Bon appétit ! Wherever I’ve traveled in the world, people seemed to know these two magic words. And it’s not surprising, as French food culture has been famous across the globe for centuries.
I don’t think there is just one best gastronomy in the world — my personal favorites include Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Cajun and Nordic cuisines, among others — but growing up in France, I do love traditional French food.
After all, who can resist French bread, or French desserts?
Food is an essential part of any immersive experience. What a delicious way to understand the French culture, history and language, right?
So, get ready to discover the most iconic French dishes, from comforting ratatouille to scrumptious pains au chocolat, where every bite feels like a taste of pure joie de vivre!
We’ll also cover other cuisines of the French world, to add some spices and exotic flavor to the mix.
Here is a little ambiance music while you’re reading.
A word of warning: If you’re hungry, you might want to grab a bite before you keep reading!
A history of French food and culture
French food is a key part of French culture and history. Originating from medieval roots, French cuisine saw significant influence during the Renaissance with the arrival of Italian flavors, thanks to Catherine de Medici.
The 17th century marked the emergence of haute cuisine and iconic French sauces. The French Revolution democratized food, giving rise to bistros and the spread of culinary expertise.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries refined French cuisine, while post-war periods led to global popularization, notably through chefs like Julia Child.
Nowadays, French gastronomy remains a celebration of regional diversity — miam, les produits régionaux — emphasizing quality ingredients and precise techniques.
Food is highly associated with socializing, whether it’s at a restaurant or at home. Meals are eaten at the table and can be very long — ask my American husband!
Speaking of which, don’t miss these cultural don’ts at a dinner party in France!
What is France’s national dish?
Ah! Excellente question !
I get asked this question on a regular basis, and honestly, it’s hard to answer. While other cuisines have flagship dishes, like Paella for Spain or Pasta/Pizza for Italy, it’s a little trickier for France.
Based on the latest surveys, let’s dive into the 10 national French dishes at the moment.
Allez, bon appétit !
Originating in Castelnaudary during the Hundred Years' War, cassoulet is linked to a legend: the besieged French are said to have regained their strength after a feast and repelled the invaders.
This heavy white bean stew is cooked for long hours, sometimes for days. Since then, disputes have arisen over the authentic recipe, with Toulouse and Carcassonne each adding their own variations.
This traditional French dish includes beans, pork, duck confit and Toulouse sausage, topped with onions, carrots, thyme, bay leaf and parsley.
By BrokenSphere - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
La blanquette de veau
"How is your blanquette?” Jean Dujardin's now-famous line from the movie OSS 117, Cairo, Nest of Spies perfectly captures the historical roots of this dish in French culture.
Named blanquette after its white (blanc) sauce, this dish is made from veal breast or shoulder, which is then boiled with carrots, celery and onions to form a stock, and served with rice.
It remains unclear whether blanquette de veau originated in the Lyon region, Picardy or Burgundy, but one thing is sure: My mom’s blanquette is better than yours!
Par Arnaud 25 — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 4.0
Les cuisses de grenouille
Our British neighbors have a hard time understanding this mania for feasting on the legs of these innocent batrachians — or snails for that matter, not in this ranking but soooo delicious! In fact, they call us "froggies".
Enjoyed with butter, garlic and parsley, Provençal-style or as a fricassee, frogs' legs have been a fixture on the tables of France's elite since the 16th century.
Par Benreis — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 4.0
A classic of bistrots and a favorite of French children… and my husband.
It doesn’t require any fancy cooking skills, but you can elevate it with truffle béchamel or great quality ingredients such as a good ham or comté cheese.
Croque-monsieur is said to have first appeared in 1910, in a Parisian brasserie on Boulevard des Capucines. Its trivial composition of sliced bread, ham and Emmental cheese has made the croque-monsieur an express snack at an affordable price.
There's also a variant with an egg: croque-madame.
By Michael Brewer - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5
Le gratin dauphinois
The taste of my childhood, and a recipe passed on from my grandmother to my mom. If you ask nicely, I might share it :-)
On July 12, 1788, the municipal officers of Gap tasted an unknown delicacy offered by the Lieutenant General of Dauphiné: pommes de terre à la dauphinoise. Cut into slices, the potatoes are baked with garlic, crème fraîche and milk, releasing a deliciously melt-in-the-mouth flavor.
