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One way to enter the French gastronomic world of “plaisir” is to sink your teeth into a warm, crunchy baguette. As you bite off the end, you are diving into an emblem of French cultural heritage. As French President Emmanuel Macron says, the French baguette is “250 grams of magic and perfection.” No wonder it was given UNESCO Heritage status on November 30, 2022.
Stand in line with Parisians in front of your local boulangerie and swoon at the delicious and enticing scents emanating from the open door.
Enter and scan. Contemplate the pâtisseries, the quiche, the pains au chocolat, the croissants, and then rest your eyes on the baguettes standing on end. Leaning like sentinels against one another waiting to be chosen, popped under a French armpit or in a wicker bicycle basket and eventually land on a dining room table.
The daily pleasure of a French baguette was my lifeline during the first COVID confinement which started in March 2020. Every day I would walk to the corner boulangerie and order a “demie-tradition bien cuite.” Although I knew no one in my neighbourhood, I felt a sense of comfort lining up with other Parisians, being greeted as I stepped into the bakery, and walking home to my tiny apartment in le Marais with a warm baguette.
In a French home, there are never too many baguettes. The French will visit their local boulangerie more than once a day for the freshest addition to their meal. Baguettes are stacked at the end of a table or tucked in a cupboard. Yesterdays are waiting to be dipped in the morning coffee. And today’s are waiting to be torn into pieces.
Ever wondered how to eat baguette like the French? After a few years of careful observations and asking questions, here are my tips.
How To Eat Baguette Like The French: 10 Best Tips
1. How To Order A Baguette
Is there just one kind of baguette? The simple answer is, “No.”
In my opinion, the best baguette to order is the “baguette de tradition” because it must be made using traditional methods. In 1993 the Bread Decree was passed. This French law dictates that a baguette de tradition can only contain four ingredients (wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast), must be baked on the premises, and cannot contain any additives or preservatives. It cannot be frozen at any stage of production.
And thus, the “baguette de tradition” is a truly artisanal product, baked with skill and love on the premises of the boulangerie.
If you like your bread extra crunchy on the outside, order a “tradition bien cuite,” a well-baked loaf. If you are looking for less crunch, order a “tradition pas trop cuite,” a tradition less cooked. Not sure if you need the whole “baguette de tradition?” Order a “demi-tradition,” a half-loaf.
Baguettes are usually longer in length and can contain additives, preservatives, or other ingredients.
A ficelle, also a type of baguette, is a long skinny loaf of bread.
I always buy my “baguette de tradition” at a boulangerie. The day my boulangerie is closed, I either don’t eat fresh bread (a personal bread strike) or walk to the next closest boulangerie. Baguettes are widely available at grocery stores but the texture, crunch, and flavour are always disappointing.
Pro Travel Tip: How to pronounce “tradition” – tra-di-syon.
2. How To Eat Baguette: The Quignon Or The Crouton
Parisians really don’t eat in between meals and there never used to be anyone eating on the run in Paris. As a North American, this is a dire contrast to our daily customs.
But, there has always been one exception. The sacred “quignon.” The crunchy “croûton.” The rounded, or pointy, end of the baguette poking out of its paper bag, just begging to be torn off and savoured on the way home.
How to eat baguette in Paris? Start with twisting off the croûton.
Find a café across from a boulangerie and just watch as the after-work crowd pops in to pick up a fresh baguette or two. How many elegant Parisians do you see nibbling the croûton?
3. How To Eat Baguette In France? Leave It On The Table
The French baguette has its very own side plate, also known as the table. Take your piece of French baguette and leave it on the table beside your plate. Someone who is used to a bread and butter plate will find it odd to leave a piece of baguette sitting on the table. In France, this is the custom, crumbs and all.
4. How To Eat Baguette: The Morning Dip
Yesterday’s baguette is toasted for breakfast and served with butter and jam. Or, if you are visiting the region known as La Sarthe, the morning tartine is slathered in the regional speciality, rillettes.
This, toasted baguette, is the famous French “tartine.” Sounds simple. But there are a few French tricks to knowing how to eat baguette in the morning.
Will you dip the toasted baguette in your coffee as the French do?
What will you do with the empty bowl placed before you?
Will you place the piece of baguette on the table and create a mountain of toasty crumbs?
The bowl and its wide opening are not for oatmeal or dried cereal, as a North American might suppose at first glance. The bowl will be filled with coffee making it the perfect receptacle for dipping the “tartine.”
Don’t be discouraged if you are not given a bowl. A small espresso cup does not prevent the French from dipping their “tartine.”
And still no plate. Use the table as a plate.
And yes, the French spend quite a bit of time cleaning up baguette crumbs!
5. How To Eat Baguette: Where’s The Knife?
It’s easy to eat baguette at a restaurant. It will arrive, usually sliced on the diagonal, in a bread basket.
