My toxic trait is bringing up that one time I lived in Paris way too often—I turned six months spent in a foreign country into a personality trait. So I’m starting off this article with the self-awareness that I’m not coming off as particularly relatable, but the point is that I am not a Parisian, nor am I an expert in French culture. However, I learned a lot from coworkers, friends, and the women I lived with during my short time in France, and it has changed the way I cook and think about food. And—bien sûr—I’m going to share it all with you from my perspective as an American in Paris.
First of all, I learned that the key to French cooking lies in the simplicity of the ingredients. Parisians rarely stray from cooking with basic ingredients, and the inside of their fridges often look very similar. Meals are flavorful because of full-fat dairy and fresh-out-the-oven bread and consist of small proportions that are filling because of the wholeness of their ingredients.
Instead of heating up a low-cal frozen dinner from the grocery store, busy Parisians put together simple meals using a few ingredients from the boulangerie down the street or the marché on their way home from work. Parisians seem to possess the secrets to all our weight loss dreams: their meals are delicious and filling, but their bodies are healthy. They choose easy, simple, whole, and delicious meals that are so good they make them over and over again and dedicate each bite to the simple act of enjoying it. To start your own French diet, here are the 10 kitchen essentials I learned that most Parisians always have on hand.
1. Cartons of eggs
In contrast to American brunches made up of omelets and eggs Benedict, you’ll rarely find Parisians eating eggs for breakfast. Instead, they eat eggs mostly for lunch and dinner, whether they’re hard-boiled and sliced with cheese and mayonnaise in a sandwich or poached and eaten with veggies for a quick dinner. Because they’re a lean source of protein and super versatile to cook with, eggs are considered kitchen essentials in any Parisian household.
2. At least one baguette
If you’re a Parisian, you know to ask for une baguette tradition at the boulangerie, which is always crisper and fresher than regular baguettes because it’s made with only basic ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, and water). It goes without saying that the only bread a Parisian will ever eat is made the day they buy it. Bonus tip: Bread in France is never processed or pre-sliced, and if it was made in a factory instead of a bakery or home? Thank you, next.
3. Dijon mustard
The iconic French mustard spreads easily on a slice of baguette for a zesty snack or mixes with olive oil for a salad dressing that makes even lettuce taste delicious. A high-quality Dijon mustard (which actually comes from Dijon, France) is an easy staple to make any savory meal a little tangier and more flavorful.
4. Olive oil
Olive oil is a staple for cooking and baking in any Parisian kitchen. In addition to all the health benefits, olive oil makes any dish taste more delicious and cook more evenly. And when they’re not using it to cook, the French are also known to dab it onto the skin to boost moisture and glow. To use it the Parisian way, generously coat your veggies before roasting them in the oven or apply it to your skin before bed for beauty benefits.
Walking down any street in Paris will make you understand how seriously they take their cheese. Fromageries are all over the city, and each store has a wide selection of the best cheeses you probably will ever eat. Parisians eat different cheeses for different meals and always know which cheeses to pair with what food and which type of wine. Learning how to eat and pair cheese should be as important as learning your ABCs, non? And just like bread, you won’t find pre-sliced or factory-made cheese in a Parisian’s kitchen.
Even if you don’t think you can taste the little smear of butter on a loaded sandwich, you somehow know the entire sandwich tastes better because of that little smear. The French use butter frequently in most dishes and cooking styles, from sauces to meats to croissants to desserts. Most importantly, Parisians will always use the real thing (no margarine, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, or reduced fat, please!).
Parisians know a good bottle of wine is the key to a successful dinner party or a delicious coq au vin. In France, wine can be used to enhance any meal, whether it’s a first dinner date or a work lunch. Parisians use wine to enjoy and enrich life as well as to enhance flavors while cooking. Drinking wine is an art, and Parisians somehow strike the perfect balance of moderation even while drinking wine with most meals.
IMO, you can taste the difference between French and American yogurt because French yogurt is always full-fat and creamy. It makes a quick breakfast or a delicious dessert and is so much tastier than the processed low-fat options we find in the U.S. (and typically contains way fewer ingredients too). If yogurt is flavored, it’s typically vanilla (using whole vanilla bean and cane sugar, of course!) or contains real fruit rather than the artificial flavoring in yogurts you find in American grocery stores.
At restaurants, you’ll often see Parisians opt for an espresso or cappuccino after the meal. But at home, they’re always stocked with tea for first thing in the morning or to warm up after getting home when the weather is froid. As for how they drink tea? I learned pretty quickly that mugs in France resemble bowls with small handles instead of the cups I drink out of at home. Whether it’s taken plain or with sugar, Parisians often prefer to enjoy their tea by dipping a piece of toast with jam into it.
10. Something for dessert
Meals are not just a means of survival (like a smoothie on the go) or hitting dieting goals (like bland salads). Parisians know that meals are the most important social time of the day. And therefore, a delicious palette cleanser after dinner is just as important as the dinner itself—because the purpose of food is to enjoy it. To that end, dessert is always on-hand (and never comes with guilt). Restaurants and dinner parties will offer a cheese plate course before a soufflé chocolat or crème brûlée, but for quiet dinners at home, a simple homemade tart or yogurt with sugar does the trick.