It might seem simple, but the key is to use the right type of potatoes and high-quality cream.
Although this French meal is quite hearty, it is often served as an accompaniment to meat, for example. And as a Dauphinoise myself: No, there’s no cheese in gratin dauphinois!
By Ludovic Péron - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Le bœuf bourguignon
This French beef stew takes its name from its two main ingredients, both from Bourgogne: Charolais beef and wine from the Côte de Nuits or Beaune vineyards.
Before it became a Sunday dish as it is today, bœuf bourguignon was the preferred meal of peasants on feast days. It's slow-cooked over a low heat in a casserole dish, with onions, garlic, bacon and a bouquet garni.
For its accompaniment, there are no rules, and it can just as easily be served with carrots and potatoes as with green beans or pasta.
By Slayschips - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
As its name suggests, pot-au-feu is made by cooking beef and stock in a pot over a long, low heat.
According to the 1867 Larousse: pot-au-feu is "the basis of our cuisine, and it is through it that our national cuisine distinguishes itself from all others". Wow.
This typical comforting French dish is the one with the most variations, having been adapted in lots of different regions. It generally consists of a long-cooked piece of meat, a marrow bone, oxtail, vegetables such as turnips, carrots, and leeks, as well as spices and herbs.
By Muesse - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
La quiche lorraine
Another super easy one if you want to give it a try! In France, savory tarts — quiches salées — are all the rage and feature on the menus of many restaurants, especially small places where you can enjoy a quick lunch with colleagues or friends.
You’ll find it in many bakeries, small cafés, restaurants, and in many homes. It’s a favorite among students, as it’s really fast to prepare: crust — pâte brisée, eggs, crème fraîche/milk and lardons.
You can make your own crust, or you’ll find it ready-made at any store in France. Serve it with a green salad, for a balanced and complete meal!
By Donna Alvita - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
While iconic French food has a lot of meat-based dishes, it also boasts yummy fish-based dishes.
A spoonful of bouillabaisse will immediately send you to the Mediterranean, and, more specifically, Marseille and its calanques. Originating in the 7th century, when the city of Marseille was founded, bouillabaisse means "to lower the boil" in Occitan Provençal.
Made of fish soup, garlic croutons, rouille and potatoes, this typical French dish is served in two parts: the soup, then the fish.
By Slastic - Own work, CC BY 3.0
Le coq au vin
What could be more French than a dish that combines our emblem — the rooster — with perhaps the world's most prized drink?
The first coq au vin was served at a Roman table, when Julius Caesar decided to cook a rooster sent abjectly by a beleaguered Gallic chieftain, with wine.
However, the regions of Auvergne, Alsace, Bourgogne and Champagne all affirm that they were the precursors of this dish, usually served with pasta or potatoes.
By Beck from East Midlands, United Kingdon - Coq Au Vin, CC BY 2.0
Other national French dishes
Other national French dishes include snails with garlic butter, onion soup — la gratinée, fondue bourguignonne, hachis Parmentier, choucroute, foie gras, pâté croûte, poulet basquaise, ratatouille, poule au pot and steack tartare, to name a few.
French breads and pastries
“If they don't have bread, let them eat brioche!” This famous quote, supposedly said by Marie Antoinette, might not be a tactful reflection of the importance of French bread, but you get the point.
If your mouth is not watering yet, keep reading!
Without a doubt, the most famous French viennoiserie in the world!
However, despite the immense French pride for these iconic crescent-shaped pastries, I have a secret for you: they apparently originate from Austria! Ok, the word “viennoiserie” should be a hint…
I’ll just choose to ignore the polemic and enjoy these flaky, buttery delights made from laminated dough, folded and layered. Imagine that with a Parisian hot chocolate. Miam!
Ok, the French are obsessed with bread. That’s no secret. But if you’ve ever tried a freshly baked baguette in a good French bakery, I’m sure you understand.
