Culinary traditions which have been developed and perfected over the centuries ensure that French cuisine is now a highly refined art, renowned all over the world. And, while a combination of careful preparation, fresh ingredients and various cooking methods have all contributed to its reputation, it is the wealth of regional differences which have helped make French food and drink so unique.
As with most large countries, the main reason for the different regional variation is the fact that the local produce found from one are to the next is so diverse. For example, in Marseille, the seafood capital of Provence, the most famous dish is bouillabaisse. There are two principal types, Bouillabaisse du Ravi or Bouillabaisse du Pêcheur. The former contains six different types of fish while the latter is smaller and lighter containing only three types of fish. Both are equally popular, ‘Ravi’ for dinner or ‘Pêcheur’ for lunch.
Vegetarian dishes are also excellent in the Provence region and ‘ratatouille’, a combination of eggplant, peppers and herbs which is stewed in olive oil, is particularly appetising. A final specialty in this region, and in the southwest of the country in particular, is ‘foie gras’. A type of duck pâté, this particular dish is regarded as somewhat of a delicacy in the rest of the country although you could never tell why by looking at it.
In and around the Pyrénées in the Basque and Catalán regions, some of the specialties include tune grilled with herbs found in the local area over a wood fire. Periwinkles and fish stews are also popular as is ‘Pipérade Basque’, which is a unique variation on your every day scrambled eggs. By adding tomatoes, onions, green peppers and black pepper, these natives have come up with their very own and very simple local dish which goes down a treat.
Dishes specific to the Catalán region usually use lots of olive oil and garlic and a special dish called a ouillade which is never emptied, washed or cleaned. Now that definitely sounds unhygienic but apparently nobody has ever caught anything by eating something prepared in the dish. Not yet!
In the Alscace region, that good old pâte features on the menu again, but this time there are over forty different varieties including the aforementioned ‘foie gras’ so if you feel brave enough to try some check out the local charcuterie. Other Alsatian treats include ‘kouglof’ which is made of almonds, raisins, sugar, milk, flour and eggs – sounds a little more appetizing. But, the regions most famous produce, and one which you will all be familiar with after a spell in the country, is Kronenberg lager.
The Massif Central is probably the simplest of all the regional cuisines, and while some culinary critiques might find it a little too plain, most agree that it is traditional and realistic. Specialties in the region include several cheeses, one of which is made from goat’s milk, ‘le cabecou’ and its wonderful cherry pies.
And of course no meal in any part of France would be complete if you didn’t wash it down with one of the many world famous wines which are produced in the country. There are numerous long established rules which pertain to wine drinking in France but these days nobody seems to take them too seriously. When you have budget travellers buying plonk for as little as 5francs in a local supermarket it’s easy to see why. I don’t think you’re going to be too concerned with what the correct wine for the correct food.
But, for those of you who are, here is a very rough guide to the different types of wines available and where they come from. Burgundy is renowned for its red wines which include Chablis produced in the north of the region and Beaujolais in the south. In Provence, rosés are most popular around the Côtes de Provence while the famous red known as Châteauneuf du Pape is produced around the Côtes du Rhône. And, when it comes to sparkling wines, although many regions produce them, only those produced in Champagne can legally bear the name. And, if you’re wondering which type should accompany your meal, those in the know tell us that if you’re having steak or game, burgundy is favoured; for chicken, lamb or veal you should choose a Bordeaux red and rosé goes with anything, or so say the experts. Cheers!