How We Shop & Eat in France

There have been sweet comments and emails asking more about food in France, so we took the camera to the market this morning and snapped some pictures so I could write a proper post.

We love the food here. We’re so lucky to have easy access to fresh, local produce, and we think it’s wonderful that there’s a focus on what’s in season. When you buy something at the market, it will be placed in a little paper bag and the corners will be twisted up like this:

The bag is filled with 4 small avocados because I’ve been craving guacamole. Question: should I feel guilty if I still crave non-French foods from time to time? : )

dried apricots

We also bought some gorgeous dried apricots. They were placed in a little bag too. We only wanted a handful or so, but couldn’t remember how to say quarter kilo, so we asked for a half kilo instead. Hah!

At the dairy booth, we bought a nice big wedge of Carrouges cheese. We’ve heard it’s pretty mild and really, really good. I can’t wait to try it.

We also bought a pint of fresh milk at the dairy booth. The milk was in big buckets and it was fun to watch them ladle it into this bottle:

I’ve already had a glass full and it is wonderful.

food market Argentan Francemarket in Argentan France

The Tuesday market takes place right in the center of Argentan next to an ancient Cathedral. What a backdrop!

cathedral in Argentan Francemarket in Argentan France

Seeing the variety of citrus makes me smile. And so does the beautiful handwriting on the signs.

food market Argentan Francefood market Argentan Francefood market Argentan France

At one of the booths, there were live chickens and duckings (I think?):

food market Argentan France

A woman was buying a live chicken, and the farmer boxed it up in a roomy cardboard box and cut holes for air. Will she keep it for eggs? Or cook it up for dinner? I’m so curious.

After the market, we stopped at the butcher and baker which are right next door.

One thing I never realized before we moved here, is that France (and all of Europe, I think) uses military time. The bakery closes at 19h30 — which means 7:30 pm. I’m still getting used to it.

My observations on food so far, in no particular order:
– There are charming independent shops — like butchers, cheesemakers and bakeries. There are farmers markets almost every day. And there are huge supermarkets as well. Which means you can choose to eat as old school, or packaged and convenient, as you prefer.
– There are bakeries everywhere. No really, they are everywhere — sometimes 2 or 3 on the same block. And they are excellent! We have diligently been trying every possible bakery item so that we can confidently choose our favorites. It’s a difficult job, but we are sticking to the task. : )
– We stop at a bakery daily. We haven’t narrowed it down to one specific favorite shop yet, but like the idea of becoming regulars somewhere. Most days, we pick up baguettes for that night’s dinner, and pain au chocolat (like a croissant with chocolate inside) for the next day’s breakfast.
– Breakfast here is a minor meal. No bacon, eggs, sausage, hashbrowns. Nothing too heavy. A croissant and bowl of hot cocoa seem to be typical. I’ve always preferred a light breakfast, so this works wonderfully for me, and my kids are generally on board as well. I make a pot of hot cocoa each morning and if we don’t have pain au chocolat, then we make toast with honey or nutella instead. (Oscar still prefers oatmeal.)
– Lunchtime is sacred here. Many stores and banks close down from 12:00 to 2:00 so that employees can eat lunch. It is 3 courses, at least. Our kids eat at school, and come home with all sorts of yummy details about their food (which I promise to write up in another post). I confess, I have not eaten a proper French lunch yet. In fact, if I can find an open shop, it’s when I prefer to do my errands, because I have the store to myself.
– For dinner, we have been trying to experiment. We try French meals — like beef stew and crepes with savory fillings. Or sometimes we adapt familiar meals to French ingredients. Last night, we made pizza, but instead of pepperoni and mozzarella, we used a white sauce made from a local cream, and topped it with gruyere cheese, lardons and onions.

food market Argentan France

– As I mentioned, today, we shopped at the local farmer’s market where there are produce booths, seafood booths, dairy booths and meat booths. Then we visited the butcher and the baker.
– But we also shop at the big supermarket too. That’s where we buy flour, sugar, oatmeal — and even staples from our American diet like cold cereal, pizza dough and tortilla chips.
– One last thing. The yogurt section at the big grocery store is an event. The yogurt takes up as much space as the entire dairy section in an American supermarket. I love yogurt. I’m looking forward to trying a bunch and finding a few favorites.

