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In some countries, the best season for eating is the heart of summer, when tomatoes and zucchini pop up in abundance. For other countries, it’s fall — the time of harvest and the time when all the best new wines come out.
For France, however, I think that the best food season is the winter. So much of French cuisine is heavy, soup-oriented and cheese-filled — it’s just what you need to warm you up on a cold day and keep you toasty!
So what are some of the dishes you should try?
Pure Melted Cheese
Raclette is the ultimate French winter dish: melted cheese, sometimes with ham or other meat, spooned over potatoes or even eaten on its own. Tartiflette is a variation on raclette with onions, lardons, and sometimes smoked salmon.
You’ll see street vendors all over France stirring giant skillets of raclette. My recommendation? Enjoy it with a cup of hot wine — and make sure to take a long walk afterward to work it off!
Another similar option is andouillette, a lyonnais specialty. Melted cheese, mustard, and a variety of strange meats and offal, including pig stomach and veal neck, are cooked together in a skillet. The mixture is then spread on tiny rounds of crispy bread.
Andouillette is an example of a peasant dish gone chic. You can find it in restaurants throughout boutique hotels in Paris — in this case, I tried it at Baragones, a lovely little wine bar in Lyon. Not unlike haggis, it tastes much better when you don’t think about what you’re eating.
Say whatever you want about the French — they know how to make a satisfying soup.
French onion soup is the most famous, and this version at Cafe le Conti in Paris took it to the next level. Just look at the size of it — and how thick that cheese is!
The perfect companion to butternut squash soup? Three slices of cured ham. I loved this dish at the chic Do Mo in Lyon.
And if you’re not going to have soup, why not go for escargots for your starter instead?
I love when the escargots come out of the oven hot and sizzling, still in their shells. After deftly maneuvering to remove them from their shells, sit back and soak up the fantastically garlicky sauce with your bread.
These escargots were part of a three-course meal at Le Paname in Montmartre in Paris — a delicious cheap find in an expensive neighborhood.
Most days, I would stop for something like a quiche and salad for lunch.
Quiches can be giant blocks of cholesterol, as in my much beloved quiche lorraine — but sometimes, like in this case, they’re simply a stack of vegetables glued together by a little bit of egg and set in a crust. Not a bad choice.
Is there any French dish more famous than boeuf bourguignon?
Though this is the most traditional of French dishes, I tried it in a decidedly nontraditional way — at Mon Histoire dans l’Assiette in Lyon, a restaurant that specializes in allergen-free cuisine. All of the dishes are gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, and nut-free. Ingredients like mustard, soy, shellfish, celery, and sesame are avoided as well.
You’d never know — this was a fabulous beef stew! The ultimate comforting dish on a cold day.
But most days, I went for salmon for my main course.
God, the French know how to do salmon — the rich, buttery sauces are perfect for winter. I had this one was at the excellent Le Vernissoir in the Marais in Paris.
And Now for Something Different…
Why not get a big bowl of pho?
Paris has a big Southeast Asian population, and Vietnamese restaurants abound. I tried the tiny restaurant outside the Crimée stop in Paris’s 19th arrondissement. I found a big bowl of pho to be the perfect antidote to days and days of heavy food — and infinitely more French when paired with an Orangina.
And now, what some say is the best course of all: dessert! Crepes are always an excellent option, and nobody does better crepes than Breizh Cafe in Paris.
If by some great chance you arrive at Breizh Cafe in the future, make sure you order a crepe with salted caramel. It’s their specialty dish and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! This salted caramel and chantilly crepe was nothing short of sublime.
For something different, try fromage blanc — France’s answer to panna cotta.
Fromage blanc is a bit like panna cotta but not as solid and with a tangier taste, almost as if it’s made from Greek yogurt. The raspberry coulis was the perfect accompaniment to this fromage blanc at Restaurant Le 5 at the Musée de Grenoble in, of course, Grenoble.