Puzzled by Traditional French Food and Eating Habits

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“I’m sorry, but I’m going to the beach. It’s… it’s 3 p.m., folks!”

I went to the supermarket, to the market, then I grabbed a coffee at the Saint Michel cookies store and when I came back, my family was barely starting to eat lunch.

“I mean, we’re leaving around 5 p.m. to catch the train in Pornic and…. oh, whatever.”

My mom, Feng and Mark followed me to the beach, the most tempting option for various reasons—Feng had already snacked, my mom wasn’t hungry and Mark didn’t care much for the rôti de veau.

“I don’t get it,” I moaned on the way. “Why can’t they eat simpler meals? Like, salad, a sandwich, a yogurt…? Do we have to have a full breakfast, then a long lunch, then a big dinner? How are they even still hungry for dinner?”

I’m not judging eating habits—I’m hardly a good example to follow—but I would hate spending so much time on prepping food, cooking it and cleaning up afterwards three times a day. It feels like a huge waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing a meal—key word being “a” meal, not three—but I don’t think the day should revolve around food and drink.

I’m not French enough for these elaborated meals with cold meats, seafood, roast, wine and all.

Last weekend, by the seaside, I had a bit of a cultural shock. In Nantes, like in most large cities, you can find pretty much every kind of cuisine and large supermarkets sell all kinds of foods, from frozen pizzas to rice, from brioche (sweet bread eaten at breakfast) to roast chicken, from common varieties of cheese to local and imported fruits and vegetables.

But in small towns—even during peak season, in the middle of the summer—there are fewer cosmopolitan options. Merchants focus on offering what people presumably enjoy the most.

And this is where I realized I’m probably not that French.

I walked around the Tuesday market in Tharon, one of the largest markets in the region. It took me about fifteen minutes to realize that 1) I wasn’t quite sure what half of the delicacies locals were fighting for were 2) none of them looked particularly appetizing to me.

Apparently, a typical French summer meal is splices of cantaloupe, an assortment of charcuterie (cold cuts), oysters, grilled sausages, cheese, and some Kouign Amann,various galettes or palets bretons—or at least, that’s what I gathered judging by the food stalls and the lineups of hungry customers.

Suddenly, I felt like a foreigner on her first trip to France. Okay, cantaloupe is a common fruit (I don’t like it, but that’s just me) and we eat ham and maybe salami, but I’ve never seen andouillette (sausage made with pig chitterlings, tripe, onions and wine) or rillettes (pork meat minced and cooked in fat) in my parents’ fridge. As for cookies, we usually stick to croissants, chaussons aux pommes or petites galettes.

Frankly, I don’t think I missed much. I don’t particularly feel the need to eat a pig’s entire gastrointestinal system. Traditional Breton cakes are invariably made with three ingredients—40% butter, sugar and flour—and, ahem… they sit heavy on the stomach.

There are definitely trends in food. In the 1980s and 1990s, France was adopting international cuisine and foreign products such as couscous (semolina), kebabs (shawarma), nems (spring rolls), burgers, etc. But I missed the following “back to the roots” trend featuring long-forgotten regional products. I swear that when I was a kid, there weren’t twenty kinds of galettes bretonnes in supermarkets and that blood sausage wasn’t an exciting thing to share around the BBQ.

I’ll stick to crêpes and salted butter, thank you very much.

Cantaloupes at the market

Fresh mussels at the market

Fresh crabs at the market

Cantaloupes stall at the market

Local wines at the market

Dried sausages at the market

Fresh crêpes at the market

Dried sausages at the market

Dried sausages

Rillettes (pork meat cooked in fat)

Deli meats stall at the market

Andouille, sausage made with pig chitterlings, tripe, onions and wine

Small potatoes from the island of Noirmoutier

Sea salt from Guérande

Local wines

Local Saint Michel cookies products at the market

Baguettes at the market

Baguettes at the market

Far Breton, traditional dessert in Brittany

Fresh croissants

Cookies from Brittany in a store in Pornic

Mark, addicted to croissants


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Hi there, I appreciate French cuisine, but most of the time, I’m like you — simple stuff that’s easier to prepare and clean up. I’m not a fan of anything made with tripe or pig parts. I love the market culture and the focus on fresh ingredients but I tend to eat fast. Three drawn out meals per day would get realllllllly tiring! Good thing I don’t entertain French people aside from in in-laws (who know my habits) 😉

  2. I have to say I’m not a huge fan of 3 big meals a day, I don’t think my stomach could handle it! But I love cantaloupe and charcuterie for a quick meal! And your photos are making me hungry! I miss having access to high quality fresh foods here

    • When did you discover charcuterie? I assume this is not something that was welcome in your place (cf. your upbringing)…? (Just curious!)

