Sometimes friends and family ask me what French grocery stores are like and if they compare to the American ones they know from home. Well, in a word, yes — French grocery stores are similar to supermarkets in the U.S. except if you look closely enough, you’ll find a bunch of foods that don’t exist in the U.S. Here, I’ll take a look at the best and worst of them.
Everyone knows about baguettes, Brie and cheap wine, but what else stands out at French grocery stores?
(And yes, I realize some of these things are available outside of France as well)
The best foods in French grocery stores
Lotus Speculoos spread
This Belgian spread comes from the cookie of the same name and tastes like gingerbread. You can find it on the shelf next to the jams and jellies. Yummy on croissants, breads and even just on your finger, this stuff makes Nutella a distant memory.
Organic apple sauce
I love the no sugar added Mott’s Apple Sauce from home, but the apple sauces here are even better. From organic apple sauce flavored with vanilla to banana pear to apple strawberry, I just can’t get enough! No room for a big jar? Get the little pack of single serve squeeze pack apple sauces instead. They’re for kids, but who cares!
The dessert aisle
Until I came to France, I had never experienced entire aisles at the grocery store dedicated to little yogurts and dessert cups. In the U.S., grocery stores have half an aisle with yogurt and a section with Jell-O and pudding, but in France, the dessert and yogurt selection is just so much better. From chocolate mousse to pudding to tiramisu and a whole lot more, the dessert aisle will keep you busy for at least ten minutes. Best part is that they are actually great quality desserts and most are really small portions so you won’t feel guilty indulging. Favorite brands? Gu and Bonne Maman at the moment. I think I’ve tried them all at this point and have no regrets!
Milka Chocolate Cream Cheese spread
Kind of like chocolate icing but not as sweet, this new product by the cream cheese geniuses Philadelphia is one of my favorites. Like the Speculoos spread above, you can spread it on a croissant, bread or cupcake for a chocolaty treat.
Cheap wine and cheese
Where else can you snag a wedge of Brie AND a bottle of wine from a local vineyard for about US$5? Grocery stores sell all different types of wine at various price points and let me tell you that cheap doesn’t mean disgusting. If cheese is more your thing, you can get regular goat cheese, Camembert, Brie and more exotic picks all at your local supermarket.
The worst foods in French grocery stores
Cheval means horse in French and almost looks normal nestled in next to the lamb, pork and beef. While not widely available, the fact that the grocery store has a sign for horse meat just makes me cringe. Sure, a horse is an animal and I’m sure the meat is decent, but it just seems so wrong to eat it. Call me crazy. Probably skipping over horse meat for dinner for like, oh, eternity.
Macaron box mix
Why would you buy a box mix for macarons when these luscious treats are sold all over the place? I understand the need for making something quick and easy sometimes, but not macarons. It just ruins it! Maybe this product would be hugely popular in the U.S. where delectable macarons aren’t available at every bakery, but a box mix in French grocery stores? That’s just weird.
Foie gras, pate and other animal organ spreads
I’m not a fan of what many people consider a delicacy. Foie gras, for starters, smells and tastes absolutely revolting and when you factor in the cruelty in how it’s made (overfeeding helpless ducks and then killing them for their fatty livers), it’s just not my cup of tea. Any spread like this is not making its way onto my dinner table. Period.
Pain au chocolat in a can
Why would people actually buy a pain au chocolat in a can when you can walk two feet and pick up one that’s probably still warm from a boulangerie? I’m sure these taste great and any American would be thrilled to have fresh French pastries come out of their oven, but in France, this type of thing seems wrong.
Lack of OTC products
French people go to the boulangerie for bread, the tabac for cigarettes and the pharmacy for all medicines, including over the counter products. While this item on my worst list isn’t a product per se, it is something that is hugely inconvenient when you need some Advil and your pharmacy closes at 7 p.m. and it’s already 7:15 and you’re already at the grocery store. Unlike supermarkets in the U.S. where you can grab a wide variety of over the counter remedies, in France, you’re just out of luck.
Vive Trianon says
Love this post!
Macaron mix?! I’m sure it’s quick and easy, but surely sometimes it’s better to wait until you can buy/make the real thing properly? If you need something that you can whip-up easily then macarons probably aren’t what you’re looking for!
And we’re certainly with you on French jars of apple sauce!
Great post! Wish I had read this before I went to France 🙂 I love the grocery stores there. I remember looking at the zillion kinds of cheese and wine that was available and nearly fainting from happiness! I think my second meal in France was made entirely from grocery store finds and it was amazing!
I did get in a little trouble though when I tried to check out without printing out a label with the weight of my fruit on it – not sure if that is typical of French grocery stores or not, but the lady who checked me out seemed very upset that I hadn’t done it.
Yeah, most grocery stores here require you to print out the label before you get to the cashier, but everyone forgets once in a while. My old Wegman’s grocery store in NJ did it that way so I was all ready for France. 😉
This is my favorite blog so far, very good read.
Horse? Gross! That’s sad too. Aw babies. I’d probably go down that dessert aisle and never come out. Yummo!
Glad you enjoyed it, Dave. And yes the dessert aisle is awesome!!
Sabrina Parkins says
Great Article! Horse? Poor things. Macaron, foie gras so good! It remind me of my holiday in France last summer. I had trouble finding all those products we can not find here in US. But I found a very good online french grocery where you can find almost all those products for a very reasonable price. http://www.frenchmyworld.com I found the alsa Macaron, Le Ster Crepe…
I’ll be sure to check out the link. Thanks!
MERCI BEACOUP!! For this post….well for the whole blog in general!! We just moved to France for a year. We have been here (Toulouse) 2 weeks and I am sorta lost in the grocery store. I am doing ok bouncing from here to there but I always leave without something on my list! BUT OH MY the cheese and wine and yaourt!!!!! I am in heaven. Thank God I am not lactose intolerant!! Bless you bless you bless you!! Peave Melinda
There’s a general number to find the nearest “Pharmacie de garde”
If you really need that advil in the middle of the night.
Thanks, Bob! The pharmacies de garde have been lifesavers when you’re in a pinch.
My son is allergic to nuts. Are the foods labeled in both French & English at the supermarkets? Cooking at home is the safest option but that’s assuming I can actually read what ingredients are in the food!
Hi Sue, most foods made for the French market do NOT have any English on the label. But there are a bunch of brands that are made for a variety of European countries and do have ingredients in a bunch of languages. But I wouldn’t say it’s the norm. Your safest bet is probably to know the French equivalent for what he’s allergic to just to be extra sure.
My favorite spread for toasted baguettes and bananas is Ovomaltine Crunchy. If you haven’t tried it, you simply must! So much better than Nutella and the Speculoos spread.
I think I’ve seen that in the supermarket before but have never tried it. Is it nutty or more of a chocolate taste? I’ll have to grab a container of it. Thanks for the recommendation!!
Definitely more chocolate – the crunch isn’t from nuts, but something more like rice crispies. I love the taste and the texture.