The image of a French person walking through the sunny rows of open-air farmers’ market stands to pick out their fresh groceries for the day is often conjured when we idealize a daily grocery run in Paris. But, much like what is seen in the US, such a trip is usually reserved for the weekend, when people simply have the time to make eight different stops to get the groceries they need. For the rest of the week, regular grocery stores like Monoprix, Franprix, and G20 often are the way everyone tends to get their groceries.
But even though the trip isn’t always as luxurious as it sometimes seems, there are plenty of fantastic things you can find in your average French grocery stores that would top charts in the US. From basic ingredients to premade snacks, here are six French grocery store items I wish were in American grocery stores.
1. French Butter
French butter is the obvious top of this list. Not only is it globally renowned as some of the best butter out there, but it’s one of the amazing base ingredients for all of the delicious pastries and snacks that one finds throughout the boulangeries and patisseries in France. French croissants specifically capitalize on the French butter, as does fresh brioche bread.
There is a particular science to what makes French butter the best in the world, but the essence of it is that French butter has more butterfat. It’s made using methods that are in some instances hundreds of years old, and it shows in the product. On top of that, French butter often has appellation d’origine contrôlée (otherwise known as AOC) status, meaning that it comes from particular regions of France and is often better off for it.
Soda is, and probably always will be, my biggest weakness. Aside from the addicting carbonation, it also tends to be the easiest way for a caffeine addict like me (who doesn’t particularly like coffee or tea) to get their energy fix. But, as anyone who has traveled outside of the US probably knows, soda is a whole different deal abroad.
The traditional example is with Coca-Cola, specifically how much better it tastes with cane sugar than with high-fructose corn syrup, but for me the real winner when you come to France is Orangina. Orangina is an orange soda, but not at all like Fanta or Sunkist. It tastes more like if you mixed orange juice with Sprite, and its utterly amazing. Seriously, the best soda out there in my humble but honest opinion.
You can find Orangina if you look hard enough in the states, but here in France it’s in every grocery store, every restaurant, and every convenience shop you can find. It isn’t heavy like darker sodas, so it’s perfect for the Parisian picnic under the Eiffel Tower or just for wandering around the city with.
Saucisson is the hard, almost salami-like sausage that can be particularly great for charcuterie spreads and as appetizers. These don’t usually come in slices though; they come in entire batons. You can get a baton of saucisson at just about any grocery store, and if you’re only looking for a small bite to eat, you can also get packages of little pencil-sized batons for snacking.
What I particularly like about a French saucisson is that it often takes on a sort of nice greasy and rich salty taste that you don’t see as much of in American summer sausages. They make great afternoon snacks, and are absolutely perfect with some baguette or a piece of cheese. Plus, they obviously have a great shelf life, so you don’t really ever have to worry about them going bad.
Obviously France is extremely well known for its cheese, but most of that comes from the culture of going to the fromagerie to pick up specific kinds of cheese, rather than what you get on your grocery run. Grocery stores aren’t usually the place to go to get wildly complex kinds of cheese or specific varieties from certain parts of the country.
But what grocery stores do carry is often still far superior to what we normally see in the US. Though it depends on the store, most places I’ve seen at least have a few kinds of goat cheese, some fresh pieces of parmesan and balls of mozzarella, and then some soft cheese like camembert, brie, etc. The thing I like to get is called Caprice des Dieux, which literally translates to “A Whim of the Gods.” Though that might be a slight overstatement, it’s a great soft cheese that’s a little bit funky, and perfect for things like grilled cheese, pasta, or just a regular sandwich.
Grocery stores also have most of the average cheeses you can find in the US, like cheddar, gouda, swiss, and most plentifully, emmental (of which you can get in just about any form or quantity you like). But if you’re in France, why go with something too normal?
5. Sliced Brioche
Anyone who’s ever had French toast or grilled cheese with brioche instead of white bread knows what I’m talking about here. Sliced brioche is perfect bread for the quick or spontaneous meal, and because of its richness, I always find myself feeling more full after having a sandwich with brioche than having one made with white bread.
While you can certainly get some brioche tranchée at your local boulangerie, it’s probably going to cost you a little bit more, and because products from bakeries don’t often include preservatives, it won’t last very long either. When you get it from the grocery store, the shelf life is notably longer, and, like I said, you don’t necessarily need it for fancy meals anyways.
You can find brioche in some places in the US, but at least in my experience it’s almost random where you can find it, and it often is significantly more expensive when you eventually do.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a Little Debbie’s oatmeal creme pie as much (if not more than) the next guy. But what you can get in the sweets aisle in the average French grocery store is seriously next level sometimes.
Among these are bags of madeleines and their different varieties, all kinds of biscuits and sweet crackers, and one of my personal favorites, Petites Écoliers, which are sweet butter biscuits with a piece of chocolate on top. Even items from global brands like M&M and Oreo come in different forms, usually on some kind of butter biscuit as well.
The sweet treat I’ve been stuck on recently have been raspberry génoise biscuits, which are essentially a layer of a soft biscuit, a layer of raspberry jam, and a layer of dark chocolate on top. I believe the way I described them to someone was as “eat the whole sleeve and want some more” good.
6. Le Gaulois Chicken Cordon Bleu
Alright, so this one isn’t nearly as luxurious as anything else I’ve mentioned, nor is it something that I’ve heard a single French person even rave about in any capacity. No, the stovetop chicken cordon bleu from Le Gaulois holds a special place for me for two entirely different reasons.
First of all, it’s an absolutely extraordinary dish for university students like myself. It’s cheap, it has everything you need in a meal, and it takes less than ten minutes to prepare it. Plus, only taking one pan, it’s easy cleanup for someone like me, who doesn’t have a dishwasher and isn’t particularly fond of doing dishes in the first place.
Second, though, and the reason I say to get it from Le Gaulois rather than from another brand, is because of the magnets inside. Just like cereal boxes used to have little prizes inside of them, each box for Le Gaulois chicken has a little magnet inside that corresponds to a region in France. Each magnet has the name of the department, its capitol city, and something (usually a product or monument) it is known for.
It isn’t particularly extraordinary chicken, nor is it necessarily worth spending too much time or energy focusing on, but the magnets are good fun and for a cheap meal I’ll gladly take it.
French grocery stores don’t often house particularly fancy or indulgent things, but what they do have often differs greatly from what is available in the US. If you make the trip to France, take the opportunity to stop into a regular grocery store and get some basic groceries that you can’t find in the US. It almost never fails to be worth it.
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