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French food culture has evolved over time and has been highly influential in culinary practices and terms throughout the world. Explore French food through examples of meals and examine the background, culture, and etiquette of French food. Updated: 12/23/2021

French Food: Background

For some, French food represents some of what is bad (or good) in the world: over-complication, snobbery, and massive amounts of butter. For others, it might mean the incomparable American chef, Julia Child, who brought French food culture to America and whose kitchen is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. For most, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which added the French multi-course meal and its preparation to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, French food culture is C’est magnifique, meaning it’s magnificent!

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French Food: Culture

Many of the words we use for cooking, even the word and idea restaurant, which really came into modern times at the end of the French Revolution (which occurred from 1789-1799) when the nouveau riche (newly rich) had more money to spend, come from French. From cafes (and, yes, this really is a French idea), to bistros, to the humble grilled cheese sandwich (called croque-monsieur in French with a piece of ham and cheese on the outside. . . it’s legitimately delicious), American and world cooking owes much to French food culture.

Most of us know the croissant, the flaky, butter-rich pastry bread, but French food culture includes such wonders as the éclair, bouillon, and the crepe, and, of course, the baguette. Wine (there are as many types of wines as there are regions in France), bread (usually eaten in some form with each meal and possibly one of the reasons why the French monarchy fell, because there simply was not enough of it), and cheese (there are over 400 types of cheese in France made from all types of milk, including goat) are the staples of French food culture and French life.

You would think with all this butter and huge amounts of wonderful food, French people might be obese, but they aren’t. This is called the French paradox redux. Many studies have been done on why the general population of France generally is not obese. No one is quite sure, but these longer than average meals made with fresher and unprocessed foods that are common in French food culture may have something to do with it.

French food culture also gave to the world cooking terms like sauté, blanch, and the awe-inspiring sight at any restaurant, flambé. French food and all its wonders could fill many pages, but it’s based on the idea that it should be enjoyed and should rise above just simply human nourishment.

One last word before we get to the rules. French food culture not only gave the world French food and cooking, but also the critique gastronomique (food critic) and a way to classify