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. I love this post! I’m studying abroad in Spain this semester (I think I might be one of your youngest devotees!) and I’m still getting used to all the changes! The first time I visited a supermarket here I wandered around for over an hour just looking at what they had to offer (..and trying to read some labels). The biggest difference by far is the late lunch (between 2-3:30 here), but I love the light breakfast as well. So interesting to see how they do things in France!

  2. Divine – thanks for sharing. Your village and it’s market sound delightful, and that homemade pizza? mmmm. Markets are fantastic, and it is certainly a shame that the weekly village farmers market has died out in other cultures, because fresh food IS the best, isn’t it. (Relieved you found a source of fresh milk as well – my family (with a 3 litre a day milk addiction) certainly wouldn’t be happy to go without fresh milk!).

  3. I love your photos!! It looks and sounds like you all are having a blast and I’m just the tiniest bit jealous! :) I think I would crave non-French food from time to time as well and I think it’s so amazing that your children are getting such a great mixture of cultures. Thanks for posting!!

  4. Here are my all-time must have’s everytime we return to France…

    – La Laitiere (as mentioned above) Petit Pot de Creme chocolat and Petit Pot creme caramel (Not the regular creme caramel but the Petit Pots de…). Defines the word UNCTUOUS. I die for these desserts! My daughter’s godfather works for one of the hypermarche – Auchan – he confirms that dairy products is one of their most important departments – they have someone solely in charge of this section! Imagine my husband’s shock when we visited a supermarket in Princeton NJ – we had a hard time finding the (real) butter section (bec. it was tiny – like maybe 10 SKUs) and the horror of seeing “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” in the butter section.
    – Ficelle – skinny baguettes that are only sold for breakfast (they don’t keep beyond noon). Because they are skinny, you get more crunchy crust. We slather it with good old fashioned butter with big salt crystals.
    – Beaufort and Comte cheeses – the hard gruyere family of mountain cheeses. Beautiful nutty/parmesan-like flavour. There are summer and winter cheeses when the flavour changes with the grass diet of the cows.
    – Lu Petit Beurre Nantais – I don’t know why these cookies were named after hubby’s hometown. Maybe bec. the Lu factory was originally founded in Nantes. But these are the most buttery supermarket biscuits without the heavyness of shortbread cookies.
    – Other Lu classic biscuits my kids love – Petit Ecolier but only the dark chocolate and the white chocolate versions. L Paille d’Or – they look like thin sheafs of hay (hence Paille) sandwiching rasberry jam. Barquette 3 Chatons (cake like cookies with jam in the middle).
    – Picard! Before you dismiss the idea of a store selling only frozen foods…Picard is French style frozen food i.e. the most amazing selection of gourmet french food. My mother in law swears by this place for little cocktail nibbles (delicious!) and desserts like their oozing warm chocolate fondant. My absolute fave is their salty butter caramel ice cream. I will kill for a tub of this!
    – Le Petit Marsellais shampoos and body wash – I love the smell of my kids’ hair after using Le Petit Marsellais.
    – Baby products – sigh, we are no longer in this market. But I love my Mustela and Mixa (a good solid supermarket brand for lotions and baby toilettries). The baby ready food section is amazing too.
    – French pharmacies are another world of discovery! Love them and their 101 cremes for every wrinkle or cellulite you can think of even if you are not into it. I esp. just love the seriousness and knowledge the staff treat your search for say anti-dandruff shampoo.
    Enjoy discovering food and supermarkets in France.

    1. I second the recommendation for Picard. The food is amazing and affordable. I also use Le Petit Marsellais on my girls – we have framboise right now.

  5. You are making me miss France so much…and my husband (who is French) is drooling over your photos. Definitely try to get a fresh chicken from a local farmer, they are wonderful. And as for yogurt, my French favorite is Yoplait’s “Le Panier”-pear, peach, etc. THE BEST!

  6. I absolutely love your observations. I wish I could be there! Please keep up the stories so I can live vicariously through your experiences!

    Tell the chicks hello for me!

  7. Have been enjoying reading about all your preperations and now time in France. I was telling my nine year old son about it said wouldn’t it be wonderful to so something similar in Germany as that is where mybrother lives. Yesterday I overheard him telling a friend all about how we were moving to Germany for year. Nothing like positive thinking I guess!

