The first time I stepped into a French supermarket I was incredibly surprised. The “process foods” isles such as canned food, condiments, and snacks were incredibly small. Reduced to about an aisle or perhaps 1/2 an aisle.
I learned at a very early age that most food comes either from the garden or the butcher.
So when I looked at the produce section I wasn’t surprised to see it took up most of the store.
That was the moment I realized I had to stop thinking like an American and shop like a French person.
It’s hard to say “I’m going to give you a list of items you must have in your pantry” because the French cook what is in season, or what speaks to them while they are at the open-air markets.
However, there are a few things you can expect to find in any French Kitchen.
When it comes to what you have in your pantry only the highest quality ingredients will do. Now that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. I’ve found many cookies for less than 1 euro and was amazed at how incredible they were.
What do the French Eat?
When I get asked this question, the answer often surprises people.
Most of the time they believe all the French eat are frogs, snails, and of course cheese and bread.
While that may be true, bread and cheese are pretty much a part of everyday life, sails and frogs are not.
The traditional French diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. We like to take our time with our eating, starting with an entre-appetizer-then the plate-main meal- and dessert.
As with most of the French lifestyle, eating is done in moderation and with satisfaction and pleasure. Enjoy the moment!
How to Stock Your Pantry Like the French
It is incredibly fun to pursue a Farmer’s Market. I took advantage of my local market in Oregon. You could even find them in Supermarket parking lots.
And the best part is most of what could inspire you’re next dish is right there in the market.
Here are some items that are used every day if not every week in a French pantry.
While most French people do not bake, you will find quite a lot of people do in the country or anywhere outside of Paris. Flour however is important to make rues, soups, breads, pasries, and crepes.
French supermarkets have a special flour blend just for breads, crepes, pastries, and of course all-purpose flour for everything else.
I get the all-purpose flour. Sometimes I’ll mix it up, depending on the season. I’ll get cornflower for sweet honey breads, or buckwheat flour for savory crepes.
To stock your pantry I suggest good quality all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour, and good quality bread flour.
Spices & Herbs & Seasoning
Believe it or not, the French are seasoning masters. After all, if a meal isn’t satisfactory what’s the point?
The types of herbs found in the pantry are as follows:
Parsley, sweet basil, tarragon, thyme, lemon thyme, chervil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary.
These types of herbs are of course used as garnish but also to flavor soups, meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, and salads.
Another herb collected is sage, but that isn’t for salads. Instead, it is used for meats and mushrooms.
The French love mushrooms.
Cinnamon, and nutmeg: Used for deserts but also can be used in savory dishes.
For example cinnamon on lamb, nutmeg to creamy chicken. Vegetables such as carrots, green beans, squash or spinach.
*secret tip: Spices help to not use so much salt, which then leads to less bloating. Also, during the winter months digestion is a little slower because of the heavier foods, herbs help move things along and keep your immune system nice and healthy.
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Just like with pepper, the French use mills for salt. Sea salt is the best, not just for flavor but for the blood.
Fleur De Sel is a specialty salt. These salts come directly from the sea and are used to intensify certain food’s natural flavors.
For instance, some of the fleur de sel you get from a mom-and-pop shop in Brittany are wonderful on meats or chicken.
Others are more suited for vegetables. Speak to the proprietor about what foods the salt will pair nicely.
Dried, fresh, frozen, or canned mushrooms are quite popular. Though I can tell you it seems the most popular is fresh button or crimini mushrooms. Dried are for more rustic or wild mushrooms.
In France, it is a loving hobby to forge for mushrooms on the forest floor.
Mushrooms can pretty much go in any dish, so having them on hand is a good idea in case the mood strikes you to add mushrooms to your dishes.
The most versatile condiment in the world. I’ve seen this tangy sometimes spicy condiment in plenty of recipes not just in France but also in the UK.
Invest in good quality mustard. The most common you’ll find in the pantry are Dijon, Pommery, and Meaux.
You can use mustard on or in many things. Here are a few to get you started:
Creamy soups, sandwiches, hamburgers, cheese & egg dishes, salad dressings, fish, and any casserole.
Hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds. You just can’t go wrong with nuts.
The French love putting them in salads, and in poultry dishes. At Christmas time you’ll find them in duck, or turkey.
Nuts are also a great emergency snack. I love paring nuts, apples, and cheese. Sometimes with a bit of honey.