Eating in a French brasserie ! The ultimate guide for your first trip in Paris.
Mis à jour : 13 oct. 2020
On the menu of a Parisian brasserie you will maybe find a few dishes that you were not expecting or you don't really know what it means. Follow the guide, I'm pleased to help you!
But first what is exactly a brasserie?
The word brasserie is also French for "brewery" and, by extension, "the brewing business". By extension now it means a French-style restaurant that serves cheap and simple food. Originally where workers were going. Some are not cheap anymore we have to say. They still serve traditional French cuisine.
Do not trust too much those who have a menu of 10 pages and serve absolutely everything… Not homemade for sure.
In France usually people take time to eat a quick but filling lunch, they need to recharge their batteries for the afternoon working hours, most of us are finishing work around 7PM and are not going to be back home before 8 to 8.30, so lunch is usually around 1PM and consists in: A main course, desert and expresso coffee.
A few tips from a local about what to taste...
Normandy is not far and the river Seine was an easy way of transportion for sea products. So, don’t be surprised to see oysters in many restaurants. Some French oysters such as Marenne, Utah, fine de Claires…are very famous, more or less salty. Always pair them with a glass of fresh, mineral white wine
Hard-boiled eggs & mayonnaise
Can also come as Oeufs Mimosa (Mimosa cocktail doesn’t exist here, don’t push me on that I’m from Champagne region and it should not exist anywhere 😉), local name for Devil eggs! So typical of old school French brasseries when workers were searching for cheap filling dishes. Best in town are supposed to be in Restaurant Le Voltaire.
Just the dish every tourist wants to have in Paris! Touristy restaurants even managed to call it “French onion soup”, ok… Maybe… but choose a very good place to pick it and enjoy it, most of touristy places will serve you something over salted, and not homemade, basically a tasty powder in hot water and tons of cheese to hide it.
This famous Onion soup is also coming from the worker world, in les Halles district when the market was finally set after hours of manutention, “les Forts”, the strong boys where craving for this light, but filling soup. Truth is we actually don’t do it at home and for most of us, last time we had one was in a situation of hangover.
Also, a “strong boy” tradition, cheap but tasty, not the lightest starter. People actually really eat that, on toasted bread with rocky salt. Good memory of one at Le pieds de Cochon.
Leeks, French dressing and hazelnuts
Delicious Grand Ma starter, simple but soooo good! Real family food.
Snails & parsley butter
Best of it is the butter. Let’s be clear about that, whatever would be soak in garlic, parsley and butter would become much more appealing.
Yes, we actually eat escargots, No we don’t eat that every day!
If you want to taste them in a nice place, l'Escargot Montorgueil made his reputation on that.
Smoked herring & potato salad
Ho Yes ! Another simple so good starter!
Best memory in Chez George.
Foie gras, onion or fig chutney
Yes we do love it ! No Christmas is not Christmas without this, and yes you should try because it is part of French culture.
Every duck recipe comes wonderfully with a touch of sweet, don’t be surprised if a little chutney of fig or onion comes with.
Blue cheese, walnut and chicory salad
Again, easy things are the best sometime, another family starter or light diner.
Farmhouse Terrine, toast & pickles
Made of pork, pair it with a glass of Bourgogne red wine, delicious. On a board it can come with “saucisson”, local Salami, all these pork products are named Charcuterie. If you want to experience all that, take a cheese board, and a “charcuterie” board and share it! Some great spots such as O Chateau have real good farmer’s products.
Burgundy beef stew or beef Bourguignon
A real winter warming dish, usually coming with mashed potatoes, cooked hours in a red wine sauce. Good and easy to taste even for kids.
Beefsteak & French fries
Classic, some restaurants are very famous for a good steak frites. You want a great address: go to le relais de L’entrecote, they have different restaurants in the city, a staff exclusively feminine, no choice, steak and frites for everyone! Don’t take veg people with you they would find no alternative.
Personal advice: to avoid to line forever, go early, before the French people so at 7PM.
Steak tartare is a meat dish made from raw ground (minced) beef. It is usually served with onions, capers, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and other seasonings, often presented to the diner separately, to be added for taste. It is often served with a raw egg yolk on top of the dish. And french fries.
Duck confit with Sarladaise potatoes
Duck is everywhere in menus, French people are eating so much duck, when we travel it is among the things, we miss the most…
Duck confit, literally means duck leg candied (in fat), it turns it melty inside and crispy outside, yummy! Even kids will ask for more.
