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.