In French homes, the baguette is placed directly on the table. No breadboard. No charming basket. And no knife. It’s passed by hand and pieces are torn from the baguette. Someone at the table may even offer to break a piece off for you.
I find the tradition of tearing the baguette by hand joyful. The act of holding it with two hands and ripping off a piece provides a sensory connection to the bread, the people around the table, and French cultural traditions.
When was the last time you picked up a loaf and ripped it?
6. How To Eat Baguette: Where’s The Butter?
Butter accompanies the French baguette in the morning but is not served at lunch or dinner time. Don’t wait for the butter to arrive on the table. It simply won’t. That crunchy fresh baguette is a delicious pleasure all on its own.
7. How To Eat Baguette: “Saucer”
The French love to “saucer” (so-say).
After finishing their dish, they tear off a small piece of baguette and wipe the plate several times. It’s the final goût of the delicious sauce that accompanied the meal. It’s a compliment to the chef. Every last drop of sauce or vinaigrette is savoured.
I look across the table at my French friend and explain, “We don’t really do that in Canada. In fact, it’s considered impolite.”
“C’est triste,” is the response. “That’s sad.”
I mean when you think about it, why leave anything on the plate? Every last drop is delectable.
“Saucer” to your heart’s content in France.
At a dinner party? The most polite way to “saucer” with your French baguette is to use a fork. Poke a small piece of baguette with your fork and then soak up what’s left on the plate!
8. How To Eat Baguette: The Cheese Platter
When the cheese plate comes out after the main course, make your piece of baguette last. Rip off a small portion of baguette and top with a favourite French cheese. Savour.
Don’t be surprised to see the butter appear. Often butter is added to the baguette along with the cheese. What pure gastronomic pleasure!
9. Baguette Sandwiches
The French LOVE their baguette sandwiches. Walk into any boulangerie and note the stacks of baguette sandwiches waiting for the lunch crowd. There is often a limited selection. Perhaps vegetarian with chèvre (goat cheese) and tomatoes or tuna. The most popular of all is “jambon-beurre.” A simple baguette sandwich with a healthy dose of half-salted butter and bursting with Parisian ham. It’s a classic.
The French Baguette: Fun Facts
- The French Baguette made the UNESCO “intangible heritage list” on November 30, 2022.
- 12 million French people go to their bakery every day, according to Dominque Anract, the President of the National Confederation of French Bakery and Pastry.
- The Best Baguette in Paris Competition, “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Traditional Française de la Ville de Paris” is a yearly competition held in Paris to find the best baguette. The lucky winner receives a cash prize. The best part of the prize is that the baker supplies the President of France at the Elysées Palace with baguettes for one year. The winner in 2022 was the boulangerie Frédéric Comyn (chief baker Damien Dedun) in Paris 15. Keep your eyes open for the Best Baguette sign on boulangeries around Paris.
- Baguette literally means “wand” or “baton.” Chopsticks are called baguettes! They fit the description perfectly. Long and skinny!
- The baguette has a minimum weight (80 grams) and maximum length (40 cm)
- There are several theories about where and how the baguette originated in France. My favourite is that Napoleon Bonaparte ordered bakers to find a way for bread to be easily carried by soldiers. Bread was changed from a traditional round shape to long, thin loaves that could be slipped into a soldier’s pant pockets.
- My first choice is always to buy a French “baguette de tradition” at a boulangerie. In rural areas, don’t be surprised to see vending machines (“distributeur du pain”) selling baguettes. The baguettes in the machines are supplied by a nearby boulangerie.
I hope these “how to eat baguette” tips are helpful for enjoying this quintessential symbol of France!
Until next time,
More Paris Travel Info…
Gastronomy in Paris:
If you are looking for food suggestions, read about where to find the most delectable pâtisseries in Paris. Have you tried all these classic pâtisseries, like the Paris Brest?
These spots will have you savouring the best croissants in Paris.
Looking for a great fromagerie in Paris? Here are my top choices for fromageries. Read up on French cheeses so you will have an idea of what you want to order. If putting together a cheese board, here are my suggestions.
There are also plenty of café suggestions for the Marais area in this post: Tips from a Local. Suggestions for restaurants in the Marais is a popular post along with the best places to eat in Canal Saint-Martin.
If you are in Paris and gluten-free, luckily it is much easier to satisfy the taste buds than it was years ago. Here is my go-to for gluten-free delights.
Looking for a top cocktail bar in Paris? Why not pop by the Hemingway Bar for a legendary cocktail and some literary inspiration?
DELICIOUS TIP: If you are in Paris in January, don’t miss out on this very traditional pâtisserie that only makes an appearance once a year. Find out more here.
Exploring Paris and Beyond:
PARIS: Travelling to Paris alone? This article on navigating Paris alone is full of tips and tricks for the solo traveller. And this guide on the Paris arrondissements will help you plan the best trip ever!