Food and drink in France

Or how not to starve on your cycling holiday;-)

It's not my intention here to give a gourmet guide to France – there are plenty of other sources better suited to the job;-) But what you need to know is where to get food, what to pay and what to expect.

Shopping

I can really only compare France with the UK, but in general you'll find supermarket prices similar, the quality of fruit and veg rather better (and generally in season) and the range excellent – often with a local slant. Shop opening times do vary throughout France but generally they are open all morning to midday, then take a long break of 2-4 hours, then re-open for the afternoon and early evening. Sundays you'll have bakers and some shops open in the morning (supermarkets especially) and Monday can see some shops shut as well. Markets are brilliant for fresh food – often produced by the seller and don't be frightened to try new things – if the French eat it it'll probably be good - Andouilles (tripe sausage) excepted...

Eating out

Now you see the reason for that long midday break when everything closes. All those shop workers, lorry drivers and plumbers will be tucking into a 3-5 course meal at their local restaurant for between 10 and 15 Euro – this normally includes ¼ ltr of wine and coffee;-) To be honest you'd be pushed to buy the ingredients yourself and cook them up for that price. sometimes you'll find these 'workers' (or Ouvriers) menus offer little or no choice – especially if the place is small, but many offer a 'serve-yourself' counter for the first course and a few choices elsewhere. They are of course excellent value – don't expect haut-cuisine, but then most cyclists aren't after that anyway – what you will get is a lot of well cooked calories, the fact that choice is limited means it's likely to be fresh made for that day, not some boil-in-the-bag...

These places are often not very well advertised – you need to look out for Bar/restaurant, or 'Les Routiers' (lorry drivers), or simply look out for where lots of white vans are parked up – the restaurant won't be far...

Unfortunately in the evening these places are not open and so you have to go to a 'normal' restaurant. Personally I find their fixed menus generally the best value. Most small hotel/restaurants will have a menu available with 3 courses under 20 Euro and as with the workers restaurants the fact that the fixed menu option is what most people have means it's most likely to be cooked fresh. My rule of thumb is that the less the choice the better the quality of the food...

The only snag with evening meals is that now your drinks are in addition to the meal, and a bottle of wine will cost from 15 Euro and up – many restaurants will to wine in a carafe for slightly less, but it's still a lot more than the 'free' wine at lunch.

One other thing of note is that bars that don't serve food (i.e. most of them) are quite happy for you to go in for a cup of coffee and for you to eat the enormous sticky bun you've bought in the local bakery – it's what I do for breakfast;-)