In France, bread is more than just a staple—it's a cultural institution, and it’s ALWAYS on the table. The iconic baguette, perhaps the most famous variety, boasts a crisp crust and a soft, airy interior.
Beyond the baguette, there's an array of regional bread specialties, each with its unique taste and texture, from the hearty pain de campagne to the chewy and savory pain au levain.
Wherever you are in the hexagon, rest assured that there’s a Boulangerie nearby. If the baguette is still hot, you’re allowed to eat the quignon — tip of the bread — on your way back!
Pain au chocolat
On a Sunday morning in France — or after a party —, you usually have two teams: Les croissants et les pains au chocolat. So, what kind of person are you? I’m more of a pain au chocolat, personally!
Pains au chocolat, also known as chocolatines in some regions, are a delightful French pastry adored for their buttery, flaky layers enclosing a strip of rich, melted chocolate.
Originating in France — phew! —, these pastries are a breakfast food and goûter staple. They can be enjoyed warm from the oven — oh, that smell! — or at room temperature.
When my parents moved to Southern France, I got upset because I could no longer enjoy my favorite chocolate brioche at the local market. Yep, that’s how good it is.
This classic French bread enriched with butter and eggs, boasts a tender crumb and a slightly sweet taste.
This versatile pastry-like bread is a beloved part of French culinary heritage, commonly enjoyed in various forms: from the traditional round loaf to individual buns and decorative shapes, including the delicious Saint-Genix cake with pralines.
Brioche's rich, buttery flavor and delicate texture make it a perfect accompaniment to both sweet and savory dishes, for example saucisson brioché.
Other French pastries
Other popular French baked goods include pain aux raisins, chouquettes, torsades au chocolat and chaussons aux pommes, among many others.
A French meal wouldn’t be complete without a dessert. Or even 13 desserts, like in Provence! Dessert is so sacred in France that many people clean the table before bringing it. Ask my dad!
If you’re already picturing yourself in a French restaurant, surrounded by dessert carts — yep, that’s a thing — get ready to taste some of France’s old-time favorites.
La mousse au chocolat
La mousse au chocolat, a quintessential French dessert, is a velvety and airy delight appreciated for its rich, indulgent flavor. This luxurious treat is created by melting chocolate and combining it with whipped egg whites or cream, resulting in a fluffy and decadent mousse.
The key to a perfect mousse au chocolat lies in achieving a harmonious balance between the deep cocoa taste and the light, creamy texture.
La tarte au citron
Renowned for its exquisite blend of tangy citrus and sweet meringue, la tarte au citron meringée consists of a buttery pastry crust (shortcrust, or pâte sablée) filled with a zesty and smooth lemon curd.
The crowning glory of this dessert is its billowy meringue topping, delicately toasted to a golden hue: the perfect harmony of sweet and sour!
While the lemon version might be the most famous, French pâtisserie include many fruity tarts with a curd base such as la tarte aux fraises, aux framboises, aux myrtilles, aux pommes, etc.
The mille-feuille, which means a thousand layers and is also known as a Napoleon pastry, — yep, this one — is a staple French dessert.
This elegant pastry consists of thin, crisp layers of puff pastry alternated with pastry cream, creating a delightful contrast of textures. Topped with delicate icing, the mille-feuille is often finished with intricate decorative patterns on its top layer.
L’éclair au chocolat, à la vanille ou au café, a beloved French pastry, is an elongated choux pastry filled with a creamy custard and topped with a matching glossy glaze.
Traditional flavors include chocolate, coffee or vanilla, but you’ll find them in different variants in the most modern boulangeries and pâtisseries.
La tarte tatin
According to the legend, the Tatin sisters, who ran a hotel in the Loire Valley, accidentally created this dessert by caramelizing apples in butter and sugar before covering them with pastry and baking it upside down.
The result? A glorious, caramelized apple filling atop a flaky, buttery crust.
Served warm with a dollop of cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the Tarte Tatin is a heavenly combination of sweet, sticky caramel and tender, perfectly cooked apples.
Île flottante, or "floating island," is a French dessert that presents a cloud-like meringue floating on a sea of creamy custard.
