I recently talked about 11 Foods Canadians Seem to Be Crazy About (And Strangely, I Am Not). Reading all the comments (food is always a hot topic!), I realized that foreigners may find some of the beloved French specialties strange, gross or simply “meh”.
Okay, everyone has heard about French eating snails and frog legs. Fun fact: I have never ever seen frog legs and the only time I saw snails on the menu was in these tourist trap restaurants in the Latin Quarter in Paris. These foods are a bit of a stereotype, like saying “Chinese eat dog meat”—the average French person doesn’t actually crave snails or frogs.
On the other hand, some beloved foods are… well, strange from an outsider’s perspective.
So, here are French foods locals eat while foreigners think “WTF”!
Oeuf à la coque (aka soft-boiled egg yolk) – This is a French staples for kids (and for parents who only have three minutes to come up with an acceptable dinner option). Boil an egg for three minutes and place it in an egg cup (all French families have egg cups—if you don’t, then the cap of your Évian bottle works well too!). Cut off the top of the egg with a knife and dip strips of buttered bread (known as mouillettes) to eat the runny yolk and semi-solidified egg white. What, salmonella? Meh, French kids eat rotten unpasteurized cheese anyway. They are immune, right? I know, I know, some people find the idea of eating barely cooked eggs pretty gross.
Croque-monsieur (aka grilled cheese sandwich) – People think French cuisine is fancy. I’ll tell you a secret: it’s actually pretty basic, just the names of dishes are fancy. For instance, we don’t call this French comfort food “sandwich au fromage et jambon grillé” but croque-monsieur—it sounds fancier. This quick snack, often served in brasseries, can be eaten hot or cold. It’s just two slices of buttered “American bread” (i.e. toasted bread) with ham, sliced tomatoes and gruyère cheese. There is nothing wrong with it but with such a fancy name, foreigners may expect a bit more!
Boudin noir (aka blood sausage) – The English name is more… ahem, descriptive than the French name. This is probably while foreigners stay away from this traditional French sausage made with pork, fried onions, fat, and blood.
Steak tartare (aka raw meat) – Forget everything you’ve heard about toxoplasmosis, bacteria, whatever… let’s have some raw meat for lunch! Steak tartare is a dish made from finely chopped or minced raw beef or horsemeat, often served with onions, capers and seasonings. It is sometimes topped with a raw egg yolk because eh, may as well, right?
Horse meat or rabbit – Talking about meat, French don’t mind serving horsemeat or cute little rabbits (lapin à la moutarde is a favourite). But if their frozen beef lasagna turned out to be horsemeat, it’s a huge scandal. Ah, these French… they always find a reason to complain, don’t they!
Cachou Lajaunie – This traditional candy, made in Toulouse, is somewhere between licorice and mint. They make your tongue black, they taste funny, yet when I was a kid, we all had the yellow round metallic tin in our pockets. Love it or hate it!
Fraise Tagada – I think this is France’s favourite candy! Haribo, the German confectionery company, came out with this inflated strawberry covered in fine sugar, colored pink and scented and it’s been a hit ever since. There are even food recipes with it. Other popular candies foreigners may find so-so are Car en Sac, Hari Croco and mini gummy Coke bottles.
Orangina – It’s well-known that Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks are extremely bad for you. Plus, they are American, and Americans eat crap, right? But drinking Orangina is, on the other hand, completely acceptable. This neon-bright yellow carbonated beverage is made from orange, lemon, mandarin, and grapefruit juices—no health benefits though, I’m pretty sure the ton of sugar nukes the vitamins if there were any to start with. Orangina can be found in other parts of the world, including in Canada, but it is most popular in France.
Bottled water – French love bottled water. Any supermarket has a huge aisle stocked with Évian, Hépar, Badoit, Perrier, Contrex , Volvic, Vittel and many other brands. While there is nothing wrong with drinking, well, water, French are often peculiar about their bottled water. Some folks don’t like the strong taste of Hépar or Contrex , other claim health benefits when drinking such and such brand… Such love affair with water is typically French!
Politically incorrect foods – Only in France you can order a “tête de nègre” (“nigger’s head”… yep, sorry, that’s the proper translation!), which is basically a marshmallow covered in chocolate, or a “pet de nonne” (“nun’s fart”), choux paste with a cream filling. And Banania, the a cocoa-based drink, was for years an ugly symbol of colonialism and racist stereotypes: the box showed a jolly Senegalese infantry man enjoying Banania.
Any French food or drink you find strange?