When my host parents asked me about differences between food in France and food in the U.S., the first thing I said was that everything in France seemed to taste fresher. It could’ve been that I still had the taste of plane food in my mouth, but I honestly feel that people in France put more emphasis on the quality of their food, and thus, shop for food frequently throughout the week rather than checking everything off their list in a weekly trip to the grocery store. This is easy for me to say, as I’m not the one doing the food shopping, nor am I the one preparing the meals. As part of the CIEE Rennes program, we are each placed with a host family that promises to provide us with breakfast and dinner everyday (and lunch on weekends). What the meals consist of is up to the host family, and some of my classmates have been placed with families who serve them frozen dinners every night. But luckily for me, I got placed with a host mom who loves to cook.
Breakfast with my host family usually consists of bread with homemade jam, coffee, and a piece of fruit. Occasionally, the bread is replaced by a pastry, like a croissant. It is customary to drink a boisson chaude, or hot drink, out of a bowl, which is what my host family does in the mornings. And some French people prefer to drink hot chocolate with breakfast, but that is mostly common for French children. I try to follow the example of how my host parents eat at meals. For example, they gave me the tip of buttering my bread before putting the jam on and I’m never going back.
During the week, we are on our own for lunch. Sometimes that means exploring the city and sitting down at a creperie or cafe, or trying out the thai place that our French student helpers recommended. When we are feeling stingy, it means eating lunch in the university cafeteria. The cafeteria lunches are fairly substantial, providing an entree, side dish, and dessert, and they only cost €3.25. Some lunches I’ve had at the school are shrimp and rice, pasta, and calamari.
The tradeoff for the low cost is that the cafeteria is crowded, so it takes a long time to get lunch, and it’s difficult to find a place to sit with a group of friends. Moreover, they do not accept credit or debit cards. Interestingly, there are a number of university cafeterias throughout the city and not just at the university. When eating at a regular restaurant, it’s important to remember that though you don’t have to tip, it’s polite to tell a server when you want to split a check at the beginning of the meal, because it’s less common for people to pay separately in France.
For my next post I will be discussing my experience with French dinners, but for now, bon appétit!