French Food: A Guide to French Cuisine & Food Vocabulary in French
From the morning croissants to a three-course meal accompanied by wine, there are tons of foods to try in France.
Eating well in France is very important and food is a big part of the culture. If you’re a foodie like many of the French are, improving your language skills by learning some food vocabulary is a great idea.
So let’s learn about the French food culture and the most common dishes in France.
Table of contents
- “Food” in French and Food in France
- Essential French Food Vocabulary
- 13 Most Common Dishes in France
- Ready to Order?
This makes France a world leader in eating: it is the country where people spend the longest time at the table.
La cuisine (“cuisine” or “food”) is such an important part of French culture! Let’s have a closer look at what les repas (“meals”) look like when you go out in France.
If you want to have a typical French breakfast, you need to visit a bakery (boulangerie). For breakfast, it’s common to eat pastries such as croissants and pain au chocolat, or some fresh baguette bread to spread jam over it.
Le déjeuner (“lunch”) in France is usually light. If you visit France, you can find many local restaurants that serve a traditional plat du jour (“dish of the day”) or menu du jour (“menu of the day”) for lunch.
Top tip: Make sure to check the opening times. These places are often open from 12 pm to 2 pm, closed for the afternoon, and open again for dinner time, which is usually around 7 pm.
French dîner (“dinners”) can be preceded by un apéro, which is short for apéritif. This is the time when people take the time to chat, spend quality time with each other, and have a cocktail and some snacks.
Then comes l’entrée (“the starter”) and le plat (“the main dish”). There may or may not be dessert (“dessert”), but there’s almost always fromage (“cheese”) to eat after the main dish.
If you’re curious to know what French main dishes can be like, stick around until the end! I’ve prepared a whole bonus section for you on typical French dishes.
For now, let’s start with the basic vocabulary you will need to talk about food in France.
Here are some French food and drink vocabulary lists for the different meals of the day.
You will also learn some sentences that you can use to order food to eat sur place (at the restaurant) or à emporter (“to take away”).
Top tip: Write the words you will need the most in your personalized phrasebook!
- Breakfast: petit-déjeuner
- Bread: pain
- Toast: pain grillé
- Jam: confiture
- Honey: miel
- Ham: jambon
- Butter: beurre
- Eggs: oeufs
- Céréale: cereal
- Croissant: croissant
- Sucre: sugar
- Lunch: déjeuner
- Dinner: dîner
- Food: nourriture
- Soup: soupe
- Salad: salade
- Pasta: pâtes
- French fries: frites
- Mashed potatoes: purée
- Vegetables: légumes
- Potato: pomme de terre or patate (informal)
- Tomato: tomate
- Bell pepper: poivron
- Onion: oignon
- Mushroom: champignon
- Carrot: carotte
- Courgette: courgette
- Aubergine: aubergine
- Rice: riz
- Bean: haricot
- Salt: sel
- Spices: épices
- Pepper: poivre
- Lemon: citron
- Olive oil: huile d’olive
- Vinegar: vinaigre
- Sauce/dressing: sauce
- Meat: viande
- Minced meat: viande hachée
- Beef: boeuf
- Pork: porc
- Chicken: poulet
- Fish: poisson
- Duck: canard
- Starter: entrée
- Main dish: plat
- Dessert: dessert
- Dish of the day: plat du jour
- Snack: goûter
- Cheese: fromage
- Delicatessen: charcuterie
- Cake: gâteau
- Pie: tarte
- Crisps: chips
- Cookie: biscuit
- Fruit: fruit
- Apple: pomme
- Pear: poire
- Cherry: cerise
- Banana: banane
- Strawberry: fraise
- Blueberry: myrtille
- Orange: orange
- Ice cream: glace
- Chocolate: chocolat
- Vanilla: vanille
- Candy: bonbon
- Drinks: boissons
- Water: eau
- Juice: jus
- Coffee: café
- Tea: thé
- Milk: lait
- Wine: vin
- Beer: bière
- Kitchen: cuisine
- Table: table
- Chair: chaise
- Plate: assiette
- Bowl: bol
- Glass: verre
- Wine glass: verre à vin
- Cup: tasse
- Fork: fourchette
- Spoon: cuillère
- Teaspoon: cuillère à thé
- Frying pan: poêle
- Saucepan: casserole
- Knife: couteau
- Bottle: bouteille
- Oven: four
- Fridge: réfrigérateur or frigo
- Microwave: micro-ondes
- Kettle: bouilloire
- Eat: manger
- Drink: boire
- Cook: cuisiner
- Take: prendre
- Want: vouloir
- Prepare: préparer
- Add: ajouter
- Bake: faire cuire au four
- Boil: bouillir
- Fry: frire
- Cut: couper
- Mix: mélanger
- Order: commander
- Taste: goûter
- Choose: choisir
- Pay: payer
- Restaurant: restaurant
- Brewery: brasserie
- Wine bar: bar à vin
- Waiter: serveur
- Waitress: serveuse
- I have a reservation for two people.: J’ai une réservation pour deux personnes.
- I would like…: je voudrais
- What will you have?: Que prenez-vous?
- I will have…: je vais prendre…
- What do you recommend?: Que recommandez-vous?
- I’m allergic to…: je suis allergique à…
- I don’t eat…: je ne mange pas…
- I don’t drink…: je ne bois pas…
- Have you chosen?: Avez-vous choisi?
