When traveling through the different regions of France, the cuisine can vary as much as the landscape.
Visiting the north? You’re likely to find yourself tucking into hearty dishes featuring wild boar or venison. If in the lavender-scented climes of Provence, prepare your taste buds for meals laden with tomato, garlic, onions, and olives. Most restaurants in the rural Dordogne are almost certain to offer black truffles on their menus (when in season). And the list goes on and on and on. With such delectable fare available, it’s tempting to visit as many regions of France as possible just to indulge in the varied cuisines. But, of course, there’s an easier way to go about it – just visit Paris. The city is full of restaurants and bistros specializing in different regional cuisines. Keep reading to learn more about four popular regional cuisines and where to find them in the City of Light.
1. Lyonnaise Cuisine.
The Southern city of Lyon is legendary for its outstanding cuisine. These days, it is most known for being home to the restaurants and brasseries of extraordinary chef, Paul Bocuse. But the delicate nouvelle-cuisine of Chef Bocuse is far away from the traditional robust food of the region. Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine can be found in small bistros called “bouchons,” which historically served the silk workers of Lyon. A typical menu is meat-intensive, featuring foods such as andouille (chitterlings sausage), tripe (pig or cow’s stomach), or boudin noir (blood sausage). For those not into offal, don’t fear, you’ll also find more mainstream items such as, roast pork, duck pâté, quenelles (flour, egg and cream dumplings), or Cervelle de canut, (which means “brains of the silk-weaver” and consists of cream cheese mixed with garlic and chives.) One of the most authentic “bouchons” outside of Lyon can be found in at Aux Lyonnais, 32, rue St. Marc, 75002, Paris. Tel. 01 42 96 65 04
2. Alsatian Cuisine.
France’s Alsace region is snuggled up against the border of Germany (and actually belonged to Germany periodically throughout its history), so it’ll probably come as no surprise that the food here has strong German influences. Pork lovers will be in heaven in an Alsacien restaurant, as most main courses in the Alsace feature some kind of pork dish, be it pork and choucroute (sauerkraut), Baeckeoffe (pork, beef and mutton mixed with potatoes and onions), or a simple plate of pork charcuterie (cooked, dried, smoked, or cured meat). Other traditional foods include foie gras, flammeküche (a cross between a pizza and quiche, made of bacon, onions, and crème fraȋche), and matelote (river fish stew). Alsacien breads and desserts are particularly notable too, featuring tarts, pretzels and spicy ginger bread. In Paris, the classic place for Alsacien dining is at the brasserie L’Alscace, 39, avenue des Champs-Elysées, 75008. Tel. 01 53 93 97 00
3. Provencal Cuisine.
Sunny, southern Provence has a very Mediterranean cuisine, making one think of Italy as much as France. Here, you’ll find dishes emphasizing tomatoes, onions, olives, artichokes, eggplant, olive oil, peppers and/or herbs. Ratatouille is a classic dish, as are fish-based dishes, including bouillabaisse (fish stew), soupe aux poisson (a spicy fish soup), and salad Niçoise (salad of tuna fish, green beans, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and potatoes). For authentic Provençal dining in Paris, check out Le Petit Niçois, 10, rue Amelie, 75007 Paris. Paris Tél. 01.45.51.83.65.
4. Basque Cuisine.
In the southwest of France lies the independent-minded Basque country, which shares its name, language and some of its traditions with the Basques of adjacent northern Spain. Being near the sea, seafood plays a prominent role in Basque dishes, especially salt cod, hake, anchovies, eel and sea bream. Squid (called txipirones) is also popular, served cooked in its own ink, or in a sauce of stewed tomatoes, garlic, chillies and white wine. Other classic dishes include Piperade, an omelet made of tomatoes, chillies and jambon de Bayonne (ham), and Piquillo, a sweet red pepper stuffed with morue (eel) or cod. For dessert, you’ll inevitably see gâteau basque (black cherry pie) or a rice pudding (sometimes flavored with piment d’Espelette – a kind of paprika on the menu. For great Basque food in Paris, try L’Ami Jean, 27 rue Malar, 75007, Paris. Tel. 01 47 05 86 89.
Photo of choucroute in Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis, Paris, by WordRidden