What about you? What would be your ideal grocery shopping experience?

P.S. — Here’s a post Jordan wrote about grocery shopping in Paris.

96 thoughts on “How We Shop & Eat in France”

  1. Those little ducklings are SO cute!!!! Reminds me of my duckling! (His name was Bob.)
    I would LOVE to go to France one day! My parents have been there. My step-dad is actually from Scotland. They’ve traveled all over the world!

  2. I loved reading this post because I enjoy seeing a foreign perspective on France. For instance, the fact that you pointed out the paper bag and the twisted corners – of course, it’s so cute yet us French take it for granted :) What strikes me even after growing up in France is the patisserie wrapping in a boulangerie. You can have 20 people queuing, the boulangère will always make sure your cake or patisseries is beautifully wrapped in a box with ribbons and all. So French!

    ps: have you tried Pont-Levêque cheese yet? It’s from around where you live and it’s delish!

  3. I wasn’t hungry until I read your post! ;)
    Every morning I look forward to your photos and blog about your family’s time in France. Not sure if I will ever make it there, but your details sure give me a “taste”. Thank you!

  4. Your french pizza was none other than a Tarte d’alsace or tarte flambe… a traditional northern french pizza of sorts usually eaten around octoberfest. I think you’re catching on to the french way of cooking more than you think!

  5. Stephanie Smirnov

    Another delicious post! Can’t wait to hear about the yogurt, curious to see how they stack up against all the Greek yogurt brands so popular here. BTW, I think the Blair family needs to bring a live chicken home from market next time, for the fresh eggs. That’d be very Martha of you, you know :)

  6. What an interesting post – one of my favorites on your move, so far. Of course, I’m all about food!

    Before kids, we used to visit my inlaws in Wales once or twice a year, and always took a side trip to a different european country since we were already across the pond. We flew for super cheap (think $20 for tickets to Amsterdam!) by scouting the online sales prior to our trip. One of my absolute favorite things to do on all these trips was grocery shop. I just loved discovering new foods and trying to read the labels. So much fun.

    I hope you all continue having such a good experience in France, and have found yourselves a tutor! I imagine that’s high on the priority list!

  7. I am loving this post. I am getting all nostalgic about my European stints – my parents and their years in Luxembourg – my little family’s time in Paris. At the time, my two oldests were 8 years old and 6 mos. old. We went for an extended period of time…. lived in an apt in Montmartre ….. and shopped the little markets – got our cheese and croissant for breakfast in the mornings…. our fresh chicken, beef – whatever for dinner each night. So zen – so minimalist in some ways – buy the fresh milk, fruit, etc that you need for the day… walk the neighborhood daily….. And – yes -they do use military time throughout Europe…. You’ll get used to it :-). At least now they have the Euros instead of French Francs, Belgian Francs, German Marks, Lux Francs (all different) ….. Sounds like you and your family are soaking up the experience. Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!

  8. French food shopping is as close to my ideal as it comes. I love the characters you meet and the love of the food. I recently went back to the town I used to live in and the family that ran the vegetable stall still remembered me after five years! I don’t think you’d get that in your local supermarket! I wrote about it here:
    There are some pretty good markets in London. Borough Market is amazing but totally rammed at the weekend, but lots of farm fresh produce etc. Brixton Market is marvellous and eclectic but totally devoid of the link to producers and seasons.
    Just you wait till the summer! The tomatoes alone will blow your mind, they’re every single colour from black to yellow!
    You didn’t ask but my favourite ever French cook books are the french kitchen and the French Market by Joanne Harris. They help you make sense of all those vegetables you don’t recognise at the Market.
    I don’t know if you know this but I always found the most useful measure to use at the Market was “une poignee” (the g is silent) – it literally means a wrist-full but in this sense it means a handful or fistful. I found it particularly useful when i wasn’t sure of the wieght of things! So “une poignee des abricots” would get you a (no doubt generous) handful of apricots.
    I’m so jealous! X
    (tried submitting this a few times and it didn’t appear to work, sorry if they all belatedly work!)

