When I moved to Lyon from Paris, I complained that there wasn’t enough international food. Since then, two things have happened. 1) I realized I was wrong and 2) a ton of new cool restaurants have opened up! About half of the places on this list opened after I moved to Lyon (which was in 2013).
By the way, I’m using “international food” fairly loosely here – in most cases, I don’t mean “100% authentic food the way it is served in its country of origin” (because how the hell do I know what “real” Ethiopian food is like) I mean “not French.”
Because I love baguettes and quiche and all, but I don’t want to each French food all the time.
March is the worst month. It’s the tail end of winter and everyone is dying for spring to arrive, and for me, it’s the middle of the semester when all my students take their midterms at the same time, which means I have to write all the tests and then correct about 400 exams in the span of a few weeks, on top of my normal workload. It’s a little like running on a treadmill in high heels.
I’m so relieved that it’s April – spring has definitely arrived, the semester is almost over, and I’m starting to ponder where to travel this summer. (I’m thinking Italy and Portugal, but I’m also tempted by Croatia, Spain, Budapest, Berlin… so many adventures, so little time. Where are your favorite places in Europe?) Even though traveling in France doesn’t always feel as exciting as going to a new country, I’d still love to spend some time down south, and maybe over on the west coast of the country where I’ve barely been at all, and there will definitely be a trip to Paris where I have big plans to Eat Stuff.
Speaking of Big Plans, I’m heading west in the fall – really far west. We’re moving to California!
(Update: I wrote this two years ago, and a lot of things have changed around here! I’ve discovered new things, a lot more international food has popped up in Lyon, I started buying almond milk, you get the idea.
I think that a lot of the things on the list still hold true. None of them are part of French culture (France has its own awesome things) and most of them are still unfamiliar to the older generation/people who live in less urban areas.
Keep in mind that Lyon is the second biggest city in France (or third after Marseille depending on how you slice it). It’s been voted one of the best cities for start-ups and there’s a substantial population of young hipsters and bobos (and foreigners, like me!) There is so much innovation and creativity present in this city! Happily, that has begun to translate into food too. In the years that I’ve lived here a lot of new restaurants and cafes have popped up, and I’ve discovered new places I didn’t know about before.
If you live in a less-urban area of France, I’d love to know your take on these things too! Can you get smoothies and barbecue where you live? Does anyone eat corn on the cob?
So with that, here’s the original post; you’ll find my updates italicized below each section.)
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France has adopted a lot of so-called American foods over recent years. Cute cupcake boutiques are popping up right and left, the burger craze is bigger here than at home, and even kale has made its way over. You can buy “muffeens” in some boulangeries, and although I can’t bring myself to fork over two euros (about $2.75) for one bagel, but they’ve rolled on over here too.
You get the idea. It’s not like France has issued a ban on foreign food concepts and you can only eat French food in France (although sometimes it feels like it.) And if you know where to go and you’re willing to pay the price, you can find most things, especially in Paris. However, there are some awesome things that aren’t easy to find over here, and that makes me sad when I’m hungry and craving a burrito. So in the name of food cravings and homesickness, here are seven foods that need to go mainstream in France, like, ASAP.
Smoothies are available in France, for sure – you can even buy Naked juice at Monoprix now. But the larger population of France is likely to say, “Smoo-tie? C’est quoi ça?” Maybe it’s because the word contains the unpronounceable “th” sound, I don’t know.
But this girl grew up drinking Jamba Juice (back when it was $3 for a big smoothie!) and in the summer, smoothies are non-negotiable! No worries though – I just make them at home. (Hugo: “Strawberries and banana together? Are you sure that will be good?”)
(Update: Some trendy healthy places in Lyon do offer smoothies – you can find them at Dust Café, Garden State, and Le Tasse Livre. But the word “smoothie” remains a tongue-twister for most Francophones, and in smaller cities, you’ll probably be making your smoothie at home. Nothing wrong with that!)
Tacos have gone a little bit mainstream in Paris with the success of Candalaria and the like. However, not all of us live in Paris, and the dearth of Mexican food in France is appalling (yes, appalling!) Quesadillas are unheard of, tortillas are explained as “galettes” or “crêpes,” and salsa is “cette sauce rouge qui pique” (and I’ve definitely seen it consumed with potato chips. How do you like that?)
