The French are well known for their culture of gastronomy and gourmet offerings, but there are a few traditional dishes which will make some visitors think twice before eating them – unless they’re on an episode of Fear Factor!
Some of the following dishes grace the tables of fine dining establishments, some cause debate both in their native France and internationally, and one is even banned in its place of origin – but you can always say one thing about the French, their cuisine is never dull!
1. Steak Tartare
This dish is really not that strange, and definitely not uncommon – made up of raw mince meat, raw eggs, capers, onion, mustard, and Worcester sauce, this very traditional French dish is a delicacy, and not all that different from a very, very rare hamburger!
2. L’Escargot (Snails)
L’escargot is a very popular entrée made up of a special species of snail, which are usually cooked in garlic and parsley butter, and taste a bit like a garlicky chewing gum. The hardest part of eating this culinary delight is mastering the art of operating the specially designed utensils that hold the shells while you dig out your tasty morsel of slug!
3. De Jageur (Snail Eggs)
So, we’ve all heard of l’escargot, but de jageur goes that one step further on the unusual food spectrum, in the form of snail eggs!
Basically this is l’escargot caviar. Invented by the sole supplier in France, the process involves a lot of frisky snails, and an arduous harvest of the perfect eggs, before being sold at the not so delicate price of £40 an ounce.
4. Boudin (Blood Sausage)
If you’ve eaten black pudding or you’re a vampire, this congealed blood sausage isn’t going to make you that squeamish – and if you didn’t know what it was, I guarantee you’d love this beautifully seasoned sausage the way the French do.
In fact, boudin sausage is so keenly associated with keeping the French Foreign Legion going that its name is used in the Legion's anthem.
5. Andouillette (Pig Intestine Sausage)
This sausage is a bit more divisive than its boudin cousin, with regional variations of this coarse grained sausage using everything from pork intestines to tripe, served in the skin of a pig’s colon.
Most of France treats this dish with reverence, but in the west and coastal areas it’s often treated with disdain. Personally, despite a cast iron stomach, I have trouble swallowing this dish – even after getting over the smell!
6. Cuisses De Grenouille (Frogs’ Legs)
Frogs’ legs are so associated with France that the French are affectionately (mostly) known as Frogs, but in fact, this dish is only a couple of centuries old there, compared to countries like China and Korea where it’s been a popular dish for much longer.
But I digress - despite a ‘save the frogs’ legs’ campaign, they can still be found on many menus around France, usually bread crumbed and deep fried, and they live up to the old adage and do actually taste a lot like chicken.
7. Viande De Cheval (Horse Meat)
The horse meat scandal that rocked the UK last year hardly made a blip in the news in France, except for the fact that most of the suppliers were from there – because viande de cheval is still a specialty meat across the ditch.
8. Fromage De Tête (Head Cheese)
This sounds innocuous enough, but there’s not much cheese involved, in fact there’s none – it’s a gelatin terrine made up of parts of a cow head, mixed up with some feet or heart bits for good measure.
9. Canard A La Rouennaise (Pressed Duck)
Part of this dish is not strange at all – breast and leg of duck cooked succulently – it’s the served with a sauce of its pressed blood, bone, and marrow that makes you sit up and take notice.
Considered the height of elegance, this dish was designed in the 19th century, and involved the strangulation of a young, tender duck, removing its breast and legs, and the rest of the carcass cooked in various liquors, herbs, and spices, then crushed in a specially designed press for your viewing pleasure, before being poured over its reserved extremities!
10. Ortolan (Roast Bird!)
As we’ve discussed already, the French like to push the boundaries of cuisine, but even this dish had such strong opposition to it that it is now an illegal practice.
Roast bird itself is fine, it’s what leads up to it that caused the protest. In a nutshell, the Ortolan birds are small nocturnal birds that were trapped in a dark box, and without any light they got confused and kept eating until they grew to almost three times their normal size, at which time they were drowned in brandy, then roasted!
Call me old fashioned, but I’m glad even the French think this is going one step too far in the extreme cuisine stakes!
One of the best things about travelling is experiencing the local cuisine and dining customs, but if you French language skills aren’t up to scratch, you may find yourself enjoying a blood and marrow gravy with your canard – but then again, you may not mind! If you’d like to stick to the safe side of eating, test your French skills here before jetting off!