There could be no better metaphor for the history and evolution of French cuisine than the official motto of the city of Paris: “Fluctuat Nec Mergitur”, meaning “Tossed by the waves, yet she does not sink.” The unique character of cooking in the French capital has remained buoyant through wars, plagues and revolutions, and today Paris boasts the very best dining the world has to offer, with over 100 Michelin-starred restaurants. From the decadence of the Ancien Régime to the audacity of today's experimental chefs creating the new “bistronomie”, dining in Paris is an ever-changing gastronomic adventure celebrating the best of France's bounty.
The crème de la crème for France's elite
Home to kings and emperors, Paris has always had a flair for fine foods presented with pomp and drama. Louis XIV hosted legendary banquets that elevated the role of chef to artist, using a palette of ingredients to create opulent concoctions. Gifted chefs created French cuisine's iconic rich, creamy sauces and made the most of the fresh fruits and vegetables that represent France's diverse terroirs: apples, grapes, pears, green beans, asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, peas, and truffles. While the nobles feasted, commoners filled up on hearty dishes that have evolved into culinary classics such as cassoulet, boudin sausages and pâté de campagne. Today's bustling brasseries still build their menus around crowd-pleasing traditional dishes like coq au vin, steak frites and choucroute, while their dessert menus feature sweets – Paris-Brest, millefeuilles, and gateaux au chocolat – to please the noblest of palates.
Liberté, Egalité, Hospitality
After the 1789 French Revolution, chefs turned from cooking for aristocrats in châteaux, to serving the public in towns and cities. Cast-iron ovens churned out soufflés, pâtisseries and gratins as the fashion for dining out took hold. The affluent “haute bourgeoisie” gathered around elegant towers of shellfish or sugary confections, velvety foie gras, tender beef fillets, pheasants and sole. The middle classes, meanwhile, headed to restaurants around Les Halles, Paris' massive and storied wholesale food market, to dine on mushroom omelettes, cheese-crusted onion soup and trout Meunière, and garlicky snails – escargots à la Bourguignonne. For hungry workers, simple “bouillon” eateries like the ever-popular Chartier provided hearty broths, stews, roast chickens and steak tartare.