  9. G- I RARELY leave comments on blogs (I use reader), but I had to leave one on this post. It fascinated me. Seeing the little booths set up in front of the Cathedral was just so interesting. Remove the modern elements and it could have been market day hundreds of years ago! Thanks for all the posts about the ‘small’ aspects of your day-to-day French experience. I’m riveted.

  10. Oh! My! Gorgeous! Cathedral! I would never get any shopping done looking at that beautiful architecture. The food sounds wonderful too. What an adventure and great opportunity.

  11. Your convincing me that France must be on my “to do” list for life. I was sold on the whole post but your last point about yogurt clinched it for me. I would love a whole post on that alone!

  12. Wow. This market is beautiful, the photos are gorgeous. I am jealous of all the fresh fruit. Especially being outdoors! Too cold here. My husband prefers the european way of shopping for food, buying what is needed for the day. But I’d prefer being in France than here for that! Fresh croissants and all… Mm.. bon appétit!

  13. great posts! My sister in law lived with a french family for a few weeks…she said they went to the market every day. She also said the produce was AMAZING and the food they cooked her in their home was awesome! She was only 17 at the time too.

  14. I agree with Jana – Every morning I wake up excited to see what you’re going to post.

    As for military time, whenever I’m in Europe I just cancel out the 1 on big the big numbers, subtract 2, and add pm in my head. ;) Example: 17h, cancel 1 = 7. 7 -2 = 5pm.

  15. The best thing about French supermarket is the yogurt-selection, hands down. I can’t really visit a super-u (I live in Germany, but close to the French border) without buying La Laitière Vanilla yogurt, it’s the best there is and it comes in cute little glasses that are great for putting candles in.

  16. sounds like you had a creme fraiche pizza! how i miss lardons!

    european yogurt is the best stuff. i have a hard time in the states eating it because it does not taste anywhere near as good as it does there.

    and i actually prefer military time. between living in europe twice and my husband in the army….it just makes sense in my head.

  17. My mouth is watering now! When I visited france with my mother right after I graduated high school, we concluded that the best food we ate was when we stayed in a little mountain town in the Alps where we shopped at the local markets and my mom cooked in our condo. The food is unbelievably fresh, even more so than most organic things you can find in the states. It really makes me want to live out of the US, even just for food. I do love to eat…

  18. Lovely photos, especially the chicks!
    I have to admit that I looked forward to shopping at the local Franprix because first, I wanted to try the many cookie varities they offered and the sugary syrupy stuff that you add to water (now i can’t remember the name of it). There are so many flavors! Then I grew to liking lugging all the boxed milk (the fresh sounds much better tasting) home because it meant losing weight :) I didn’t end up buying one of those handy carts because we didn’t have room in our apartment to store it plus it’s hard to manage w/a stroller :)

    1. french syrups are so cool! they have all imaginable colors and tastes and even tastes from flowers, you’d never imagine someone would make a syrup of it. But it’s better to buy “homemade” ones, than the artificial ones! The taste is soo much better. :)

  19. Interesting. I’ve never heard of the term military time before. But it’s true, all over europe usually shops close by 1830, except on special occasions or thursdays’late shopping or saturdays, where every country has its own laws.. or italy, where the lunch break is even longer, but the shops are open later in the evening.
    And yes, Yogurt is great, but german and french friends would say swiss yogurt even tops them all. Actually I can never shop enough yogurt. the kids just go crazy about it.
    Breakfast sounds great! You’re doing it really european style.. ( I miss home made marmelade ;) ).
    sundays or saturdays we add more good bread, yogurt, a soft boiled egg and maybe when mommy’s in the mood for it scrambled eggs… and when she’s having a extremly good day we’ll have pancakes or a real “müesli”. ;) The real swiss Müesli I usually do for dinner. Though it would be the best day starter.
    I love to read about all the fun details you can see, that we don’t see anymore! I love it too, when they swirl the paper at the ends and when they box up my pastries really nicely.