  8. It’s exactly what I miss from my country!!! fresh market, boucher, fleuriste, boulangerie…. I love leaving in US but I love my country and its food!!! ENJOY :)

  9. This makes me so homesick for Uzes. There is nothing like food shopping in France. Even the Carrefour is an adventure. I still have many large grocery bags I got there…perfect size! And the yogurt…trying to remember the brand of my favorite one, never never have I found one even close to it here in NYC. big sigh.

  10. I have been to that market! I was sixteen, on an art trip with Parsons, and was browsing around the market after touring the cathedral and a purveyor gave me a wedge of cheese–just gave it to me, I guess because he assumed I decided I couldn’t make the purchase. It smelled delicious, was very soft and gooey and slightly stinky (goes along with good cheese in my opinion). I’m embarassed to admit I ate the whole wedge, the whole wedge, on the bus ride back to Paris and proceeded to feel entirely nauseated. Not the cheese’s fault. Anyway, this post makes me long to be there! Why is the shopping experience in Europe so much fun? Is it that it seems frozen in time a bit, or is it just pure differences, or is it that it’s treated as an experience rather than routine or a chore? Whatever the reason, it’s great! We’re taking all three of our young daughters to Italy in a couple months and I can’t wait! So fun to read your posts about France and anticipate the trip. If only we could stay a year…! Thanks for sharing! -A

  11. No worries I was craving Mexican food too…for some reason. I never ate it at home. But for some reason after just 2 months here I needed it. Luckily they sold Old El Paso Tortillas haha! But the salsa is all mild…so I am going to have to start making my own ;-) The French do not like spicy foods.

    The markets are wonderful. Every week I make my rounds to the butcher and the local fresh fruit/veggie stands. It is way more expensive than the grocery stores BUT I find that the food is better quality (even than in the US). For example the bananas here last soooooooooo long without turning brown. I was from Florida and bananas are easy to come by all year round but man they would turn brown in a few days! Here they last well over a week and a half!

    We don’t do the bakery as we have a bread machine and enjoy eating our own bread (as do my French in laws!). But we try to get croissants on Sunday mornings (not every week but occasionally). But there is nothing like a fresh baguette! Usually when we have friends over we will pick up a few.

    For the kilos…I usually order in grams…so deux cent(s) cinquant gramme(s) would be a 1/4 of a kilo ;-) Or just go easy and say trois cent(s) gramme(s) remember the silent letters! Or they even do livre (pounds) for measurements…I haven’t used it yet but my French husband says it is done at the butcher/veggies markets. 1 livre = 5oo grammes

    Good luck!

  12. o i forgot for my normal everyday grocery items (yogurt, milk, toilet paper etc…) I order them online and have them delivered! In Paris it is very hard to haul stuff from the grocery store home without a car and no elevator ;-) This saves time and strength! I use Carrefour – And also we don’t have big markets here I have a tiny grocery store the size of a US Walgreens! And it’s actually dirty! But for my meats, cheeses and veggies we get them at the markets ;-)

  13. Thank you for this! I lived in Italy for a semester and doing the daily shopping is one of my favorite memories. And thanks for the lovely photographs!

  14. Love love love this post. Brings back memories of a few things: our trip to paris when the 14 yr old was 2, and we let a flat for 8 days, shopped for most meals at a local market, and ate the best tomatoes and strawberries I’ve ever had. Even now. Fresh fresh fresh, red, red, red, sweet, sweet, sweet. The bread, everything was fabulous. Your posts overall are reminding me of a week when I was 17 that I spent in Normandy, not far from Caen either, in a little own called Thury-Harcourt. I was an exchange student in southern Belgium at the time, and the family I lived with was visiting friends. We ate the most fabulous home cooked lunches daily, toured all the hotspots (Bayeux, Mont St. Michel, St. Malo- oh my furst mussels!-, D-Day beaches, etc.). But mostly I loved being in the small town, enjoying their lifestyle. Plus they had a son who took me out with his friends at night, which was fun. :) So many memories. Wish we could uproot our family and do the same as you, but it isn’t in the cards. Work is too complicated. Enjoy it for us!!