      • Funny you ask, it was actually at my best friend’s house (she was from Brittany) and it all started with rillettes haha I thought they were horrible at first but I quite like them. I also discovered cantaloupe quite late… I have to say it was a nice change from bland tofu and boiled cucumber 😛

        • 😆 I don’t want to sound disrespectful (and I do love tofu!) but if I had suffered through the diet you were forced into as a kid, I probably would have fallen in love with rillettes!

          • Frenchie au Canada on

            haha nope! no disrespect! I used to sneak in some “forbidden” foods and eat them lol Now I am more discerning but at the time anything was better than what we had! I still like tofu though

          • Good for you! And I do believe in trying everything at least once. After all, “les goûts et les couleurs”…

  3. First of all, andouillette and rillettes are totally different. One is gross and one is delicious! I’m kidding, of course, but I really can’t handle andouillette and I love rillettes—it was one of the hardest things to give up during my pregnancy. But also, my father-in-law is a butcher, so butcher shop stuff is pretty regular around here. As well as melons in the summer, but I did think that was a regional thing.

    • I agree with you: I don’t crave rillettes but it doesn’t gross me out. Andouillette in the fridge is… ahem, a questionable decision :-/ Are you supposed to give up charcuterie when pregnant? I can’t remember the list of dos and donts, I probably didn’t pay attention to what I felt was irrelevant to me.

      A butcher? That’s cool! It’s funny, I don’t like meat very much but I find boucheries can have really appetizing cuts, much better than anything wrapped at the supermarket.

  4. Bee Ean Le Bars on

    I love cantaloupe, they are easy to prepare and serve as entrée.
    In my family sometimes I don’t serve dessert, my husband and kids would grab a yogurt, a fruit if they want.
    But when we have family and friends come over, we have to serve entrée, main dish, cheese, salad, dessert, coffee. Very tiresome. I mean I like to have gathering but there are just too many things to prepare (not only food, but bed if people are staying over). After they leave, still need to clean up (in my family we are not allowed to use plastic silverware and paper plate).

    • I can’t imagine entertaining French. I mean, I’m not great at cooking for guests in the first place (we never do in Canada), let alone cooking a full French meal. Ugh… My family is more informal, expectations are low and we all cook/bring what we like best, it’s easier. Still, I find it’s a lot of time wasted thinking about food/cooking/ cleaning, etc.

  5. J’aime ce côté là de la France : les longs repas, la nourriture telle que tu la montres sur tes photos, les petits marchés. J’adore le côté spécialité et tradition que ça représente (pourtant la tradition c’est vraiment pas mon truc sinon). Après je n’aime pas les huîtres, ni le cantaloup ou les andouillettes… et j’aime aussi la simplicité des choses. Une crêpe au sucre est un bonheur pour moi (ou mieux : au caramel au beurre salé). Et je ne fais jamais d’entrée. Si je fais une salade c’est pour manger avec le plat de résistance. Sinon je n’ai plus faim. Dans la famille de mon chum les repas de Noël sont composés d’aperos, de salades, d’huîtres puis de fois gras et de saumon, d’un plat de viande, d’un plat de poisson et enfin du dessert. À ce stade il est 18h et il y a bien longtemps que je n’ai plus faim !!

    • Je crois que les repas à rallonge, faut être né dedans pour les comprendre. On n’a jamais pratiqué ça chez nous. On peut rester longtemps à table par plaisir de causer, mais sans non plus rejouer la grande bouffe. Après, dans la famille un peu plus élargie (c’esr à dire. hors mes parents/frère/soeur), ça dépend. C’est jamais super formel, mais disons qu’il y a une plus grande tendance à “manger terroir”.

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