What Foods Should I Try in France? (And Where to Find Them in Toulouse)
Famed for its cuisine around the world, France is a destination that offers lots of choices for foodie travelers. French food culture manages to straddle high and low like that of no other country. Here, a small fortune can be spent on rare, vintage wines, yet, for less than a few euros, you can also eat some of the most delicious bread that you’re ever likely to find.
Join us at Taste of Toulouse as we run through some iconic French dishes and foodstuffs that you’ve got to try during your time in France. And if our article makes you hungry, be sure to check out our range of Food Tours in Toulouse.
Versatile, easy to prepare, and a perfect way to start the day. Crêpes originated in Brittany during the 13th century and are today one of French cuisine’s most popular exports. These thin pancakes can be served hot or cold, sweet or savory. Known as “galettes”, savory crêpes are traditionally made with buckwheat, making them an excellent option for those who avoid gluten. You’ll find crêperies across all French cities, offering up this classic dish with an array of fillings and toppings.
Unable to wait until your next trip to France? Make authentic crêpes at home with a straightforward recipe from Bon Appétit.
Some classics seem too simple to taste so good… Although the origins of Steak Frites is contested between Belgium and France, its popularity in the Francophone world guaranteed it a place on our list. Traditionally the steak would be a cheaper rump cut, but today it could be an entrecôte (rib eye) – or whatever cut of beef the chef picked out at the butcher that morning!. With a side of French fries and a topping of béarnaise or pepper (or Roquefort!) sauce, steak frites is an indulgent, no-frills meal that rarely disappoints.
For a lunch of steak frites in true Toulousain style, head to one of the restaurants on the 1st floor of the Victor Hugo Market. We recommend Le Magret, a family-owned restaurant that sources most of its ingredients directly from the market stalls below.
For dinner, you can brave the line at the original location of l’Entrecôte (no reservations accepted) or head across the boulevard to Meet the Meat.
Freshly Baked Bread
Ask someone to list things that are quintessentially French and it won’t be long until bread gets mentioned. And they’d be quite right to do so because quality bread is a part of the French cultural experience – after all, a bread shortage played a major part in triggering the French Revolution! In 2021, French authorities chose the baguette as its candidate for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status, due to its central place in daily French life. No self-respecting foodie in France should fail to pay an early-morning visit to a traditional boulangerie.
If you’re in Toulouse and want to learn about how to identify the most high-quality loaves, then come and join us for one of our Victor Hugo Market Tours.
The role of the baker in French society is taken most seriously, for citizens know that good bread is one of life’s great, simple pleasures. Start the morning with freshly baked bread – still warm from the oven – covered in locally-made preserves or quality French cheese and you might begin planning a permanent relocation.
A staple of Auvergne cooking but found widely throughout the southwest, Aligot is a dish made from mashed potatoes mixed with Tomme de Laguiole (Tomme fraîche), or Tomme d’Auvergne cheese. The potatoes should be floury, to create a dish with a thick, stringy consistency when mixed with the melted cheese.
If you order aligot in a traditional restaurant, don’t be surprised if the chef approaches your table to present you with the pot to ensure the potato-to-cheese ratio is as you like it – hearty, rustic cooking at its best.
In Toulouse, aligot is often served as a side dish for the famous Saucisse de Toulouse. And at many markets and you can buy aligot in a “barquette” to take home with you. We love going to the fast-casual Aligot Bar, which sources their ingredients locally and gives you a real taste of the southwest.
Weighty tomes have been written about French cheese, and understandably so. There are said to be more than 400 varieties of cheese produced in France, though some put the number as high as 1,000. Whatever the actual number, cheese is incontestably one of the treasures of French cuisine.
So, you might ask, what’s the greatest French cheese of all? Brie? Camembert? Roquefort? There are simply too many amazing types to explore and you’ll quickly discover that on your visit to France. If you want to begin exploring some prominent cheeses, the Paris Insider’s Guide has prepared a handy Top 10 Cheeses of France list.
If you’re in Toulouse, we offer a Private Wine and Cheese Tasting. Led by an ex-cheesemonger and certified French Wine Scholar™, you’ll learn wine and cheese tasting fundamentals, and how to pair cheese and wine as you sample a delicious selection for yourself. You can also learn the secrets of shopping for French cheese during our Victor Hugo Market Tour.
