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Food and Drink: Did You Know?

The Pleasure of Eating

The French are passionate about their food and dining traditions. Eating is not just about filling one’s belly, but also about enjoying life and good conversation. While fast food has made inroads into French cities, the culture of food in France is still one of long, leisurely multi-course meals, high-quality local ingredients, and expertly crafted dishes.

French Fast Food

Even fast food is different in France. McDonald’s in France serves beer and traditional French dishes such as a Croque Monsieur—a traditional French ham and cheese sandwich, which appears on the menu as a Croque MacDo (“MacDo” is the French nickname for the ubiquitous fast-food restaurant). Prices at French McDonald’s restaurants are typically double those in the United States, because most of the ingredients are locally sourced.

Wine and Liquor 

The French are also passionate about their wine and liquors. While the legal drinking age is 18 for liquors with more than a 21 percent alcohol content, it is 16 years of age for most other types of alcohol, and many teenagers are served wine at home with meals. It is often watered down, however. The French are the second largest consumers of alcohol in the Western world, behind Luxembourg.

Bread and Baguettes

Bread is also an important part of French cuisine, particularly the baguette, a long, thin loaf of bread. Approximately 10 billion baguettes are consumed by the French each year, and the country is said to produce some 16 million a day. There are strict standards for the manufacture of baguettes; it is illegal to call a bread product a baguette unless it contains only four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Each loaf must weigh exactly 250 grams and there can be no preservatives.

In November of 2022, the role of baguettes to French culture was deemed important enough for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to add the long, humble loaf to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The designation conveys the importance of a culture's know-how, living expressions, and/or traditions that are passed down among generations, with other categories of "intangible cultural heritage" including oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, and festive events.

UNESCO stated that the loaves, "require specific knowledge and techniques," adding that "they also generate modes of consumption and social practices that differentiate them from other types of bread, such as daily visits to bakeries to purchase the loaves and specific display racks to match their long shape. Their crisp crust and chewy texture result in a specific sensory experience. The baguette is consumed in many contexts, including during family meals, in restaurants, and in work and school cafeterias."

Regional Cuisine

In addition to broader traditions of French cuisine, each region has its own unique traditions based on the seasons and what is locally available. For instance, the Alsace region produces delicious melted-cheese dishes such as raclette and fondue. In Provence, local food focuses on fresh wild herbs, tomatoes, and olive oils.