Shop Like a Pro in a French Supermarket

Shop like a pro in a French supermarket on FalcondaleLife blog

Some say that British tourists love a booze cruise but the truth is there’s quite a lot of French life, food and culture to sample in the humblest of French supermarkets. If you’re on a self-catering holiday then you’re going to need some serious supplies. Here’s my guide to French supermarket shopping for holidaymakers.

  1. Wine and beer

If you’re not a wine buff, the simplest trick is to subtly follow a French shopper on the wine aisle. Buy what the French are buying. Avoid the full sections on the shelf, instead take from the areas which have already had a few bottles removed. The French know what they are doing. Observe and copy!

In the beer aisle you will probably find only French lager and Belgian beer, no ales. Try out the Breton cider instead, it goes down very easily.

bottles of french wine on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Cheese

Don’t copy the French for this one, the TV adverts have strongly influenced French shoppers’ choices on the pre-packed cheese aisle. Big business names like President sell well because of the advertising campaigns. Instead go to the deli counter and try any free samples. If your French is good enough then ask the staff a few questions:

Avez-vous quelque chose de moins fort? = Do you have something milder?

Softer = plus doux

Harder = plus dur

More mature = plus mûr

Avez-vous un fromage bleu? – Do you have a blue cheese?

Avez-vous un fromage de lait de brebis? – sheep’s milk

Goat’s milk = lait de chèvre

When you have chosen if you ask for any less than 200 grams you will get a funny look – cheese is meant to be eaten in proper amounts!

Cheddar is rare, for grated toppings they tend to prefer Emmenthal.

  1. Stationery

Office supplies and stationery are always particularly good value in French supermarkets compared with the UK. You can get some lovely pens and good value folders, also school equipment like compasses. The only negative is that the notebooks are all squared paper to comply with requirements for French schools.

French supermarket stationery on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Meat and poultry … and other “meat”

Make sure you know what you are buying. Learn the vocabulary because French supermarkets sell things which you might prefer to avoid like Fois Gras and white veal, both produced with controversial methods of animal care. Also you can buy meat labelled ‘horse’, ‘cat’ and ‘dog’. Tripe is common, even in tins and in sausage (‘andouille’ is tripe sausage). The range of whole salamis in the supermarkets is quite exciting. Bacon is commonly sold in little cubes or lardons rather than slices.

French supermarket meat aisle on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Vegetables and Fruit

With the exception of Super U – my favourite French supermarket so far – we found the range of green veg was very different to the UK with only haricots verts (French beans) in the bean section, nothing from the cabbage or broccoli families at all. On our summer visits there were no sprouts, mange-tout, runner beans, kale or cauliflower. Perhaps some autumn veg would come round in season or be available regionally at different times. A more recognisable range was available at Super U but broccoli was expensive and haricots verts so cheap that one Euro buys 900g (2lb). They were delicious too! Parsnip is rarely eaten in France, although the older generation remember eating them during the war.

Your challenge with fruit in the summertime is to not buy far too much. They sell abundant crops of wonderful summerfruit by the boxload and it’s just a pity you can’t bottle it to take home.

Apricots in a French supermarket on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Bread – or let them eat cake

Not long ago a rectangular sandwich with sliced bread was a rarity in France but now sliced loaves in the British style are readily available in the supermarket, some with crusts already removed as if they have been prepared with your poshest cucumber sandwiches in mind. The daily French baguette is unchanged and the routine of buying them each morning continues (they go stale after one day). If you want wholemeal then search for “complet” or “pain de campagne”. Gâche are soft, sweet loaves that look like brioche but we all hated it, it was quite different, sour and gritty.

Gache on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Tinned Food

If you’re planning a road trip through France and you cannot transport much chilled or fresh food then tinned food is an important subject. Again, Super U is my recommendation for range and variety, and along with Lidl was almost the only place with tinned vegetables. Carrefour is not bad either but Intermarche is a lot like Leclerc. In Leclerc we found that the “ready meal” aisle was all tins of pre-prepared dinners. We tried cassoulet and it was like a tin of baked beans and sausage mixed with chicken soup. Lidl alone we found did not sell fresh milk but long life milk is for sale everywhere. All tins have ring-pulls so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that our gite didn’t have a tin opener! The supermarket tinned aisle is probably the only place you will find something labelled “curry” and there is only one flavour.