The thing that gets me every time? In France, this is a taco:
Before I knew this, I got really excited when Hugo told me we were going to have lunch at a place in Grenoble that made the best tacos. But instead of tacos, it was more like a cross between a kebab and Indian food.
It was delicious, but it wasn’t tacos.
(Update: Since I wrote this two years ago, several Mexican restaurants have popped up in Lyon! Woohoo! You have Two Amigos (my favorite) for California style tacos and burritos and hands down the best margaritas in town, Don Taco for traditional Mexican food, and the trendy Mexican taqueria Piquín. You can also get a decent burrito at Tu Esquina, which offers kind of a hodge-podge fusion of Spanish and Latin American food.
You can read about Mexican food in Paris here, here, and here.)
Reese’s peanut butter cups are virtually unknown in France. I suppose it’s not that surprising, as peanut butter itself is not popular. I don’t pine for Reese’s because I have Côte d’Or chocolate and Kinder Bueno to fatten me up, but still, it’s a shame something so delicious hasn’t made it across the pond, especially when other less drool-worthy American candy has. (You tell me. Do you want a Crunch, or a Reese’s?) You can only buy Reese’s in American food specialty stores, and if a box of Apple Jacks is going for 12 euros (that’s about $16 dollars and yes, I am dead serious) you can imagine the price you’d pay for your peanut butter cup fix!
(Update: Still true! I bring over Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups from the States. Yummmm.)
I don’t think I really knew the wonders of barbecue sauce until I moved to Chicago, but now I’m hooked forever. I love love love it. Sweet Baby Ray’s was always in the fridge. It’s not so much a thing here (although you can get Texas BBQ flavored Pringles!) but I’ve seen it on some trendy burgers (what’s up Camion qui Fume and Burger N Co!), so maybe it’s coming soon!
(Update: In Lyon you can get a BBQ pulled pork sandwich at the trendy restaurant Shack and the serious steakhouse Franklin’s, and in Paris I’ve been dying to try The Beast, a bona fide barbecue joint in the 10th. I also like the pulled pork sandwich at Frenchie to Go. Here, the New York Times elaborates on American barbecue in Paris.)
How can you have summer without corn on the cob? How can I make my dad’s famous corn cake fritters without fresh corn? How can you grill that Mexican-style corn I keep seeing on Pinterest without corn? You can’t, but fresh corn isn’t a thing here. I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere (and if you have, TELL ME WHERE!) Apparently, you can get it frozen at Picard, but frozen’s not the same.
The irony? There are fields and fields of cornstalks, but corn is considered animal food, not people food. (And if you’re wondering if I’ve ever snatched some corn directly from the field, I’m not going to say I haven’t tried. ) Corn is sold in cans, however. Make of that what you will.
(Update: You can buy corn on the cob at grocery stores – you’ll find two shucked ears in a styrofoam dish covered with plastic wrap. So that’s something. But eating corn on the cob is definitely not part of French culture.)
Mimosas are not a thing in France. The French don’t understand why you would ruin champagne with orange juice. (Our answer? Because then you can drink it in the morning!) Important detail: While in the US we often use “champagne” to mean all sparkling wine, in France, it only means the sparkling wines from the official region of Champagne, which is pretty fancy. I wouldn’t mix it with orange juice either! So if you’re trying sell a French person on mimosas, explain that it’s okay to use a cheaper vin petillant to make this delicious morning cocktail. (And YES, mimosas count as food.)
(Update: I stand firm on this one. Mimosas are still not a thing. Brunch is, though, and some places offer brunch cocktails like a bloody mary. But French brunch and American brunch are still rather different animals, including when it comes to drinking in the morning.)
For the record, I love living in France and they have oodles of yummy things here that we don’t have in the U.S. On any given day you can find me at the boulangerie stuffing my face (so elegant. I really fit in here). But there are a million things like breakfast sandwiches, chopped salads, Whole Food sandwiches (or any sandwich not on a baguette), and even almond butter that I miss sometimes. The good news is, I can make a lot of these things myself, and as a bonus, people are impressed with my quesadilla-making skills (aka melting cheese on a tortilla). Win.
But still. Ask me what I miss the most about the U.S. besides my family and friends, and I’ll probably tell you Mexican food. (Unless I spent the day battle French bureaucracy or SFR customer service. Then I’ll say that I miss efficiency.)
(Update: These days, I will tell you I miss Trader Joe’s and free shipping for online shopping.)