Egalite, Liberte, Gastronomie - an overview of France's regional fare
Credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

France is divided into 22 political regions, each of which has its own character and landscape. But when it comes to food, the fats used to prepare signature dishes serve best to divide the country. Its "butter half" is Lyon and everything to the north. The south, divided between Provence and the Cote d'Azur, is devoted to olive oil, while the southwest is known for its use of goose and duck fats. This doesn't take into account the pork-fat regions (the Pays Basque, among others), nor every difference found among the regions, but it serves as a good general delineation.

Certain dishes are common across the country. For example, apple tart is prepared differently in each region, but the recipes always adhere to the basic premise of good apples, light pastry, and a minimum amount of sugar. Creme brulee, a dessert that probably originated in the Pays Basque or in the north-both dairy-rich areas-has also become a countrywide specialty, more often served in restaurants than in the home.

Similarly, every region seems to have its version of coq au vin. In the north it's cooked a la biere, or in beer, because beer is made in the north; in Normandy it would be cooked au cidre, in apple cider, which is the regional drink. In Alsace one can find baekeoffe―the sumptuous and simple meat stew that gets its richness from a combination of meats―and other dishes like choucroute (sauerkraut) and cinnamon-scented desserts. Artichokes come from Provence and Brittany, and in each region they are prepared in different ways.

Frites, or French fries, are found countrywide, though they are cut in different shapes and fried in different fats, depending on the region. Pork is a mainstay of French cuisine; the recipe we offer is typical of Paris and the Ile-de-France, though you might find it in the Loire Valley as well. Everywhere there is bread, from the skinny white-flour baguettes of Paris and the north to the rustic sourdough breads found in the rest of the country. Nestled within these generalities are the delicious, sumptuous, and hugely varied specifics of French regional cuisine.