Xavier Fromagerie is our favorite place in Toulouse to stock up on the best quality artisanally-produced cheeses from all over France, headed up by François Bourgon, who is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France Fromager-Affineur (a really, really prestigious title!).
Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame
As the country’s most famous sandwich, the Croque monsieur manages to bring together several ingredients that the French do exceedingly well. A well-made Croque monsieur will combine fresh bread, a classic cheese (normally Gruyère), French mustard, and salty, boiled ham. If you want an extra decadent version, opt for a Croque madame, which adds a fried egg to the top of the sandwich.
For a few gourmet twists on this classic dish, Toulousains head to Croq’Michel, which features globally-influenced croques created by Michel Sarran, a Toulouse chef who holds two Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant Michel Sarran.
“…immediately the old gray house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theater.”
Perhaps not quite as electrifying as some of the other choices on our list, but if you’re a culture vulture paying a visit to France you won’t want to miss out on eating a madeleine with a cup of tea. These petite, shell-shaped sponges originally come from the Lorraine region of northwest France and they play a pivotal part in the most iconic episode in Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time. Having taken a sip of tea and a bite of a madeleine, our narrator is transported back to a moment from childhood – a poetic illustration of how intimately our memories can be connected to smells and tastes.
Our favorite madeleines are found at Maison Beauhaire in the Marché Victor Hugo or the Marché Carmes. We’ve tried both of their flavors – moist, tender vanilla or decadent chocolate-hazelnut – and we’re hard-pressed to say which we love most!
Have a sweet tooth? One French delicacy you’ll see over and over in the patisserie is the macaron. Small and colorful, these iconic meringue-based desserts are filled with flavored buttercream and really hit the spot when you’re craving something indulgent. Imported to France in the 1500s, macarons have become one of France’s most recognizable and beloved desserts – fluffy, delicate, and irresistible!
And as macarons are prepared with almond flour, they’re naturally gluten-free.
If you’re someone who always finds sweet treats difficult to resist, why not join us for our Toulouse Chocolate and Pastry Tour. This indulgent food tour will give you an insider’s look at the best chocolate and pastry shops the city has to offer.
From light and airy cake to a warming, rich stew that’s ideal for cold autumn or winter nights. Described by Julia Child as “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man”, Boeuf Bourguignon is simple in ingredients and prep time, but big on flavor.
The stew typically consists of beef braised in red wine (a pinot noir from Burgundy if we’re being authentic) with carrots, onions, garlic and garnished with pearl onions, mushrooms, and bacon, and is then served with an accompaniment of either pasta or potatoes. You’ll find generous portions of this classic served in almost every corner bistro.
Given that our Private Wine & Cheese Tasting is one of our most popular tour options, it should come as no surprise that we adore French wine. Then again, so do people all over the globe. France is the world’s second-biggest wine producer after Italy and dedicates more land to vineyards than anywhere else. Wine is central to French culture and they inarguably produce some of the most heavenly wines you’ll ever drink.
It is often said that the French don’t export their best wines, that they keep the very best for themselves. This is something of a myth. Visit a decent supplier of wine almost anywhere in the world and you’re likely to find they’re selling some top-quality bottles of French wine. But when you’re in France, the vast range of superior wines on offer will overwhelm you – it’s every wine lover’s dream.
Looking for ideas on what to try? Have a read of Vinovest’s Ultimate Guide to French Wine, which gives an overview of the major wine regions, grape varieties and styles, and offers recommendations for some wine producers you should seek out.
If you’re in Toulouse and looking for just the right bottle to accompany a meal or share with guests, have a read of our own guide: How to buy wine like a local in Toulouse.
Meanwhile, if you’re curious to know more about the history and development of France’s long romance with wine, visit The Atlantic to find out How France Became So Good at Wine.
Let’s end with a more divisive selection! I think it’s fair to say that many people find it hard to fathom why anyone would want to eat a snail, but in France – the world’s no. 1 consumer of snails – escargots are as much a part of the food culture as Burgundy wine and freshly baked croissants. Perhaps they’re not for everyone, but if you’re willing to try new things, you’ll discover that escargots are nutrient-rich, light, and utterly delicious. Begin with the classic Escargots à la Bourguignonne, oven-roasted snails served in rich, garlic butter, and you can’t go wrong.
For something a little different, we love the Toulouse wine bar/restaurant l’Alimentation’s take on escargot: sauteed with Basque sausage, then served with lime.