After 9 Amazing Experiences For Food Lovers In Northern France and From Bordeaux To Marseilles: 9 Fabulous Food Experiences In Southern France, the final installment of this little series about what to eat when in France mops up the best it has to offer in the east.
The eastern regions include three of the best foodie places in the whole of France: Lyon, Burgundy, and Alsace. All three are famous for their hearty, warming food, cooked with traditional ingredients.
Here, you’ll find more favorite foodstuff to try in eastern France.
My first encounter with aligot was not in the Auvergne, but in a restaurant in Paris with a chef from the region, so the food was authentic at least, and so good. Aligot is basically mashed potatoes with cheese, a bit of crème fraiche, and a hint of garlic. When it is served, the waiter makes a big play of pulling the aligot into long cheesy strings — a bit like when you eat melted mozzarella on a pizza. The potato still tastes of potato, not too cheesy, but utterly comforting and yummy. Usually served as a side with a hearty main meal, such as sausages or venison, it can also be eaten on its own. But, it should be accompanied by a good red wine, just like fondue, to make sure you don’t get a stomach ache once the cheese cools. The recipe is reasonably easy to pull off at home and is a definite crowd-pleaser.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself in Paris in the colder months, head to the Ambassade d’ Auvergne for a historic setting and traditional comfort food.
2. Bœuf Bourguignon
This is another hearty, warming dish, which is perfect for colder days. But when done well, you will be more than happy to ignore the season because this is traditional French food at its best. Tender pieces of beef are stewed in red wine (of course a Burgundy), with mushrooms, pearl onions, bacon, carrots, and garlic. A favorite of Julia Childs, who championed traditional French dishes, the recipe is definitely a good one to try and perfect at home. Alternatively, if you are visiting Burgundy, you will stumble upon it in every restaurant, and after a day’s cycling through the vineyards, there is nothing better than a plateful of bœuf bourguignon.
Pro Tip: In Dijon, stay close to the pretty indoor market as the restaurants around it serve good and fresh food at a low cost. Or, if in Paris, head to the tiny Les Mauvais Garcons in the Marais, which usually has it on the menu.
You might have heard about the recent mustard shortage in France. What a disaster for those mustard-loving French, and obviously a huge economic crisis for places such as Dijon — famous for its mustard. There is now a cap on how many jars of mustard locals are allowed to buy. I am guessing that even in Beaune and Dijon there is a shortage. Normally, stores like the fabulously old-fashioned Maille and the boutique-style Fallot, just opposite the famous little Dijon owl on the cathedral, have heaving shelves full of mustard varieties.
So, if you are a mustard lover, and you find a decent jar of mustard in or around Dijon, treasure it even more so now. It is a hot commodity!
This is a very French dish that has most people running for the hills but can be found on most brasserie menus. Pulling little curled-up snails from their shells, let alone knowing how to use those strange-looking implements, can be an experience people would love to leave to someone else. But when in France… you really ought to try them. The snails taste of nothing much. It’s the garlic butter, mopped up with fresh, crusty baguette, which is the main thing to like about this dish. Although originally from Burgundy, you can get them pretty much everywhere.
Pro Tip: To save you not only from looking too closely at the snails, and handling the curious snail-eating gadgets, try the Café des Musees in the Marais in Paris. Here, they serve snails in hollowed-out mushrooms swimming in garlic butter. You can eat them easily and they are some of the best I have tasted in all of France.
5. The Bouchons
Not so much a dish, but this is a type of restaurant steeped in tradition and famous in France for serving the best food — making Lyon the foodie capital of France. (It’s true, even if the Parisians don’t like it.) The city of Lyon is famous for its traboules, the hidden walkways traversing the many steep hills of the city, with its Festival of Lights taking place every December, as well as food from Chef Paul Bocuse.
But Lyon is just as famous for its bouchons, tiny restaurants, serving traditional and meat-heavy food — including the dreaded andouillette — and good wine. As authentic as they come, when in Lyon, you will need to go bouchon-hopping. Try to sample as many as you can, because not only are they usually very pretty, but the food is seriously good. After all, they have a reputation to uphold. And worry not; many are going a little more mainstream with their menus now to please a wider audience.
Pro Tip: To learn more and sample plenty, try a Lyon Food tour, where you walk, eat, drink, and get plenty of insider information on the region’s cuisine.
You might have already tasted tartiflette at a Christmas Market in France, as it is a staple at these markets. Small cardboard bowls filled with steaming hot potatoes with melted cheese, bacon lardons, and onions, it is similar to aligot, but really not. Tartiflette is best eaten where you stand in the market. You can get it in ski resorts, but otherwise, it is rarely found in restaurants. I suppose it is a version of French street food, and all the better for it.
Pro Tip: As with fondue and aligot, it is best to wash the cheesy food down with alcohol, or even better with warm mulled wine, making for a perfect Christmas combination.
Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, Comté cheese has the single largest production in France, with more than 40,000 metric tons (almost 107 million pounds) annually made. It is the favorite cheese in France and the one you can find pretty much everywhere in the world. A hard cheese, it is eaten after dinner on its own — but before dessert! It can also be melted on dishes such as Croque Monsieur. Originally from the foothills of the Alps, it is found on every cheeseboard in the country.
Pro Tip: Rather than heading to a cheese manufacturer, the most fun way to taste it is by sitting on a restaurant terrace with a glass of wine and a cheese and/or charcuterie board in front of you.
Choucroute, pickled cabbage — or sauerkraut as the Germans would say just across the border — is a staple Alsatian dish often served with pork or sausages. In France, you can sample it everywhere in the beautiful region of Alsace, in places like Strasbourg. But if you cannot make it there, with the Alsatian cuisine much loved in France, you also get good examples across the country. Try, for example, the brasseries Bofinger or Chez Jenny in Paris, where you can order huge platters of meat dishes laid out on tasty, not-at-all sour choucroute.
Pro Tip: Alsace is also a famous wine region, especially known for its whites, such as riesling and gewurztraminer — a perfect accompaniment.
9. Quiche Lorraine
Go on any picnic, anywhere in the world, and a quiche can usually be found on the blanket. Quiche Lorraine is a specific quiche made with ham or bacon, and — of course, this being France — cheese. It originates, as the name suggests, in the Lorraine region, now part of the Grand Est, bordering Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. In fact, history strongly suggests that quiche comes from Germany, named after kuchen or cake. First mentioned in the Middle Ages in the region of Lothringen, it was later adopted by the French and named Lorraine. But it is now a thoroughly French dish, and much loved.
Pro Tip: When in the Lorraine capital of Metz, head into the old city center to Mamie M’a Dit (“Grandma Told Me”). In Paris, reportedly, Café Angelina has a superb Quiche Lorraine, but be sure to leave space for dessert…
Be on the lookout for these foods in French restaurants all around the country: