The French are famous for their gastronomy, and Paris is a foodie wonderland. For anyone visiting Paris, there is a lot of eating to be done, and you don’t want to miss out on something that France does best in all the world.
Trying to narrow down the must-eat foods in Paris to ten is like trying to choose a favorite child or, in my case, a favorite bite of chocolate. Look, they’re all my favorite.
It goes without saying that a French food scavenger hunt should be on every visitor’s to-do list. France’s culinary prowess is one of the main reasons I finally had to move to Paris, and it should be a top priority during any visit to the City of Light.
From fancy 3 Michelin starred restaurants to the humble baguette, there are memories to be made in the form of delicious French food. I still melt when biting into a flakey buttery croissant, and the list of restaurants I’d like to try grows with each passing day.
With likes of crème brulée and chocolate mousse as contenders, it’s clear that the list could be based on desserts alone, and maybe that will come next. The list could go on and on, but I’ve done my best to narrow it down to the top ten foods I think everyone must try while in Paris.
Top Ten “Must Eat” Foods in Paris
Just get past the idea that you’re eating a snail, and you’ll be fine. Garlic butter transforms all things. I still remember my first bite of escargot on a study abroad trip long, long ago. It’s just one of those French things you have to try, yet all I could think of were the cute snails I used to play with in my grandma’s garden in California. If you think about it too much, it will freak you out. Don’t let it. Snails in that classic garlic butter are just divine.
For people who have never eaten foie gras, I say it’s like meat butter. If you were to make butter from duck and spread it on your toast, there it is. This smooth, rich meat spread is usually made from duck liver, and it’s a specialty for a reason. The first time I had foie gras on my study abroad trip to France my senior year in college, the professor said, “The first time you have foie gras, you’ll think, ‘What’s the big deal?’, but then you’ll become addicted.” And it’s true. You start to appreciate the nuances of flavor and texture that comes in a good foie gras. It’s best served on toast, but I’ve never been disappointed by spreading it on a hunk of baguette.
A fresh baguette
When I first moved to Paris, I ate a whole baguette to myself daily. I just couldn’t resist it. I’d tell myself on Saturday morning that I’d have some for breakfast and then save the rest for lunch. And then I’d consume the entire thing, tear by tear. It’s impossible to stop when it’s warm. Truly the French stand out in the world when it comes to the quality of their bread.
Not all baguettes are necessarily created equal, and while it’s probably not worth running across town to get a baguette from a particular bakery, you can tell by looking whether it’s a good one. The outside should be crisp and golden, and the ultimate test (once you’ve bought it) is to give it a squeeze. It should be firm and crisp on the outside and give way with a clear crunch to a soft interior. If it seems stale or chewy when you give it a squeeze, that’s not a good sign.
Swing for the extra 20 centimes and get a “Tradition”, not just a standard baguette. They are always better.
The best time to go is early in the morning or between 5-8pm when they will be fresh and warm out of the oven.
Croissant / Pain au chocolat
Once you’ve had a real French croissant, good luck ever going back to the stale dry croissants you’ll find in most of the rest of the world, a blaspheme to the name Croissant. A pain au chocolat is essentially a puffy square croissant with two thin strips of semi-sweet chocolate down the center. Get croissants before 10am to have them at their very best.
Never thought you would see something healthy on a list like this, did you? Truth be told, there are some seriously fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables to be had at the weekly markets. I mean, not in the winter, where root vegetables reign supreme. But spring and summer, in particular. Gold.
I hated tomatoes my entire life until I came to France, and then I practically ate them like apples. No longer were they flavorless or sour – they were soft and sweet and bursting with flavor. When you walk through a market in the summer, I swear you can smell the strawberries before you ever see them. I grew up dipping strawberries in sugar because they were not sweet enough to eaton their own – little did I know I had just never truly tasted a strawberry before. Never have I had such juicy and fresh nectarines.
French markets will make you think twice about grocery store produce, which henceforth is the same as plastic fruit. Grab some fresh fruit, tomatoes, avocado, cheese, meat, and a fresh baguette, and you have a perfect picnic lunch.
You will pass window after window of beautiful pastries, and you musttry some of the classics: Paris-Brest, St. Honoré, Religieuse, Opera, millefeuille, éclair, fruit tarts galore.
A strawberry tart in the summer is not to be missed. At the end of the day, you should be trying to consume as many pastries as possible – fruit, chocolate, breakfast pastries. All the pastries, all the time.
You can’t come to France and not get a crepe. It would just be silly. In my books, you can’t beat a Nutella crepe, though I also enjoy cinnamon & sugar or lemon & sugar. Any crepe stand will do, and it makes a perfect afternoon snack or late night treat.
Jacques Genin caramels
This is a little known secret that only the ultra foodies know to seek out. Jacques Genin is a pastry and chocolate master who provides chocolates & caramels to most of the 3 Michelin starred restaurants. He has two boutiques in Paris where it’s possible to buy his chocolates and his famous caramels.
Don’t try to live life without having one of those ultra buttery melt into your mouth. My favorites are the plain caramel and mango passion fruit caramel. Heaven.
They’re colorful, beautiful, and world renown. These little pastries have a delicate, crispy shell with flavored cream, chocolate, or fruit filling piped into the center. The most famous macaron boutiques in Paris are Ladurée, which was the first tea salon in Paris and credited as the inventor of the macaron, and Pierre Hermé, who is more creative and inventive with his macaron flavors.
Try both and see which team you’re on. A good macaron is so delicate that the shell cracks when you gently pick it up between your fingers. The most interesting part is how they manage to infuse such pure flavors into each macaron (if you’re at a good place).
My favorite flavors at Ladurée are vanilla, dark chocolate, salted caramel and rose. At Pierre Hermé, I like to choose between his new crazy flavors, and I always throw in a salted caramel – his are different than the same flavor at La Durée, and it’s a tie for whose is best. Get both!
Ah oui, le fromage. The French have a relationship with dairy products that goes well beyond blasé, and with good reason. France has more official cheeses than there are days in the year, and they are blessed to have a variety of cheeses that will never grace the aisles of any market in the U.S.
You should plan to get a soft & creamy cheese, a blue cheese, a hard cheese, and a goat cheese, if you can handle its pungency. My go-to favorite is comté – as old as you can find. Younger comtés are lighter while older ones are rich and nutty.
Other favorites include Tomme de Savoie (a semi soft cheese), Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, & Fourme d’Ambert (all blue cheeses), Cantal, and all the soft runny delicious cheeses that sometimes smell like feet but taste delicious. Grab yourself a fresh baguette and spread away.
We all know it’s impossible to narrow down a list of must-eats in Paris to ten. I couldn’t even begin to touch on the classic dishes that need to be tried – Beef Bourgignon, duck confit, magret de canard, Sole Meunière. That will require a list all its own.
It’s safe to say that if you love food, then France is a land of culinary delights. While it’s impossible to make a definitive list of ten must eat foods in Paris, this is a great place to start. If you eat all these things on your trip, then you will walk away pretty happy, and I’m certain you will already be thinking about your next trip back.