The dessert's lightness comes from whipped egg whites combined with sugar and gently poached, creating a fluffy and airy meringue.
This is then placed atop a bed of vanilla custard and often garnished with a sprinkle of caramel or toasted almonds.
Très chic !
Named after the famous Paris-Brest bicycle race, this cake is a decadent French pastry.
This delectable dessert features a ring of choux pastry that's sliced in half and filled with a praline-flavored cream. Its circular shape represents a wheel to honor the cycling event it was created for.
Often dusted with powdered sugar or adorned with slivered almonds, the Paris-Brest cake is seriously addictive.
La crème brûlée
You’ve probably heard of this one.
This creamy delight features a smooth custard base infused with vanilla, gently baked until set, then crowned with a layer of caramelized sugar.
The magic happens when a kitchen torch is used to caramelize the sugar, creating a satisfyingly crisp and crackling surface that contrasts beautifully with the creamy custard underneath.
La bûche de Noël
La bûche de Noël, or Yule log, is a traditional French dessert enjoyed during the festive season. It’s shaped to resemble a log, traditionally made of sponge cake rolled and filled with cream or buttercream. Frozen versions — filled with gelato — are also popular.
The exterior is often decorated to resemble tree bark, adorned with chocolate shavings, frosting, or festive edible decorations.
You’ll find more holiday traditions in our article on How to wish a Merry Christmas in French.
La galette des Rois
La galette des Rois is a delightful treat traditionally enjoyed during Epiphany celebrations.
This circular puff pastry cake is typically filled with almond frangipane and hides a fève (a small charm or figurine) inside.
Served in January to commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men, it's cut into slices, and the person who discovers the fève in their portion becomes the king or queen for the day, adorned with a paper crown.
More on this tradition in our article on New Year’s Eve in the francophone world!
Personal tip: I make a “pâte sablée” instead of a “pâte feuilleté” as a base.
First, make sure you know your Macarons.
Now that everything is clear, macarons consist of two almond flour-based meringue cookies delicately sandwiched together with a ganache, buttercream, or jam filling.
Known for their vibrant colors and assorted flavors like raspberry, pistachio, or salted caramel, macarons offer a perfect balance of crispy shells and soft, chewy centers.
Other French desserts
Other French sweet delights include tarte au flan, fondant au chocolat, Tropézienne, riz au lait, pain perdu, gâteau marbré, canelés, poire Belle-Hélène, profiteroles, clafouti, Far Breton, madeleines and Saint-Honoré, among maaaaany others.
Cheese in the French cuisine
While some restaurants now offer a choice of cheese OR dessert — something my grandfather was never cool with — a traditional French meal ALWAYS has cheese — preferably unpasteurized!
Served between the main course and dessert, often with a green salad, it’s the king of the meal. Ok, that’s just my opinion!
Besides the awesome, non-negotiable cheese tray, many French dishes are based on cheese. Get ready, because cheese delights are coming right up!
And now I have a craving…
Here again, I’m going to have to ask you what team you are on: Team raclette, team fondue or team tartiflette?
These three dishes are a staple of any après-ski evening in the Alps with family or friends.
And raclette is probably the most famous! It involves melting raclette cheese, then scraping it onto a plate over boiled potatoes, accompanied by charcuterie and pickles.
Before the modern methods of using specialized raclette grills or machines, raclette was traditionally served by heating a large piece of cheese near an open fire or using hot stones
Personal tip: If you have a raclette in fall, add some mushrooms. My fav are trompettes de mort and chanterelles !
La fondue savoyarde
Another comforting and social dish, la fondue savoyarde consists of melted cheese, often a blend of Emmental, Abondance, Comté, Appenzeller or Beaufort cheese, mixed with white wine and a hint of garlic.
Served in a communal pot, the melted cheese is kept warm over a small burner or stove.
Diners then dip cubes of crusty bread into the bubbling cheese mixture using long forks. And if you drop your piece of bread… you’re in for a treat.
I studied part of my Masters in Savoie, if you can imagine…
Despite the common belief, tartiflette is not an old traditional dish.
Invented in the 1980s in the Alps to boost Reblochon sales, it was quickly adopted by the whole country, and even gave birth to a slogan: “In tartiflette we trust!”.
This gratin-style dish features layers of sliced potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons (bacon) and onions. The ingredients are assembled and baked until the potatoes are tender and the cheese melts into a golden crust.
Comfort food by excellence, it can also be made with Crozets, an Alpine pasta with buckwheat flour. It’s then called Croziflette!
Let’s leave the Alps and visit the Aubrac region with our next dish.
Aligot is a creamy combination of mashed potatoes, melted cheese (typically Tomme or Cantal), butter, and garlic. This indulgent specialty is known for its stretchy, elastic texture achieved by vigorously mixing the ingredients together.
Aligot showcases the heartiness of rural French cuisine, providing a flavorful tribute to the simplicity and satisfaction of mashed potatoes elevated by the addition of cheese.
La boîte chaude
This oh-so comforting and indulgent specialty from the Jura region consists of a hollowed-out Vacherin Mont d'Or cheese, which is then filled with white wine and garlic.
The cheese-filled box is baked until gooey and bubbling. Diners dip cubes of crusty bread, potatoes, or charcuterie into the molten cheese.
In other words, heaven for cheese lovers.
A meal made of crêpes
If you love French crêpes, I have awesome news for you: Did you know that once a year, we eat a meal made exclusively of crêpes? No, you’re not dreaming!
La Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas, is a French tradition celebrated on February 2nd, forty days after Christmas.
This festive day is primarily recognized for its association with making and eating crêpes, which symbolize the sun, marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Tradition holds that while making crêpes, one should hold a coin in their writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other, flipping the crêpe successfully without dropping it, signifying prosperity for the upcoming year.
Try it, it’s fun — and in the worst case, your dog will have a feast!
Many French families and friends gather around a meal of crêpes. Savory toppings can be ham, béchamel, mushrooms, all kind of cheeses, eggs, vegetables, smoked salmon, etc.
Sweet toppings often include Nutella, sugar, lemon, butter, fruits, whipped cream, chestnut spread, jams, etc.
Personal tip: I replace half of the milk with beer, for lighter crêpes. Thanks, maman!
Canadian French food
“French” cuisine is as vast and fascinating as the francophone world.
While it would be impossible to cover all the francophone gastronomy, we’ll cover the most popular ones, starting with Canadian French food.
Our dear friends across the pond have developed their own traditional dishes, influenced by both French culinary traditions and local ingredients. Many of these specialties are comforting, which is not a surprise if you’ve ever visited Québec in winter!
In fact, I’ll forever remember my dinner in a Cabane à sucre, featuring the biggest omelette I’d ever seen, — even in the US! — covered with ham and maple syrup!
Before we get started, check out these differences between French and Canadian French. They might come in handy when ordering!
This iconic dish features crispy French fries — not French, by the way! — smothered in cheese curds and topped with hot gravy.
Poutine often comes with extra ingredients, such as smoked meat. I know, it sounds weird, but try one after walking all day around freezing Montréal!
A savory meat pie, typically made with minced pork, beef, or a blend of meats, seasoned with spices like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. It's often enjoyed during the holiday season.
La cipaille ou cipâte
Another meat pie, layered with various meats like game, poultry, and sometimes fish or vegetables, encased in a flaky pastry crust.
La tarte au sucre
A classic dessert featuring a rich, sweet filling made from brown sugar, eggs, and cream, poured into a buttery pie crust. Slightly different from its French counterpart!
Les fèves au lard
A dish of baked beans cooked with salt pork or bacon and sweetened with maple syrup, offering a balance of savory and sweet flavors.
A hearty Acadian stew made with chicken or seafood, potatoes, onions, and sometimes dumplings, seasoned with herbs.
Other regional French food
Here is a little world tour of some favorite regional French foods. Bon voyage, et bon appétit !
Louisiana - cajun food
Cajun food is one of my favorite cuisines.
