What A Traditional Breakfast Looks Like In France

Breakfast table in Paris
Breakfast table in Paris - Eva-katalin/Getty Images

Slam on down to an American Waffle House nestled on a concrete slab beneath the interstate and you can get a stack of waffles smothered, covered, splattered, chunked, topped, or "all the way." Perhaps needless to say, breakfast doesn't look like that in France.

Compared to breakfast in other countries, like the Irish breakfast (not to be confused with an Ulster fry or its cousin the full English), breakfast in France is a much lighter meal. Mealtimes in France may be an experiential gastronomic event, but breakfast is not regarded with the same reverence or intentionality. More common is stopping into a café for a light breakfast (often a coffee and pastry) before running errands. It isn't uncommon for foodies in the country to skip breakfast altogether, instead holding out for a more elaborate lunch, as lunch is traditionally the biggest meal in French food culture. The French word for breakfast "le petit déjeuner" literally translates to "the little lunch," and the "le déjeuner," aka lunch, means "to break the fast."

In France, the typical petit déjeuner centers around a bread-based pastry or carb -- often a coffee and a pastry, or just the coffee. Breakfast commonly consists of a croissant, crusty baguette, or softer brioche with fruit preserves and rich, creamy butter. To drink, a glass of apple or orange juice, hot chocolate ("chocolat chaud"), or café au lait are popular.

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Sweet Trumps Savory, And It Comes In A Minimal Package

French breakfast spread
French breakfast spread - Brasil2/Getty Images

On the sweeter side of French breakfast pastries are viennoiseries like pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and chaussons aux pommes, a flaky golden pastry with tart apple filling. Savory pastries include chausson aux epinards, stuffed with cheese and spinach, or feuilletes, puff pastry with mushrooms, asparagus, ham, and cheese. French people eat plain old Nutella toast, too -- they just call it tartine, an open-faced sandwich.

Even the heartier French breakfast food options aren't particularly heavy. French toast (aka pain perdu), buckwheat crepes, or an omelet are usually the moves for a bigger breakfast. Get that omelet stuffed with lardons and goat cheese for extra French flair. Crepes can be prepared both sweet or savory, but in France, crepes are typically considered a dessert or snack rather than a breakfast food.

Sausage and bacon are nowhere to be found on the French breakfast table, but eggs are. Oeufs cocotte (simple baked eggs) is common, as are oeufs au four (bite-sized egg muffins) and oeufs brouillés (scrambled eggs served with potatoes). French foodies are also known to enjoy sliced, salted radishes on a slab of buttered toast. Perhaps the heartiest traditional French dish enjoyed for breakfast is classic croque madame, an open-faced toasted ham sandwich with béchamel, melted cheese, and a fried egg, not all that different from the bacon-egg-and-cheese you might find wrapped in white deli paper at a bodega in Queens.

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