France is currently (and probably will always be) my FAVORITE destination for food. And isn’t that kind of a given?
The land of cheese, bread, pastry, wine…. MMM I could go on and on and on. After spending only 4 days in France, I knew that I was obsessed with the country, especially when it came to the cuisine. There’s so much to discover in the world of French cuisine, and I felt like I needed a guide to take me through it all.
Enter: Belen from Cook with Belula. Belen and I have known each other for about a year when we took a food photography course together. She moved from Argentina to France about 10 years ago and has been living in the country and enjoying its food since.
In this interview, Belen tells us about the most popular foods eaten in France, some of the best recipes, and even one food she can’t stand 😉
Leave me a comment below this post and let me know what French dish you want to try!
Tell me about your history with France. How long have you been living there? What was attractive to you about moving to France?
I’ve always had a romance with Paris. I first came here when I was 20 to study French for 2 months. In my house, my parents were very supportive of us going to study, so that got me to travel.
6 or 7 years later I was in university studying international relations and I came to France for an exchange student program. I did 6 months in a French university. Eventually I had to leave and I really didn’t want to go home. From the minute I returned home, I knew I was coming back.
When I turned 30, I asked myself if baking was something I wanted to pursue professionally, and the answer was yes, so I knew I needed to study pastry in France. It was an obvious choice!
I put my house up for rent, and one month later I was here for “nine months.” Nine months has turned into 10 years!
What drew you to pastry?
I’ve been baking my whole life. I remember being 10 years old and being in charge of baking birthday cakes for my whole family. It’s something I’ve done naturally because I really like it. I had never asked myself, though, if it was something I wanted to do because it was always just a hobby.
I remember being 12 and we had a summer break and I convinced all of my friends that it would be a great idea to spend the entire summer in the kitchen when it was 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). We spent the whole summer baking and selling cakes, mostly to our parents’ friends, of course. That was my first business pastry venture. I’ve done it ever since!
When I was in my last year of university I went to my friend’s birthday party and I brought all the cakes. She asked me “why don’t you do this for a living?!” So that’s what I did.
At one point I had to decide what I really wanted to do, and my heart was in pastry.
What was it like attending pastry and cooking school in Paris? You are living my Julia Child dream!
It was so, so great. I went to Le Cordon Bleu which was my lifelong dream. I had googled Le Cordon Bleu for 10 years of my life, thinking every year was the year I was going to go. Finally, I made it happen!
It was very intense. There were a lot of things to do and a lot of hours of work. I went to cooking school and pastry school, so I was doing both programs at the same time. It was crazy, but it was great.
So much adrenaline went into the cooking. When you finished cooking, it felt like you finished a marathon. First we had a demo class where a chef made whatever recipe we had that day and we took notes. Then, immediately after, we had the practical class and you had to replicate what he did in the demo class all by yourself. Sometimes you had a day to prepare, but sometimes it was right after! Then you had to take it up to the chef and he’d taste it and grade you, and every class I was so nervous!
Downstairs were all the starving students that were waiting for the pastry students to come down with their cooking from that day. There was a big table in the break room where everyone shared their stuff. Some days you had 2 pastry classes in a row, plus the cooking classes, so it was impossible to eat everything. So we shared!
I started in March and I graduated in December. Then I did 3 or 4 months of assisting the chef in the prep kitchen, prepping all of the ingredients for them. That was great because I got to learn a lot from them, too!
Do you see any similarities between Argentinian and French food?
We do, actually. Argentinian cuisine is a mixture of cuisines from many different countries. We have a lot of Spanish influence, Italian influence, and French influence mainly that we replicated or adapted in some cases.
For Argentinian pastry, the base is French pastry. But most of our cakes use dulce de leche! If you even try making a cake without dulce de leche, people look at you like you’re crazy!
I grew up with flan all my life and was convinced it was Argentinian, but it is actually French. Same thing with rice pudding.
Tell me about the food in France. What types of meat are common to eat? What vegetables? What spices?
Spice-wise in France, they don’t like spicy food. Instead, they use a lot of soft spices, including the following:
- Black Pepper
- Thyme (the base of every long-cooking meat)
They use a lot of mild spices, but they use them really well, so the food has a lot of flavor without being spicy.
They start the flavoring very early… Layer-flavoring if you will! They start flavoring when they make the stock, and then they continue to flavor everything they add onto the dish, so in the end it’s really good.
For vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes are very popular. They eat very seasonally, so the produce they sell changes with the seasons.
They also really like endives, green beans (a lot of green beans!), zucchini, cauliflower and salad.
EVERY meal has a salad on the side. They use arugula, lettuce, beetroot leaves…. They have so many different kinds of salad. And the vinaigrette is so important to get right. Every French person must know how to make mayonnaise and vinaigrette.
