BBC Good Food.

Oysters from the huge beds of the Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes region have been savoured since Roman times. Eaten raw, plain or with a squeeze of lemon, they can be found in high restaurants or on the streets as a fast food. Enjoy with a glass of Entre-deux-mers.

Canelés - Périgord
Canelés - Périgord

Périgord

A foodie paradise, the Périgord can claim countless dishes and staple ingredients on which its gastronomic reputation has been founded. Dark, fragrant truffles, walnuts, duck and fattened duck liver, fish from the Garonne and delicate fresh fruit in season create a wonderful, well stocked larder.

Canelés

A speciality from the region around Bordeaux, canelés are small French pastries flavoured with rum and vanilla, both ingredients that would have arrived from far-flung colonies in times past. The recipe calls for a base similar to a traditional French crêpe batter and ensures a soft custard centre with a thick caramelized crust.

Want to make this? We recommend following the Taste of Artisan recipe.

Cassoulet

Perhaps the ultimate rustic stew, cassoulet originally was a means of using up leftover scraps once the finer cuts and the foie gras had been set aside. Roasted meats (sausage, goose, duck and sometimes mutton) are simmered with vegetables before being cooked in goose fat with white beans and pork skin. There are slightly different recipes for each village, and indeed, each household. The best and most appropriate will always be hotly disputed!

Want to make this? We recommend following Raymond Blanc's recipe on BBC Good Food.

Coq au vin - Burgundy
Coq au vin - Burgundy

Burgundy

Often referred to as the gastronomic soul of France, Burgundy has a long history of fine produce, great wines and outstanding chefs of world repute, like Paul Bocuse. It’s also the birthplace of Dijon mustard and the Burgundian snails that the French have been enjoying for centuries.

Boeuf bourguignon

Charolais beef, gently braised with aromatic herbs, onions and red wine. This is another example of a rustic peasant dish that wormed its way into the illustrious recipe books of haute cuisine and is now a stone cold classic in the pantheon of French cuisine.

Want to make this? We recommend following Delia's recipe.

Coq au vin

A true winter warmer featuring chicken braised with red wine, lardons and mushrooms. It was traditionally served at the end of harvest, with the chicken, or rooster, seasoned and sometimes floured before being seared and slowly simmered in red Burgundy wine with lardons, mushrooms and herbs. Garlic and brandy are optional and, as any French cook knows, this is a dish to be prepared a day before eating.

Want to make this? We recommend following Raymond Blanc's recipe.

Lapin à la moutarde

Rabbit is a healthy meat, available to the common man through the centuries. A little culinary magic elevated it with the help of Dijon mustard, the key ingredient of this dish. The rabbit is coated with mustard and marinated for a few hours before cooking, before being served with rice or pasta.

Cuisse de canard confit - South Western France
Cuisse de canard confit - South Western France

South west

A vast region stretching from Bordeaux to the Spanish border. Here goose fat is the traditional cooking medium of choice, with duck a constant on every menu in some form or other. Salads can be sensational, notably salade landaise with duck gésiers and walnuts.

Cuisse de canard confit

Prevalent throughout Gascony and the south west where it was devised as a way to preserve meat, this dish involves cooking duck in its own fat. 

Want to make this? We recommend following John Torode's recipe on BBC Good Food.

Poule au pot

In 1600, King Henry IV of France stated his ambition that even the poorest peasant should be able to afford a chicken for poule au pot (chicken in the pot) on Sundays. Another classic among classics, this dish is basically chicken slow cooked with vegetables and herbs, sometimes with scraps of beef, until it falls off the bone.

Want to make this? We recommend following Delia's recipe.

Foie gras poêlé

Originating long ago in ancient Egypt, the practice of force feeding to create foie gras found its way to Europe and France. Today, though under threat and battling controversy, this luxurious gourmet dish can come as a whole (entier), cooked (cuit), or in a variety of forms like mousse, paté, parfait or frais (fresh).

In a restaurant it is commonly offered as a terrine served with dry toast and chutney. It can sometimes be served cooked, usually flash fried or seared with fruit such as fig or stone fruit, or with roast beef tenderloin (Tournedos Rossini).

Gâteau Basque - Pyrenees
Gâteau Basque - Pyrenees

Pyrenees

With influences from Spain and the mighty Pyrenees, this region offers a unique range of culinary experiences. The clear mountain air produces amazing depth of flavour in the Bayonne ham and finding a good fish soup on the coast can be one of your finest culinary encounters in France.

Piperade

The colours of this dish conveniently match the Basque flag: basic ingredients are sautéed onion, green peppers and bright red tomatoes. With added garlic and red Espelette pepper, it is served as a main course or a side, with egg and ham often added.

Want to make this? We recommend following Delia's recipe.

Gâteau Basque

Typically, Gâteau Basque is created from layers of shortbread pastry filled with almond or vanilla. You might find preserved cherries in the filling too.

Want to make this? We recommend following the Tasting Table recipe.

Salade Lyonnaise - The Alps
Salade Lyonnaise - The Alps

The Alps

Tantalize your cheese taste buds with aligot. This version of fondue consists of mashed potatoes blended with butter, cream, crushed garlic and traditional Tomme d’Auvergne cheese.

Raclette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, specially designed to melt in a delicious way. In the eponymous Franco-Swiss dish, the cheese is heated, either in front of a fire or with a table top grill, then scraped onto diners’ plates. The term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning ‘to scrape’ and this cheesy goo is served with boiled potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and charcuterie. It dates back to 1291 when this simple but nutritious meal was devised by peasants in mountainous region of Savoy.

Salade Lyonnaise

Found throughout France, this salad is all about counter-balancing flavours. Salty, smoked lardons, soft creamy poached egg, crunchy croutons and piquant mustard dressing tantalise the taste buds to great effect.

Want to make this? We recommend following Simply Recipes.

Bouillabaisse - South of France
Bouillabaisse - South of France

South of France

The land of sun, wild herbs, Mediterranean fish, garlic and golden olive oil. Food is a way of life here and you will rarely be disappointed with the menu.

Bouillabaisse

This Provençal fish stew was originally created by Marseille fishermen through necessity: it was a simple solution to the problem of what to do with the ugly, spiny and bony fish that remained unsold on the quayside at the end of the day.

The traditional version usually insists on three kinds of fish, not to mention occasional use of shellfish and sea urchins too. Vegetables like onion, celery, leek and tomato and potatoes add depth of flavour and substance and the dish is served with rouille (a spicy mayonnaise with cayenne and saffron) and hunks of grilled bread. Provençal herbs, garlic and fennel provide the authentic taste of southern France.

Want to make this? We recommend following the Food & Wine recipe.

Ratatouille

Originating in Nice, this is a ubiquitous summer dish served warm or cold. Essentially a Provençal vegetable stew, each vegetable is sautéed separately in fine quality olive oil to allow the sweetness to emerge. Key ingredients are courgettes, bell peppers, tomato and aubergine with the intense, heady fragrance of herbes de provence.

Want to make this? We recommend following Jamie Oliver's recipe.

Petits farçis niçois

Farçis are typical of Provence and involve scooping out the insides of summer vegetables then stuffing them with sausage meat, bread or rice and herbs. These are then baked to allow the flavours to mingle in a delicious combination.

Pissaladière

Pissaladière is another dish rooted in Nice. Bread dough is topped with caramelised onions, black olives and anchovies, it is easy to dismiss it as merely a French version of the classic Italian pizza. But pissaladière is thicker and often served as an appetiser, or a morning snack.

Want to make this? We recommend following the BBC Good Food recipe.

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