The French love food and enjoying it is a bit of a national pastime. From simple dishes prepared well to unique Michelin chef creations and everything in between, there’s no shortage of amazing French food to be enjoyed by all. But the French aren’t fans of everything, nor are all the foods you know and love from home available in France. Let’s get into five American comfort food dishes the French don’t eat!
Something that surprised me when I first came to France is just how diverse the foods are and that American comfort foods I was familiar back home didn’t really translate to French cuisine.
Another random thing that surprised me was that French people love leeks and they’re quite popular. They’re just as commonplace as carrots are and most young French kids if you held up a leek and asked them to name it would know it’s a leek, called un poireau in French, whereas in the U.S. leeks are not quite as popular.
Also, you might think the French never eat fast food and that everyone takes advantage of local produce and only cooks from scratch. That’s what I thought before actually living here and seeing how the French live!
That may have been true years ago, but these days, not all French people make all their own meals and shop at the market. Believe it or not, McDonald’s in France is the second most profitable market (only after the U.S.). Times are a-changin’!
It was also interesting for me to discover French comfort foods and to realize the American ones I knew and loved weren’t “a thing” in France at all.
Please note I’m not saying these things *should* exist in France. It’s a different country and France has its own culture and way of doing things that I’ve come to respect and also love. I think it’s interesting to look at the differences, though, and be prepared so you know what to expect.
Let’s get into it….
5 Popular comfort foods we eat in the U.S. that don’t exist in France:
1. Baked macaroni & cheese. MMMMmmm, who can resist this stuff?? Not me — especially the baked mac and cheese my mom used to make with broccoli. SO GOOD!
I told you in this post that boxed mac and cheese in U.S. supermarkets is so commonplace that it might surprise you to learn it doesn’t exist in France. So it makes sense that homemade macaroni and cheese isn’t a dish the French make that often either.
It’s said that macaroni and cheese actually came about in the U.S. after Thomas Jefferson went to Europe and really enjoyed a noodle dish he had tried there. He took notes and then asked for it to be served to him at a state dinner as “macaroni pie.” The rest was history.
While France doesn’t have traditional U.S.-style mac and cheese, there is a dish that’s kind of similar called coquillettes au jambon which features elbow macaroni, ham, and parmesan cheese. It’s not as creamy or cheesy as our beloved macaroni and cheese but it is good and worth a try. 😉
You’ll also see a gratin de macaronis but it’s not quite like American macaroni and cheese and is usually made with crème fraîche.
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2. PB&J. Ahhh yes, the nostalgia is coming on strong with a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Kids love these things and I remember my PB&J days fondly. I’ll still have one every now and again as an adult for old time’s sake.
Many of the dishes I’m writing about here fall into the not-culturally-French category and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches top this list. Any way you slice it (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun), French kids don’t have creamy peanut butter and tasty jelly slapped between two pieces of white bread for lunch.
The sweetness of it might be confusing to French people who generally save anything sweet for dessert or le goûter. This type of sandwich would definitely not be considered a proper lunch meal (which needs meat and veggies!).
In addition, while you can find peanut butter in regular grocery stores these days, it’s not super popular in France and wouldn’t be used to make a sandwich for lunch.
3. Meatloaf. The French love meat but American-style meatloaf is not something you’ll find on restaurant menus in France. If you’re not familiar with it, meatloaf is generally a mix of ground beef and pork and seasoned with onions, breadcrumbs, and probably some ketchup on top. It’s the ultimate comfort food but just not one that’s served in France. My French in-laws love mine, though!
4. Pumpkin pie and other pumpkin-flavored desserts. Pumpkin and related squash varieties are considered vegetables in France. There’s no pumpkin pie and that’s a shame because it’s my favorite dessert (and canned pumpkin is hard to come by!).
As you might expect, there’s no pumpkin spice craze here either, so you won’t find pumpkin spice Oreos, coffee creamer (in any variety!), cream cheese and all of those seasonal fall products that are oh-so-popular in the U.S.
Pumpkin pie isn’t a thing at all and the closest you might get is a pain d’épices (spice cake). Pumpkin-flavored desserts are not something the French make or buy. They really don’t exist and don’t have any cultural significance.
P.S. The same goes for key lime pie.
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5. Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. This sweet and gooey dish is a Thanksgiving must! But since there’s no Thanksgiving in France, everyone’s tried-and-true favorite side dish stateside would get a few stares in France. Culturally, a potato dish with marshmallows would stand out and be considered a bit strange (marshmallows with dinner?!?).
But it’s not because the French would hate it. I learned this one from experience when my family ended up loving my sweet potato casserole at our little French Thanksgiving a few years back!
If you live in the U.S. and are craving French food, I’ve got you covered. for all your French grocery needs in the U.S., check out myPanier! They’re a wonderful French-owned online French supermarket with all kinds of goodies. I reviewed myPanier here. They have everyday grocery items as well as amazing artisanal items. Use my promo code OUIINFRANCEMP for $10 off your purchase of $49+.
What other popular American dishes are hard to come by in France?
Disclosure: I’m an affiliate of MyPanier.