Sarladaise potatoes, specialty of Sarlat, south west of France, gorgeous small town where so many duck specialties are produced, it means potatoes roasted on duck fat with garlic and parsley. Not such a light dish but very good.
Quiche and salad
Can be an easy, tasty option for a light lunch, this savory tart exists with so many different fillings, and usually has a veg option.
Warm ham and cheese toasted sandwich, served with green salad. Favorite of kids lost in front of a French Menu.
Sausage and purée
Traditional, basic and tasty. Take care about the sausage named Andouillette AAAA, which is a pork intestine sausage, very strong in taste and maybe not so adapted to foreign palates.
Sole Meunière or fish meunière
Means fish in a butter lemon sauce. Created in rue Montorgueil, by Les Halles, still a classic of fish restaurants or fancy brasseries.
Even kids in France are used to eat black pudding, sometime little bit spicy if it comes from Les Antilles (WestIndies). Delicious one in la Fontaine de Mars.
Pot-au-feu (boiled beef stew)
Nothing better than this light brothel, vegetables and variety of meats, mustard, with French baguette and a glass of red wine. Comfort family French food.
Rolled calf’s head, gribiche sauce
It is what it is, a calf’s head, if you feel like tasting the hardest part will be the texture, taste is actually soft, coming with a mustard dressing, well peppered.
Veal blanquette, pearl onions
A veal stew in a light lemony creamy sauce, served with rice, comfy, easy to begin with French cuisine, kids will love it!
Same it is what it is! Problem: it looks like a foot! At the pied de cochon they serve it prepared in a kind of sausage, truly a great idea to discover it and enjoy it passing over the "look".
Because we prefer our eggs under the shape of an omelet for a lunch or lazy diner, served with green salad and stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms or cheese. Parisian brasseries are very willing to serve it with fries…
Summer will also push you to our huge salads, very filling, complete and fresh!
We eat cheese plate with a glass of wine when we feel lazy, or, and more often between main course and desert with a green salad. So many varieties, I will make a whole post about French cheeses a bit later!
I know I will take back your attention with deserts coming! So many but you will notice tasting it that they are not extremely sweet, tastier than sugary.
Portions are not huge, not many people would go to a restaurant without finishing by a sweet note. Some of us (I would not give names) even choose their main course after their desert.
Here some classics:
Rice pudding, salted butter caramel
Family Grand Ma dessert, that you find easily and even more in dairy regions of France such as Normandy.
A crepe flambee in Grand Marnier, great from the show, the pic and the taste.
To order usually at the beginning of diner because it takes time to cook, it is so delicious to eat a chocolate (or other flavor) cloud! If you want to push the experience go the Soufflé restaurant, a cheese soufflé with salad is to die for!
Soft Meringue floating on custard cream and covered with a bit of caramel.
Chou pastry stuffed with vanilla ice cream, covered, no not covered, soaked in melted chocolate and whipped cream. No more to say, you will never see the world the same after that and ask for French nationality.
From the name of the highest mountain in the Alps. A chestnut cream and soft meringue cake, one place turned it in an art: Ladurée!
Rum Baba, whipped cream
Some people crave for a Rum baba, some others will never understand this cake, pick you side!
A sponge cake soaked in a syrup of rum and sugar, with whipped cream and sometime raisins in Rum too.
A classic, really tasting like lemon, sometime comes “meringuée” and become sweeter.
Let me now give you some random tips about ordering in French restaurants :
Many foreigners are expected to have butter coming with their bread, it is not always the case in France, if you really want to, you can ask for it. Same for ice cubes, our Mums never stopped repeating us frozen drinks are bad for stomach so... if you want your drink chilled ask for more ice ...
Waiters can look weird at you if you order a cappuccino or coffee with your lunch, for us it is a morning thing.
We tip waiters in France, actually more in big cities than in the countryside.
No percentage is expected and it is not mandatory. Still if the service was good, the waiter will highly appreciate a tip.
If you have a sensitive stomach you better drink mineral water during your stay in France.
Lemonade on a French menu is not a great mix of fresh lemon, sugar and water, it is just a soda. You might be disappointed. If you want a real one, ask for lemon juice and sparkling water.
When you will enter in a café, the waiter will ask you if you want to stay at "le comptoir", the lunch counter, seat in a table in the main room, or outside in the "terrasse". Prices can be different.
What you should not do is to choose "take away" and then seat, as taxes are different from the two services that can make them not so happy.
And finally be curious, we are famous for eating pretty well, pizzas and pastas are not our specialty, italians do that much better and you can discover so many amazing dishes during your stay!
And you what have you experienced in France? What was your favorite food discovery?
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