  1. Hours of shopping

Cock this one up and you will go hungry. 7-day 24-hour shopping culture has not arrived in France. The small shops shut at noon, some open again at 2pm but others not until 5pm. In the UK if supermarkets are shut we search for an all-hours corner shop. This does not work in France as small shops shut the most often. However on a Sunday morning many large supermarkets are now open until noon. If you’re hungry in the afternoon, don’t go looking for afternoon tea, they do not have this habit either and the café will most likely be shut until 7pm.

Read what I put on my French shopping list by clicking here.

What do you like to buy in France? Tell me your experiences in the comments below.

Lou Messugo

 

Here’s another post I’ve written about France

My Pinterest board called Places – France is full of ideas for places to visit

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7 Comments

  1. 15th November 2016 / 9:38 am

    I have to agree with Phoebe and I am wondering where you have done your French shopping. Certainly here in Normandy we have oodles of both green veggies and tinned ones which are popular with shoppers. Gâche is generally delicious where as French sliced bread is what my boys call plastic bread and they much prefer the real thing from the village bakery. I always try to shop in local shops, where I can, or the market where the fresh produce is superb.

    PS – tripe is not andouille in French. Andouille is a sausage made with tripe and pork and is particularly associated with Normandy and the town of Vire a few kms from where I live. Tripe is in fact les tripes and widely sold …. although I am yet to try it! Andouille is “chitterlings” in English 🙂 #AllAboutFrance

    • 15th November 2016 / 9:48 am

      About the veg – see my other comment. I should have made it clearer what I meant. Oh dear. Live and learn. I wanted to mention the word andouille because anyone can recognize “tripe” but if you see andouille you won’t find it in a pocket dictionary. I’ve had gâche a few times, I really don’t like it but I guess that’s just me.

  2. 15th November 2016 / 8:35 am

    I’m wondering which region of France you shop in because I have a very different experience to you particularly with vegetables. There’s no doubt France is very seasonal with its fruit and veg (which I like and think is as it should be) but the supermarkets and markets around the Nice area (and where I used to live in the Paris region) sell plenty of different beans, broccoli and cabbage. I’m sorry you haven’t been able to find these products. And as for cat and dog meat, I assume you mean meat for pets rather than actual cat and dog meat because France certainly doesn’t sell that! (I’m just back from Vietnam though where they do eat both cat and dog which might explain why I read it to mean the meat of those animals!) And finally I think you must have had some stale or off gâche because it is the most wonderful melt-in-the-mouth soft (not gritty) sweet bread, you must give it another go! I love your tip to follow the locals to see what they buy in the wine section! Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance

    • 15th November 2016 / 9:24 am

      I should have made it clearer I was talking about the the things you might come across rather than what you would definitely find, but I did say it was probably a seasonal issue. It’s very different in the UK where all types of fruits and veg are available all the time, flown in.
      The cat and dog meat were in the display next to the pork, beef and chicken in Leclerc. We were astonished. Perhaps they were not for human consumption but fresh meat labelled for pets.

      • 17th November 2016 / 8:39 pm

        The meat you saw really was fresh meat destined for pets and shows how the French waste a lot less of their food compared to other countries …. and together with their habit of eating seasonal and locally produced food are 2 of many facts that help France tick the boxes in my “green” world. Mind you, head to the freezer compartment and when it says “Frogs’ legs” that really is what you are getting and yes, people do buy and eat snails!

  3. 14th November 2016 / 8:58 pm

    Shopping in supermarkets is one of my favourite things about travelling to France. They always seem to keep the best produce for themselves (which is as it should be!). I have come a cropper trying to weigh vegetables, though. Working out which variety of plum I’ve picked so I can get the right sticker has proved tricky….. #AllAboutFrance

    • 15th November 2016 / 9:26 am

      At least you remembered to weigh the fruit. We caused a hold-up at the till cos we hadn’t realised, oops!

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