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.
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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!
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What other popular American dishes are hard to come by in France?
Disclosure: I’m an affiliate of MyPanier.
You have me laughing (and hungry). I could never get my kids (half American!) to eat Jell-O. They wouldn’t touch it. They said it was the most freaky, disgusting thing they had ever beheld. Too bad. More for me! Carrie in Paris
FERRY CATHERINE says
I don’t know what kind of people you used to be or meet but, for the Baked macaronis and cheese I don’t agree with what you said, this dish that we call macaroni gratin or others pastas is very common in France and very often used, all people of a certain age (50/80) practice this cooking with Swiss cheese (gruyère) sometimes pieces of bacon or small pieces of veal, not to throw away the dishes of the day before, economy… We also know the meatloaf and in the past ,people used to do it themselves at home. I think it’s a matter of generation, I’m 72 years old and my mum cooked with fresh products she bought on the market, we used to eat a good food. Marshmallows is considered by French as Junky food LOL Thanks for your writing so funny for french people lol
So interesting to hear that past generations made a type of meatloaf and mac & cheese with Swiss and meat. Marshmallows are definitely considered junk food in the US too. Glad you enjoy my posts! 🙂
I was raised in France. We had a homemade mac&cheese that we called: ” nouilles au gratin”, it was also called: “gratin de pates”. It was a baked macaroni and swiss cheese dish that we topped with bread crumbs/chapelure.
We loved it as kids.
Bonjour! We never had macaroni and cheese. My mother was born and raised there and that is where I was born. My aunt and uncle did tell me when I went back to France from the US that they did not like popcorn and that peanuts were served in the movie theaters in France
Hi Roxanne, thanks for reading! These days you can actually find popcorn at movie theaters. They have the sweet and salty variety 🙂
Bradford McCormick says
5 Comfort foods Americans love and French people don’t eat.
I can’t believe you got this one so right: the sweet potato and marshmallow cassarole! That’s got ot be one of the very worst (I mean “best”). Marcal Duchamp should have had one to put on exhiblt or donate to the Societie Anonyme (sp?) collection (now at Yale University). Possible title: “Not eaten and less eaten”
Or automobiles: France gave the world the Citroen DS-19. America gave the world the Chevrolet Malibu (Boo, hoo!). Unfortunately “am” an American. This place is not ALL bad: I have a French neighbor, an 88 year old lady whose family had had a wholesale business in a small town before “the war” (WWII) and German officers and billeted in the house and they were very respedtful and well….. (Her father had been a Captain and wanted to stay in the French army before the war but his mother had made him run the family business instead and that tuned him into an alcoholic)
The old phare “the ugly Amerian” I presume still applies.
Randall Lievertz says
I assume that food from other European countries is available, yet I don’t recall any mention of them when food in France is discussed by authors. In general, do the French incorporate these foods or do they discriminate against these foods? Could I eat my favorite German sausages, sauerbraten, German dark beer, Irish corned beef, Italian pasta dishes, etc. for instance? Would I find any of these on restaurant menus? Do you have any examples of non-French foods that are at least semi-frequent or semi-common?
I really enjoy your writing. You have a balanced view that is refreshing.