  15. BTW, I’m @DelMarin DC. Just so you know. I just left that long rambling post…. I could go on and on about travels and local eating, etc. etc. :)

  16. Gabrielle, I am loving reading about your days in France. So excited for your family! I just read your market post and thought you’d enjoy Gwyneth Paltrow’s fairly recent goop post about her favorite French pharmacy products.

    Wishing you many wonderful days. . . :)

  17. A French friend of mine introduced me to caramel tea. It’s a Lipton flavor, but she’s only been able to find it in France when she visits her family. It’s amazing. Enjoy a cup for me if you try it!

  18. Oh….and one more thing…(maybe). I used to love getting the plain yogurt and adding a packet of sucre de vanilla (I think that is what it was called). Not for an everyday thing, but as an every once in a while treat!. The crunchy vanilla sugar was a wonderful texture treat with the cold creamy yogurt. A MUST TRY!!

  19. Wow I think I would be so much happier food shopping in France. I wonder how they are on the pesticide front. I love the typography all over the little shops. Is it all that beautiful all over the country? Do people keep live animals at home to raise and eat?

  20. You’ve made me homesick for my little Mornant . . . I haven’t lived in France since I was 9 (gosh nearly 30 years ago), but I loved being in charge of buying the baguettes on the way home from school for lunch & the lovely pattiseries – my sister & I were usually nearly late to school because we would be spending too much time staring at the treats in the window of the choclatier.

    I wish that we had markets like this (the local farmer’s market is wonderful, but just not the same) here in the states.

  21. I couldn’t agree with you more about the size of the yogurt section in the grocery store!! I’ve been living in Lux for over 2 years and I’m still not sure about all the different kinds of white stuff available. I’ve been meaning to post about it, just haven’t gotten to it. We have an Auchan supermarket here which is a French chain. Do you have it there? It carries considerably more yogurt than the Belgian, Luxembourgish or German grocery stores in Lux.

    Perhaps even more surprising than the vast yogurt selection is the number of refrigerated desserts available. Have you noticed this? I don’t think we have anything comparable in the U.S. Pots and packages of tiramisu, mousses, puddings, flan, and creme caramel. It is insane!! When do they eat these? I’ve only purchased one, the Bonne Maman Rice Pudding and it was delish. Too dangerous to keep around very often. Check them out. You’ll be amazed!

  22. Just found out your blog from wisdom from mom bloggers and I like it.
    I’m from France. From South east of France, near Marseille. And I live now in Montreal, Canada. So I read you and I remember disappointment, surprises, questions and so on from my husband, born in Qc, in France. Or mine the first times I went in North America.
    You are full of humor and it’s really pleasant to read you.
    Bookmarked and linked on my own (and really less interesting) blog :)
    Have fun in ” douce France, le pays de mon enfance”

  23. Memories and emotions flood my mind and heart as I read your posts. I was blessed to live in Germany, very near the French border for about 5 years while my husband was stationed in the Military. It’s funny how it’s not the places we went as ‘tourists’ that are my most precious memories, it’s the little things, such as the restaurants, the roads and signs, the markets, the shops and mostly the people. My only regret was that French was not one of the languages that we were strong in to communicate well enough to learn/do more. On my visits to Carrefour, I was completely intimidated at the cheese market/department but sooooo wanted to learn about the many varieties and maybe to try a few. And I was shocked at seeing a whole large aisle JUST for yogurt!

    One thing I especially loved was their varieties of herb teas (infusions)… I don’t drink black/green tea and loved finding some lovely infusions, especially “Vanille et Cannelle” YUM!!!

    We had planned to spend many more years living overseas but weren’t able to, so thank you for allowing many of us to live vicariously through your experiences!

  24. So neat to hear about the food and shopping for food. I didn’t realized the French are that passionate about yogurt. Please share about school lunches!

  25. This makes me miss my mission in France, Gabrielle. So glad you posted this. Love it and now I want a Pain au Chocolat for breakfast. Vive la France. Elle me manque TROP!!!

  26. I miss my 2 years spent in France in the 80’s while I was reading your wonderful and so true article. I miss all these food so bad, I found a very wonderful online French Grocery Store where you can find everyday life French products, so that you can shop like a real French person except you are in front of your computer and the products are delivered straight to you. Here is the link if that can help:

  27. I’m so glad I came across this! I’m moving to France for 2 months–not long enough!–and I was thinking about how grocery shopping might be different than in Canada. This was an adorable post!

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