FRENCH EATING ESTABLISHMENTS
If you can discard
the "touristy" habit of choosing establishments by their listings in
a guidebook, or driving for miles to visit a "fashionable" place,
you'll be more likely to experience eating as the natives do: eat
where and when you like, and partake in as many regional specialties
as you can. The Golden Rule here is that the only good restaurants
are busy restaurants.
A few tips are in
order, which will help to make your experience even more delightful:
- When walking into a restaurant without a reservation, you will
be treated more seriously if you always ask for a number of
couverts (covers), rather than places: "Vous avez deux
- If you ask for water, keep in mind that you'll usually be
brought bottled mineral water, priced like other drinks, unless
you specify "une carafe d'eau" (a free pitcher or
carafe of tap water).
You may encounter
several different types of menus, offering varying degrees of
selection and price, which it is helpful to understand:
- Menu prix-fixe: Every French restaurant must offer a
fixed-price meal, which usually consists of four courses (with a
choice of dishes at each course), and may include wine (but not
coffee). Better than à la carte, quality is invariably
good, and tax and service are included. Many restaurants offer
several set menus at different price levels, with more expensive
ones including extra courses, pricier ingedients, or a superior
vintage of wine. Look for a menu du jour (a set menu of the
day), which will generally be freshest and best, and check out
what those around you have ordered.
- Menu dégustation/menu surprise: A tasting menu,
presenting you with a procession of small servings (chosen by the
chef if it is the surprise menu). The simple restriction: everyone
at the table must have the same nenu.
- La carte: Everything offered which is not on the
special menu--these dishes will be more expensive. Main courses
arrive with a garnish of vegetables. Usually there will be a
plat du jour (dish of the day).
- Table d'hôte: These words posted outside a
farmhouse once meant that anyone was invited to join the family at
a single sitting and at a fixed price. Nowadays, the idea has
caught on at a number of country restaurants, offering a chance to
try real home cooking inexpensively.
- Menu touristique: Usually dull Eurofare aimed at the
tourists, not generally recommended, though some do try.
The following glossary
of gastronomic and drinking establishments should give you an idea of
what to expect as you sample the local culture:
Auberge: Restaurant, usually attached to a country hotel,
or situated in rural areas.
Auberge de Campagne: Uncommon, similar to an auberge du
terroir but with guest rooms.
Auberge du Terroir: Restaurant offering traditional,
regional dishes, and approved as one using only local produce.
Bar: Rarely serve food or coffee, except perhaps simple
dishes or sandwiches.
Bistro: In the provinces, a cross between a café and
a restaurant. Patrons of city bistros will typically encounter
cramped space, noise, and rudeness, though often good food will
Brasserie: Meals, drink & coffee any time of day.
Choucroute and sausage are served in most, attributable to the
Alsatian origins of this sort of establishment. Modern versions in
Paris may combine old-fashioned brasserie with American drugstore.
Buffet: Usually found at stations and airports. Food &
drink available at all times, often much better than customers of
British Rail or Amtrak would expect.
Buvette: A kiosk selling drinks, sandwiches, and ice
Café: Drinks and coffee at the bar (prices lower) or
from a waiter. Sometimes offer simple meals, though snacks
(casse-croûte) are always available. Croissants and
brioches in early morning, followed by baguette sandwiches (usually
with thin slices of ham or cheese) and croque-monsieur
(toasted ham & cheese sandwich). All serve tea gladly, or will
make a fresh lemon or orange drink (citron/orange
pressé). It's not uncommon for patrons to sit awhile with
only a cheap drink.
Caféteria: Quick, basic meals & drinks. The ones
at hypermarkets are often very good.
Crêperie: Usually found in tourist haunts, serving
crêpes with sweet or savory fillings, often associated with
Brittany. (Savory crêpes made of buckwheat, sweet ones of wheat
Drugstore: Hot dogs and other American fast foods, along
with simple French dishes.
Estaminet: Small bar, often seedy.
Ferme-Auberge: A working farm offering meals of traditional
regional dishes. Ingredients must be predominantly from the farm
itself or from immediate locality.
Hostellerie: A restaurant, usually attached to a country
Libre-service: A self-service cafeteria, often part of a
Relais routiers: Motorway or main road truck stops, popular
with English Francophiles. Generous portions of good plain regional
Restaurant: For meals only.
Restoroute: Restaurant set near a motorway.
Rôtisserie: A restaurant, sometimes called a grill,
which once specialized in grills or roasts. Now, most serve
Salon de Thé: Tea room & coffee shop, often part
of a patisserie. Besides cakes and pastries, light meals are often
served. Popular with lone women, who may feel more comfortable here
than in cafés or restaurants.
Snack-bar: Basic food served quickly.
Taverne: Usually a rural restaurant.
Source: Edible France, A Traveler's Guide, by Glynn
Christian, published 1997 by Interlink Books - Brooklyn, New
Intro to French
Cuisine || Eating
Contributions, suggested links and comments are
About.com Guide to French
Cerva has lived and
worked in France, learning how to prepare French
dishes. Now she recreates its cuisine in her own
kitchen, and serves as your Guide at About.com,
dishing up a host of articles, recipes and
Sélection Saveurs du
Internationale MSCOMM has assembled a list (in
French), organized by provincial region, of their
favorite eating establishments.
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