(Kind of joking but kind of serious question): How do the people of France stay thin with all of this wonderful food?!
I was very curious about this myself when I first got here! It’s a mix and match.
From a very small age, the kids are trained not to snack between meals. Adults have 3 meals and kids have 4 (theirs includes a snack before dinner). They teach kids that the plate is divided into thirds. One third is vegetables, one third is protein, and one third is starch. It’s drilled into their brain.
From 2 years old, they make them try every food. They try every cheese and every vegetable, and basically eat like adults instead of eating “kid” food. This is replicated from a very young age and they get used to it.
A second reason is that they walk a lot. No one in Paris has a car, so people take the metro or walk a lot.
Thirdly, I watch my friends. They’re very methodical about how they eat during the week… They don’t eat bread, and they eat very lightly. Then, on the weekends, they go out to dinners at restaurants and they go all out (bread, wine, everything).
I’ve lived here for 10 years but I still haven’t caught up to that way of eating. Some years, yes! But in a pandemic year, not so much haha.
What are your everyday French foods? What types of things are common for breakfasts, dinners, snacks?
For breakfast, it’s very simple. Normally it’s just a piece of bread, called tartine, toasted or not toasted with butter and jam. Sometimes they have coffee or orange juice. It’s all very light… They also eat a lot of yogurt in the morning
For dinner, it’s normally very simple. They have one dish called Endives au Jambon. You cook the endives, then roll them in ham, put them in a baking tray and cover them with a bechamel-based sauce with egg yolk and cheese.
They have hachis parmentier (Shepherd’s Pie) which is meat and a puree. They also like the fish version, which is made with cod and a puree with garlic. Those are mostly winter dishes.
In the summer, they have a lot of salade composée, which is pretty much just a salad made up of anything left over from the fridge.
On the weekends, they cook a little bit more elaborate. Those meals would include things like roasted chicken, beef bourguignon, or blanquette de veau (veal with a sauce, rice and vegetables).
What is your favorite French holiday or tradition? Is there a food that makes that occasion special?
I love La fête de l’épiphanie, which is known as The Epiphany and is celebrated on January 6. During the whole month of January, whenever you see friends someone brings a Galette des Rois. It’s a round cake of puff pastry, filled with frangipane (an almond cream), and then it has a little round, ceramic piece that goes in the cream.
When you buy the galette at a patisserie, they give you the galette, but they also give you a crown made of paper. The tradition then goes that everyone sits around the table and the youngest person in the room goes under the table. You cut the galette into pieces and the person under the table says the names of people in the room and designates who each piece is going out for.
The person that finds the little ceramic piece in their galette slice gets to be king.
Is escargot as popular in France as everyone thinks they are?
Yes I think so! People don’t normally eat them at home (I don’t, but that’s because I don’t like them).
They’re from Bourgogne, so I’m sure if you visit Bourgogne every menu will have them. In Paris, they’re not everywhere but you can find them.
They’re not an everyday food, but more for a special occasion.
Is there anything eaten in France that’s not eaten anywhere else in the world? Anything surprising?
Tripe (veal stomach), beef tongue and frog legs are all very popular!
We also have a dish called Sweet Breads. It’s from veal in an area close to the stomach. At home in Argentina, we eat it on the barbecue. In France, they cook it for a very long time and continuously baste it in butter.
Another one is kidney. They have it at restaurants, and it’s served sliced with a mustard sauce. That one is so good. I took my brother once to a restaurant where they serve it and I think he still dreams about it.
What is the most difficult French recipe you’ve ever made?
At cooking school we made bouillabaisse, which is a fish stew from the south of France. I really don’t like it.
The stew part and cooking the fish is fine, but then you have to do a step called the La rouille. This is the most important part of the dish because it’s what gives the dish its flavor. It has a lot of garlic, small red peppers, breadcrumbs, etc.
I could never get that part right because I didn’t want to taste it. So I completely gave up and I could never do that dish. And I don’t care because I’m never making it.
What’s your very favorite recipe from France?
I have so many, but I am addicted to quiche. If you follow me on Instagram, you will see that I cook maybe 2 quiche a week.
I love souffles of all kinds, especially cheese or zucchini ones. I also love Coquilles Saint Jacques avec fondue e poireaux (scallops with leeks cooked with butter). It’s my favorite thing ever.
Tell me about your food blog! Why you started it, what it features, etc.
I started my blog in 2015. I had just decided to stay in France and give my relationship with my then-boyfriend (now my husband) a shot.
I started the blog as a hobby mainly. My job at the time was hosting dinner parties at my house, so in the blog I mostly shared what I cooked for my guests. About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to make my blog my job. Since then, it’s been interesting!
I feature French-inspired food mostly. My site has a lot of desserts, and a few simple savory things (mostly quiche).