France is known around the world as a culinary icon. French food is often referred to as haute cuisine, or "high" cuisine, and most French restaurants outside France are known for elegant, expensive and fine dining. The truth is that French food is a cuisine for everyone. Many traditional French dishes and recipes stem from what farmers and peasants had available. To truly appreciate French food is to appreciate the basic quality of ingredients, no matter how simple.
Bread is the life blood of the French; a meal is not complete without a baguette. In France, bread is known as "pain," pronounced (pa-hn). Crusty breads with soft white interiors have become a symbolic image of France and its culinary culture. Baguettes are usually eaten at breakfast with jam and butter, at lunchtime as a hot or cold sandwich of Brie and ham, sausage and pepper, tuna and Parmesan and a variety of other classically French on-the go flavours, and always at dinner, simply as is. Aside from the baguette and demi-baguette (half size), other traditional French breads include peasant round loaves, known as "boules," which were served in French boulangeries (bakeries) before the baguette.
Competing with the baguette for symbolism is the French cheese culture. Cheese is so widely consumed in France that it is usually served as its own course, after the meal. Cheese is more often eaten on its own rather than as part of a dish. The French eat cheese by itself, on a piece of bread or fruit or with dried meats in honey. Cheese works as an appetizer and as a dessert. Popular French cheeses include Brie, a soft cow's milk cheese from the il-de-France region; Camembert, from Normandy; Gruyere; Roquefort; and goat's cheese, known as chèvre.
Some of the most common meat-based appetizers in France include dried cured sausage, known as saucisson sec; creamy goose liver, known as foie gras; black pudding, referred to as boudin noir; a ground meat and spice paste chilled in a loaf or pot form, known as pate; and, of course, steamed snails in butter, wine, garlic and herbs, classically known as escargot. As entrées, traditional French cuisine relies heavily on lamb, beef, chicken and other fowl, pork and duck, as well as a variety of seafood in the northern and southern regions. Roasted duck, boeuf Bourgignon, coq au vin and cassoulet (white bean and meat casserole) are among the oldest and best-known classic French dishes.
As well as every other culinary genre, the French are known for their pastries and desserts. Crème brûlée (burnt cream) is an iconic sweet found in many American restaurants, as are crepes and chocolate mousse. Other desserts include a variety of chocolate and fruit tarts, chocolate-filled croissants (pain au chocolate) and macarons, which are gourmet meringue sandwich cookies.
France is known for its wine and Champagne production, and many French people drink a glass of wine a day with lunch or dinner. Milk is a common beverage among children, as are sodas such as Coca-Cola and Fanta. Traditional French beverage brands include Perrier (sparkling water) and Orangina (an orange juice soda). France is also a coffee culture, with many French having a small espresso in the morning as well as after dinner. Cappuccinos and cafe au lait are also popular coffee drinks.