  20. Thanks for the post. Have you tried the French supermarket yet? I think I would definitely prefer to immerse myself in the French Market scene (it sounds much more quintessentially French) but I am so curious as to what the supermarket setup would be!

  21. Oh, yes, I remember the yogurt aisle from visiting France. Calling it an “event” is a good description. I love the ones that come in little glass pots. If I lived there I would save those up for a craft project. There are little chocolate custards in that section as well that are very good.

    You should read David Leibowitz’s blog. He lives in Paris and is a chef/food writer. He has some hilarious and useful tips about cooking and food in France.

  22. I am loving your posts! The open air markets look fabulous. That would be my ideal shopping experience. All the colors and textures and smells. As I sit and look out my window at the 5 inches of snow we got yesterday, your pictures make me long for summer and my garden. I always look forward to your next post.

  23. I hope you’ll describe your church going experience as well! I’m interested to hear how your branch compares to mine here in Japan!

    Sounds like you’re having a fabulous time!

  24. Thanks so much for sharing! I can’t get enough of your French posts!
    I’m glad to hear of your good luck with local bakeries. I read recently that it’s hard to get good bread in the French countryside – good to know that’s not always the case!

  25. Love it.

    So you go to a different market everyday in a different location? That seems very complicated to me. Of course I know I’m coming from the land of superstores and such. But I would think if people have to go grocery shopping everyday or such, the markets would be in the same location. What do I know?

    1. Good question, Natalie. We are still figuring out our ideal shopping schedule, but right now, it’s like this:
      -bakery every day (because it’s easy — we pass a dozen every time we leave the house and it’s a five minute stop or less)
      -farmer’s market once a week (depending on which day we schedule this errand, we have different locations to choose from, but the one in the center of town is the biggest and my favorite)
      -big trip to the supermarket once a week

      And then, of course, we have extra trips for items we’ve forgotten.

  26. It’s almost unreal that you actually picked up and moved the whole family over and are now living the French life!!! I’m so proud and envious and happy for you guys at the same time! Life seems so simple and naturally artsy over there!

  27. Oh my goodness this looks so amazing! It sounds like your kids are so great at eating adventurously- any tips? How did you raise such adaptable eaters?

  28. I lived in a neighborhood outside of Paris for a time and I dream of the market; wish we had a blip of one here.
    When you do try the yogurt see if you think they’re not as sweet. That’s how I felt when I came back to the states… things tasted sweeter over here in the States.
    Enjoy your adventure,
    an Ex-Pat.

  29. One of the things I love about visiting Europe is bakery breakfasts. Your talk of hot cocoa and pain au chocolat makes me a little homesick for Paris, and we’ve never even lived there. I have a friend going this weekend. I may have to try to stowaway. ;)

  30. Ah, looks to die for! I would love a shopping experience like yours.

    Ideally, it would be a market everyday. I would shop a few times a week just for planned meals. I’d use the market to get inspired for future meal ideas, too.

    Sounds like heaven!

  31. My family and I are just hanging on to your every word. Your diaries from France have been magnificent bedtime story-time material. I gather the family around the computer with bedtime snacks in hand and read aloud your entries. My children (5 and 3) are so interested in every detail of the culture and your new lives — What does the cheese taste like? How do the children like school? And they imagine all sorts of things. It really is a beautiful thing. Thank you for being so open so that we may live vicariously through you!

  32. Gabby,
    How fun!! I have dreamed of the day that I could shop for food in Europe. My dream place that I would choose to live for a year would be Italy, but I am loving reading about your families experiences in France, I might have to put it on my Bucket List too. I look forward to your next experience share to live vicariously through.

  33. The photo of the open market in front of the cathedral couldn’t be more picturesque. I’d say that alone is worth the trip! : )

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