Only in France: 7 Underrated Grocery Staples

Hi! Remember me? I need to get better about posting more often. One of these days...

Today's blog is inspired by similar posts I've seen by some of my favorite French food bloggers, like this one over on Chocolate & Zucchini. I'm not talking about a super recipe or restaurant review, but rather a roundup of everyday items you might find at the grocery stores here. I know what you're probably saying. Is it really that different? Who cares? Both are fair questions. The grocery store experience itself is different (e.g. longer cashier lines and the fruit weighing protocol) but so are the foods you find (e.g. chestnut spread). 

I've written before about the outdoor marché and even how you can find some of the best souvenirs at French grocery stores. But what about the basics?

Here, in no particular order, is my list of go-to items I grab from the supermarché:

1.     L’eau pétillante. Yes, I know sparkling water exists in the U.S., but certainly not to the same extent it does here. For starters, there are two varieties (maybe more?). No, not two flavors, but two different levels of carbonation. Ever noticed how Badoit has two different labels: a red and a green? Neither did I, until a recent work party when a colleague pointed out that this in fact signified the intensity and size of the bubbles. Ah bon? The finer points of carbonated beverages...

2.     Mustard: Dijon, but that goes without saying. Fun fact: when you ask for mustard at a restaurant here you always say "moutarde," not "Dijon." I once made this mistake and the server looked at me with the most puzzled look on his face, probably wondering why I would ask for the whole city of Dijon, along with my fries. Having gone to the city and tried the big, fancy brands like Maille and Fallot, I can honestly say I don't taste a big difference. Then I happened to stumble across this blog post about humble Amora mustard. David Lebovitz talks about how it's the best he's found, despite what the price might indicate (a giant jar costs about 1 euro). Anyway, I use it as a condiment, sure, but also as a base for sauces and salad vinaigrettes. Definitely a must-have and I love how cheap it is here!

3.     Lentils: a staple in any French pantry. They also join the long list of foods I had never tried before moving to France. Now I buy them by the kilo! Super common here, lentils don't strike me as all that popular in the U.S. Besides being super versatile (think salad in the summer, soup in the winter), they are tasty and cheap!

4.     Mâche. How cute are these leafy greens? I've never seen this particular variety of lettuce in the U.S. but I love how tender it is! Plus, it usually comes pre-washed so it's super convenient. Of course you could buy an actual head of lettuce from the market but you have to wash it at least three times, and sometimes that's not even enough to remove all the dirt (and occasional worm)!

5.     Fromage blanc: technically cheese but has the appearance and consistency of yogurt. The taste is also a bit more acidic. Not knowing much else besides that, I admit I looked it up and apparently the difference is in the fermentation process. Plus, fromage blanc offers more protein than yogurt. Much like the Greek yogurt you find practically everywhere now in the U.S., I don't find it super appealing plain but, mixed with a bit of jam and topped with oatmeal, it makes a pretty tasty breakfast.

6.     Lardons: basically French bacon. The only difference is the way it's cut: little pieces vs. long strips. Ideal for stove-top gnocchi and spaghetti carbonara!

7.     Carottes râpées. From the deli section, this shredded carrot salad is one of my favorites. Add it to the mâche (#4 from this list) and boom! Instant salad. The dressing is lemon vinaigrette which complements the sweet crunchiness of the carrots so well! You could easily make it yourself but there's no need to bother when you can buy a giant container at the store that's just as good, and probably less expensive.

And that's my list! Obviously I buy much more food than that, but these are just a handful of products that stood out to me as being different than the typical fare you might find in the U.S. 

What about you? Any French supermarket favorites?

-Stephanie