Deeply rooted in the history of French Acadian settlers, it represents a vibrant fusion of French culinary techniques with local Southern ingredients and flavors. Known for its bold and comforting dishes, Cajun cuisine features spicy and flavorful creations such as:
- Gumbo — my favorite! — a hearty stew with a variety of meats or seafood, vegetables, and spices served over rice.
- Jambalaya, another hallmark dish combining rice with a mix of meats like sausage, chicken, and sometimes seafood, seasoned generously with Cajun spices.
- Crawfish étouffée, a savory dish with a rich crawfish or shrimp sauce served over rice, showcasing the region's bountiful seafood.
- Boudin, a sausage-like creation combining seasoned pork, rice, onions, and a blend of Cajun spices encased in a casing, often made from pork intestine.
Belgian cuisine boasts a rich diversity that reflects its cultural influences and regional specialties. Known for its indulgent comfort foods, Belgium offers iconic dishes like:
- Moules-frites, a beloved combination of steamed mussels served with crispy fries, often accompanied by a dollop of mayonnaise.
- Carbonade flamande, a hearty beef stew simmered in beer with onions, mustard, and spices, showcasing the country's love for beer-infused dishes.
- Belgian waffles, both Brussels and Liège styles, featuring light, airy batter (Brussels) or a denser, sweeter dough (Liège), served with an array of toppings like fresh fruit, chocolate, or whipped cream.
- Sweets like chocolates and speculoos (spiced shortcrust biscuits)
Haiti - Creole food
If you’re interested in Haiti and its colorful culture, check out these differences between French and Haitian Creole.
Haitian cuisine is a flavorful and diverse culinary tradition that blends African, French, Caribbean, and indigenous influences. This vibrant cuisine is characterized by a wide array of dishes, often featuring aromatic spices, tropical fruits, and bold flavors, for example:
- Griot, marinated and fried pork served with pikliz (spicy pickled vegetables)
- Diri ak djon djon, a savory rice dish cooked with black mushrooms, giving it a distinctive earthy flavor and a dark hue
- Legumes, a vegetable stew often prepared with eggplant, spinach, cabbage, and meat
- Accra, fried fritters made from malanga or other tubers
- Tasso kabrit, a spicy goat stew
Senegalese cuisine is a flavorful and diverse culinary tradition that reflects the country's rich cultural heritage and diverse influences. At the heart of Senegalese cuisine is rice, a staple often served with various dishes like:
- Thieboudienne, the national dish, a flavorful fish dish cooked with vegetables, tomato sauce, and spices
- Yassa, a tangy and aromatic dish, features marinated chicken or fish cooked with onions, mustard, and lemon juice
- Mafe, a peanut-based stew made with meat (usually beef or lamb), vegetables, and a rich peanut sauce
On the other side of the world — for us, Europeans — French Polynesian cuisine is a flavorful fusion of indigenous Polynesian ingredients and French culinary influences.
Seafood plays a significant role in the traditional dishes due to the abundant marine resources surrounding the islands. The most iconic dishes include:
- Poisson cru, a popular dish, features raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, often mixed with vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions
- Taro, either boiled or mashed into a paste called 'poi,' served alongside fish or meat dishes
- Mahi-mahi (fish) or tuna prepared in vanilla sauce, highlighting the fusion of local ingredients with French culinary techniques
From a Parisian croissant to a Mediterranean ratatouille — with a “little” detour by Polynesia, Africa and Louisiana — every French dish tells a story steeped in tradition, artistry, and an unyielding passion for flavor.
Whether savoring a delicate macaron — MA-CA-RON — or indulging in the comforting warmth of a bubbling pot of cassoulet, each bite of traditional French food is an invitation to experience centuries of gastronomic excellence.
French cuisine isn’t just about what’s on the plate; it's an ode to celebration, sharing, and the sheer pleasure of savoring life's exquisite flavors: Les petits plaisirs de la vie !
If you’re a foodie planning your next culinary trip to France, don’t miss our articles on How to order at a restaurant and How to order a coffee in French. Or be an adventurer and order randomly, as long as you’re fine with snails and frogs!
Oh, one more thing: Santé et bon appétit !
Open up a world of French language and culture on our French blog, here.