‘They’ say it’s the most important meal of the day. And I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but when it comes to the traditional French breakfast, this is most certainly the case- even if it’s lighter than a meal you’d find back at home! So whether you’re strolling the streets of Paris or are hiding away amongst the swathes of vineyards in Provence, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy a French breakfast during your time in l’Hexagone.
Across the world, French cuisine is famed for being some of the best the planet has to offer. From melt in your mouth sweets to hearty dinners, ‘le petit déjeuner’ as it is so-called in French (i.e. the little lunch) often misses out on much of the press it deserves in favour of more famous French cuisine like the ‘escargot’ and more varieties of cheese than you could care to name.
Order the first meal of the day, and you can expect to be served pastries, cold cuts, and plenty of fresh juice and coffee. read on to discover everything you need to know about breakfast in France, including coffee culture, famous pastries, and what to order in a boulangerie or pâtisserie!
What’s served at a typical French breakfast?
If you’re from an Anglophone country like the USA or the UK, then no doubt you’ll be used to a full cooked meal, complete with staples such as fried eggs, bacon, sausages, and all the trimmings! Well, breakfast in France is slightly different and offers a lighter more ‘continental’ meal.
As opposed to a savoury snack, French breakfasts tend to err on the sweeter side of things. One of the more unusual French habits I noticed when living in France was the sheer number of people who prefer to drink their coffee from a bowl in the morning, as opposed to a mug!
A typical French breakfast will comprise of a pastry (or two), bread with butter and jam or nutella (known as a tartine), and more often than not, most cafés will offer a petit déjeuner formule. What this means is a set price menu which includes juice, coffee, yoghurt, and a selection of light breakfast foods- I particularly enjoy ordering this if I’m spending a lazy Sunday. Weekend brunch in France is becomingly increasingly popular, especially in larger cities such as Paris and Bordeaux.
You should know before ordering breakfast that if you’re not a coffee drinker, then there are plenty of caffeine-free options on the menu. A particular French favourite is that of ‘chocolat chaud,’ i.e. a hot chocolate. Orange juice with a dash of ginger is also a popular coffee alternative.
Breakfast foods in France you’ll love
Ah, the crumbly, soft, and buttery pastry that’s almost as synonymous with France as the French flag. However, you may well be surprised to know that the croissant isn’t actually French and no one is actually quite sure as to its origins. Nevertheless, this food is oh-so-delicious and is a must-sample while in l’Hexagone.
Even if you eat dairy-free, there are several vegan bakeries in Paris where you can enjoy butter-free croissants! In France, croissants are usually served with an accompaniment, such as jam (la confiture). Though, of course, many assume that this is a French staple food, many French people opt for baguette as opposed to croissant when it comes to their daily breakfast.
When it comes to enjoying caffeine in France, the options on offer at breakfast time may well be different from what you’re used to. For a full guide on the art of ordering coffee (and it is indeed an art form in France), check out my coffee guide to Paris.
A simple guide to ordering coffee at breakfast in France is this: Although you may not find an ‘Americano’ in many places, popular drinks include un espresso (a shot of coffee), café crème (a coffee with foamy milk- i.e. similar to a cappuccino), un allongé (a long black coffee- i.e. similar to an americano), and un noisette (though the translation of this is ‘hazelnut’ this coffee is actually simply an espresso with a little milk).
Here are more coffee shop recommendations you’ll love:
Pain au chocolat
You may think you know what a pain au chocolat tastes like, but in truth, you won’t have experienced the best of this French pastry before sampling it in France for the first time! Perfect for those with an extra sweet tooth, unlike the croissant, pain au chocolat is always eaten on its own! Other French viennoiseries on offer include brioche (a milky bread) and pain aux raisins (a raisin pastry).
Popular across France, one of the best breakfast foods you can order in any café or bistro is that of the ‘tartine’. Served together with butter and jam (typically an apricot or strawberry spread), the bread will usually be half a baguette sliced in two. Also worth noting, as my ex-boyfriend’s mother would often remind me, it’s ‘rude’ to make a sandwich at the table so be sure not to do this with your ‘tartine’!
Chausson aux Pommes
Delightful, sweet and ever-so-delicious, the Chausson aux Pommes is literally translated as ‘apple turnover’. A light and airy pastry filled with an apple filling, this is one French breakfast food you won’t want to miss out on. Though more of a treat for the weekend than tartine or croissant, this pastry is best served warm.
So fuel up for the day and get exploring…
Where to find breakfast in France
If you’re looking for a nice spot to enjoy a petit déjeuner, then you should know that most cafés in France don’t tend to open early, with the majority opening after 9:30 AM. This is especially true of smaller cities and towns, as well as on Sundays and major holidays, such as Bastille Day.
The good news is that, should you opt to put together your own breakfast, then there are plenty of mouthwatering shops where you can collect breakfast supplies. The most important shops to know are the ‘boulangerie’ (bakery) which tend to open around 6:30 AM and are the best places to find a fresh baguette, and the ‘pâtisserie’ (pastry shop).
Patisseries tend to open a little later than bakeries and offer a greater selection of speciality French sweets. Pastry shops also often have small tables where you can sit and sip on an espresso (though the coffee is typically not of the best quality), as opposed to bakeries, where you’ll have to order your coffee to go. Contrary to what you might think, many cafés which also function as bars offer only drinks and don’t tend to sell any kind of breakfast food, even in the morning.
French Breakfast Vocabulary
While, of course, most people you’ll encounter in Paris (though not necessarily in more rural French towns) will have a fantastic level of English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language to help you get by. Bring along a simple French phrasebook like this one to help you!
Otherwise, you should know that one of the biggest misconceptions about French people is that they’re rude. Instead, if you’re polite then you can expect polite service back. For example, in France, it’s considered the height of rudeness not to say ‘bonjour’ when entering a store or shop, so make sure to do this as soon as you step into an establishment! Although tipping is always appreciated, it’s not expected.
Bonjour – hello
Oui – yes
Non – no
Merci– thank you
Du pain – bread
Le café – coffee
Chocolat chaud – hot chocolate