Restaurants in Bouffay, Nantes, July 2013
Restaurants in Bouffay, Nantes, July 2013

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 a few beloved French specialties strange, gross or simply “meh”.

You must have 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 staple 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 why 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, the 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, coloured 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, the French are often peculiar about their bottled water. Some folks don’t like the strong taste of Hépar or Contrex , others claim health benefits when drinking such and such brand… Such a 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 cocoa-based drink, was for years an ugly symbol of colonialism and racist stereotypes: the box showed a jolly Senegalese infantryman enjoying Banania.

Any French food or drink you find strange?

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22 Comments

  1. Boeingbleu November 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

    French people are so weird about their bottled water! My colleagues go on and on about how this one has that much magnesium and that one that much whatever mineral. I even know someone who mixes them to get all of their benefits.

    Tap water will do for me !

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 22, 2013 at 9:50 am

      That’s how I feel about water too! 😆

      Reply
  2. Klaus November 22, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Although I’m from Germany, some of the foods sound strangely familiar to me. The horsemeat scandal was a pretty big deal last year. Blood sausage (disgusting!) is common in Germany, as is “Thüringer Mett”, our beloved minced meat. The name of the “politically incorrect food” (love the term ;)) has changed a long time ago. When I grew up, “Negerkuss” (negro kiss) was a perfectly acceptable term, later they changed it to “Schokokuss” (chocolate kiss).
    Some folks seem to believe that bottled water is healthier than tap water. While I believe there is no general answer to this question I usually use tap water, just because I’m too lazy/cheap to buy bottled water all the time. It really depends on where you live. No matter how clean the tap water may be: if you live in an old building where the water pipes are still made of lead, you may not want to drink the tap water.
    As someone who doesn’t like cheese, I’m glad I didn’t grow up in France since cheese seems to be a big deal there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had soda with cheese taste ;). Or do they?

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 22, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Cheese is a big deal in France and lots of foods come with cheese on top/cheesy sauce by default. I only realized it going to France with Feng who isn’t a huge fan of cheese either.

      In some region of Brittany, tap water doesn’t taste good. But store-brand water bottle usually do the trick, I don’t splurge on Évian!

      Reply
  3. Emily November 22, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I love a lot of those things! Soft boiled eggs with “soldiers” is my favourite. Even as an adult. My dad used to bring home those black lollies from France so I’m also quite partial to those.

    Horse meat…. still unsure!

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      I don’t think I have ever had horsemeat. I don’t feel the need to but it doesn’t gross me out.

      Reply
  4. Mel November 22, 2013 at 10:41 am

    You’ve covered my faves here. I definitely still cut up my toast as soldiers for my soft-boiled egg every now and then, and then flip over the egg when it’s done and try to serve it to David, like I’m 5 all over again 😉

    Also, Prince chocolate sandwich cookies. Though doesn’t really fit the description of WTF food. I always get a pack when I’m over there.

    As if I wasn’t looking forward to my trip at Christmas enough!

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Prince! My favourite too!

      Seriously, when it comes to food, I often feel like I’m 5 yrs old 😆

      Reply
  5. Canedolia November 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    The only one of these I really don’t like (OK, have never dared to eat) is steak tartare. And I try to avoid bottled water on principle. But apart from that, it looks as if I’m pretty integrated!

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Yeah, raw meat… no thanks!

      Reply
  6. Crystal November 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I loved this post! I’m a very picky eater, and I certainly don’t eat much of what you covered on that list (besides the sweet stuff!), but I definitely agree with everything you mentioned.

    I continue to find it odd how the French tend to think that peanut butter is SO bad for you and makes you fat but that sugary Nutella is perfectly ok to slather on bread every morning. Peanut butter has way more health benefits than Nutella, yet the French will argue until they are blue in the face that peanut butter is just terrible for you.

    Greetings from southern Ontario 😉

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 24, 2013 at 11:22 am

      That’s BS, peanut butter is actually not bad for your health! Well, like everything, in moderation. I do think it’s an acquired taste (I’m not a big fan) but hey, Nutella is definitely not healthier. French are a bit weird sometime. They claim only “their” food is healthy but really it isn’t!

      Reply
  7. Christiane November 26, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Love the list ! I love Cropue Monsieur (and Croque Madame too), Orangina, and lapin a la moutarde. I tried to cook frog legs one time but they didn’t taste as good as the ones in the restaurants. I am definitely not a fan of boudin noir. Too bloody for me.

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      I wish I knew more about local African specialties (yes, I know, Africa is a continent…!).

      Reply
      1. Christiane November 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

        In Ivory Coast, the specialty is plaintains and fried fish (like Rockfish) with tomato sauce. Yum !

        Reply
        1. Zhu November 30, 2013 at 7:11 pm

          Plantains rock! Latinos eat them too, had tons of it in Central America 😉

          Reply
  8. I Say Oui November 29, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I like a croque-monsieur, but I don’t think I would eat it cold.

    What you mentioned about escargots and frogs’ legs reminded me of a question I’ve had for a while. I know you’re not in Quebec, but do you know if game and meat pies are foods people actually eat at home there? I remember seeing it on menus in Quebec City, but I was curious whether it’s more of a traditional food or commonly cooked for dinner too.

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 29, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      I love cold croque-monsieur for some reason! Especially with a salad 🙂

      Mmm… that’s a good question. Bison meat patties are common enough in burgers, I see that a lot. Meat pies are popular (pâté chinois I think it’s called in Quebec), it’s a good winter comfort food. But I think most people use “common” meat (i.e. pork, chicken, beef) because it’s cheaper anyway.

      Reply
      1. I Say Oui December 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        Thanks for the response! Pâté chi­nois… what a funny name.

        Reply
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