- I’ve chosen.: J’ai choisi.
- Have you decided?: Avez-vous décidé?
- I’ve decided.: J’ai décidé.
- Do you have a vegetarian option?: Avez-vous une option végétarienne?
- Can I have the bill?: Est-ce que je peux avoir l’addition?
- Can I pay by card?: Est-ce que je peux payer par carte?
- Can I pay by cash?: Est-ce que je peux payer en liquide?
- Rare/medium-rare/well-done (for steaks): saignant/à point/bien cuit
- Did you enjoy your meal?: Ça a été?
- Thank you, it was delicious.: Merci, c’était délicieux.
- Please (informal): s’il te plaît
- Please (formal): s’il vous plaît
- Take away: à emporter
- Outside: l’extérieur
- Inside: l’intérieur
- With: avec
- Without: sans
- Cheers!: Santé!
- That’s all: c’est tout
- Tip: pourboire
As promised, here is the bonus section where you can discover some delicious (and sometimes surprising) French dishes!
France is a large country and the culture in the south and the north is not the same. What we call French cuisine is actually an umbrella term for the different foods in all 22 regions of the country.
Here are some of the most common foods from different regions of France:
Boeuf bourguignon translates as “Burgundy beef” in English as it comes from the Burgundy region of France. This region is known for its red wine, and of course, wine in France is not only for drinking: it’s also for cooking!
Preparing boeuf bourguignon involves simmering beef shank in red wine for hours. The recipe also includes carrots, onions, and mushrooms.
A traditional savory tart, la quiche Lorraine is prepared with cream, eggs, and bacon or ham.
There are other types of quiches, and you can get creative while choosing the ingredients. For example, salmon or spinach are popular ingredients for a quiche. They just wouldn’t be the traditional quiche Lorraine.
This name might remind you of a cooking rat but ratatouille is actually a vegetable dish from the south of France.
The recipe contains stewed vegetables such as des tomates (“tomatoes”), de l’ail (“garlic”), des oignons (“onions”), des courgettes (“courgettes”), des aubergines (“eggplants”), des poivrons (“bell peppers”), and des herbes de Provence (“green herbs from the Provence region”).
It’s a delicious Mediterranean dish that is suitable for vegetarians as well!
Arguably one of the most iconic soups of the world, la soupe à l’oignon, (“onion soup”) is not a quick dish to make. If you want to prepare it, get ready to slice and caramelise the onions, let them simmer in wine, toast some bread slices, and top the soup up with some parmesan cheese.
If you go to Brittany, the westernmost region of France, you have to try the traditional galettes and crêpes, thin pancakes that can be sweet or savoury.
Galettes are savoury ones, and crêpes are sweet ones, and it is possible to find many different flavours for both of them.
Brie, camembert, roquefort… France has hundreds of different types of cheese!
In France, people consume cheese after the main meal, before dessert, as a snack, or during l’apéro — basically, at any time. Good cheese is often paired with good wine, and you can make endless cheese and wine combinations in the country of wine and cheese.
While it’s common to eat cheese on its own or on top of a baguette, it is also the star ingredient of some iconic dishes, such as tartiflette which has cheese, bacon, and potatoes; fondue which involves dipping food in melted cheese; and raclette, where you put melted cheese on boiled potatoes and dried meat.
These are all typical winter dishes in Alpine countries, namely France and Switzerland.
Here’s another stew from the south of France, this time with slow-cooked meat—usually pork—and beans. It takes its name from the traditional cooking pot it’s made in, the cassole d’Issel.
Cassoulet can help you remember the French word for this cooking pot, which is casserole.
Although the name means “from Vienna,” viennoiseries can be found in every bakery in France. The most common ones are le croissant, le pain au chocolat, le chausson aux pommes, le pain suisse, le pain aux raisins and la brioche.
You can get some at a bakery or a cafe, usually for breakfast or a snack.
Originally made by fishers in Marseille, la bouillabaisse is a fish stew served in a bowl with a special mayonnaise sauce, and bread. Its original name is bolhabaissa in Occitan spoken in the south of France, and some parts of Spain and Italy.
Another classic French dish, le confit de canard translates as “duck confit” in English. Like many other French dishes, le confit de canard is slow-cooked, to make sure that the meat is soft and tender.
You can have mashed potatoes and minced meat in the same dish, and that dish is called hachis parmentier.
It is named after AntoineAntoine-Augustin Parmentier, a French scientist who popularised potato in the French cuisine more than two hundred years ago.
You’ll find this great potato dish in the Dauphiné region of France.
Dating back to the 18th century, le gratin dauphinois consists of creamy potatoes, made using the gratin technique. Gratin means that a dish is topped up with cheese or bread crumbs before being put in the oven.
The French language really has a word for everything, doesn’t it? Although gratin might not be your everyday word in French, make sure to start speaking as much as possible so that you’ll practice your vocabulary.
You’ve probably heard that they eat snails in France. Well, it’s true!
Les escargots, which is the French word for “snails,” can be found in many French restaurants. They are usually prepared with garlic, butter, and spices such as thyme and parsley.
Now it’s time to visit a French-speaking country or restaurant and test out all your food vocabulary!
If you’re going to France, we recommend you try one—if not all—of these iconic specialties.
Whether you have a sweet tooth, follow a vegetarian diet, or enjoy eating meat, there’s something for you!