French food, or not

We have considerable work to do to cook like a local in France. The supermarkets seem expensive but I think that's because we are looking for the same things we'd buy at home and they're not common ingredients here.

Having just invested in a paella pan for two, we bought prawns and chicken thighs on our first supermarket shop and our first meal was Spanish. At that same supermarket we purchased off cuts of beef and made a Greek stifado for the second night.

Our third and fourth nights repeated the first two, except, shocked by the price of chicken, we bought pork for the paella. I'm sure no Spaniard would make a pork paella but they are happy to add chorizo sausage which is kind of the same thing.

Standing at the meat counter planning meals five and six we ended up with a huge but very fatty chunk of beef. I hacked it into dice and we put half in the fridge and made chilli con carne that night and a Moroccan tagine the next. In both meals the fat rendered down during the three hours the pot bubbled away making the sauces thick, rich and luscious.

After deciding on the tagine idea we visited the supermarket for the additional ingredients we required. Ras el hanout is one of our ten larder spices so we only needed some dried fruit. Dried fruit of any description was almost four euros a pack, quite ridiculous given its lengthy shelf life. So instead we bought four fresh apricots for 75 cents. We still had half a lemon and this along with our apricots gave a wonderfully zesty taste to the meal.

For our seventh night we decided, having cooked Greek, Spanish, Mexican and Moroccan that we ought to research something French. We looked up recipes for coq au vin. Seven small chicken thighs cost four euros, almost twice what I'd have expected to pay in a British supermarket. We followed the recipe to the letter and the meal was enjoyable, but when you're used to spicy and flavorful food, I thought it quite bland.

The blandness of French food isn't just my opinion; if you enter 'why is French food...' into Google, the third most searched question ends ' bland'.

So it was back to paella for our final meal, using a small chicken fillet, small and pricey bag of prawns and some herring. All of which was about twice the price in the UK.

Maybe we ought to become vegetarian when we're in France, or better still, bring all our food with us across the channel.

I'm a frugal shopper at the best of times and I'll happily visit different shops for different things back home. Consequently, knowing exactly how much I'd be paying in the cheapest shop at home makes it doubly frustrating when standing in a French supermarket. It's not just food either. For example, at home I'd buy Right Guard anti-perspirant from Wilko when it was on a half-price offer, making it £1.24. I'd buy enough that I always had some in the cupboard until the next time it was on offer.

In a French supermarket nothing is on offer, at least not the kind we're used to at home, and anti-perspirant is €3, even a supermarket own brand.

There are, of course, some things much cheaper in France, wine being one of them. We're taking home several five litre boxes.
And pate in Super U was 86 cents for a huge amount that would have been £3 at home - pate on a sliced baguette was our post-beach snack, given that dinner would be a long time cooking.

I guess there's a small case of swings and roundabouts and I'm sure if I lived here I'd find the cheapest places to buy things, but for holidays here grocery shopping will remain a sore point.

I do wonder what other campers thought about our evening cooking habits as most meals were left bubbling away, liquids reducing over several hours, sometimes until past dark. I joked to Tony that they'd be saying: 'The English are boiling something again'.

And our nightly cooking didn't go unnoticed as a German man came over one evening to borrow balsamic vinegar for his family's salad. And of course we had a bottle!


  1. We are also big spice lovers and find it near impossible to buy them here (small expensive packets only) so ask visitors to bring large bags for us. Meat can be a little dearer but I feel quality better.

    1. Do you know you have an Asian supermarket in La Rochelle? I think it's about an hour from you if that's any help.
      Adresse Aux Saveurs d'Asie

      16 rue des Dames
      17000 La Rochelle

      Tél. : 05 46 50 52 14
      Mail :

  2. We have lived in France for ten years. Initially, we tried to find the foods that were familiar to us, but over time, we have stopped buying the foods we bought in the UK and now eat French. We love French dishes and know where to shop for the best quality and price. For those that prefer spices, (we don't) in our area of the Limousin, there are Asian supermarkets where large quantities of every variety can be bought very easily. You won't find loads of Indian restaurants around here, some Chinese, but we love our French restaurants and eat very well.
    I know that in some more rural areas of France, it's harder to find what you need, but if you know where to kook, it's all there! Glad you had a good trip.

  3. I also buy men's 48 hour deodorant for under 2 euros and six large chicken breasts for 8 euros, so I do think, as you rightly say, it's a case of knowing where to look.


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