10 Goofy Foods You’ll Find in a French Supermarket

mes 4 croissants opening croissant

1. Mes 4 Croissants

Poppin’ fraîche has gone global and even with over 1200 bakeries in Paris, why would anyone bother walk all the way across the street to get a fresh, buttery croissant in the morning, that only costs 90 centimes, when you can simply unroll a package of doughy crescents and never slip out of that comfy peignoir de bain? For all you lazy types out there, I took a bullet for you and tried them out.

And speaking of taking bullets, when I peeled back the first layer of the package, the dough exploded with a startlingly loud pop, which so shocked me that I jumped as the dough quickly expanded as it burst from its tight confines. I almost had a crise cardiaque.

rolling croissants

The ingredient list was nearly as wordy as the instructions but the upside is that I learned a few words to add to my French vocabulary, such as stabilisant and agent de traitement de la farine. (Margarine, I already knew). As they baked, my apartment took on the oddly alluring scent of the métro stations equipped with “bakeries” that “bake” croissants this way, whose buttery odors may – or may not – be a result of some sort of traitement.

unrolling croissant dough  croissants

One thing I often have to remind people is just because something is in French, like croissant or macaron (or elementary school lunch menus), doesn’t mean it’s a good version of that item. Just like one could conceivably call a hot pocket of dough with some warm stuff in the middle a calzone, after ripping off an end of one of the soft, spongy crescents, in the words of the late, great Tony Soprano..with all due respects, I’ll stick with the croissants pur beurre from my local bakery. Even if I have to put on something other than my bathrobe in the morning to get them.



macarons

2. Macarons au Chocolat

The macaron craze that has probably subsided in America, didn’t really take off that much in France because you can buy macarons at nearly any bakery in Paris. Like calzones – or croissants – some are better than others. Like croissants, they’re not really something most people in France would make at home because you can buy them so easily.

(Someone recently asked me on Twitter if people here were raising chickens in their backyards. They must have confused Paris with Brooklyn.)

Alsa makes all sorts of mixes, including a powder that somehow turns into ice cream or a sorbet with a “fabuleux goût de fruit!” I don’t know how that churns out, nor do I know anything about these macarons, which come in chocolat, café and framboise. But as they say in America, if it looks too good to be true…


bleeech!

3. Salade Niçoise

It’s just a matter of time before we see Caesar Salad in a can. But Monoprix has a jump on canned salads with their salade Niçoise. Am not sure how those who say that a salade Niçoise shouldn’t have anything cooked it in would feel, but once I peeled back the lid on this one…well, let’s just say this is a pretty definitive argument for the raw vegetable version. I know I’m convinced.


Frenchified corn syrup

4. Sirop de Maïs

Nothing strike fear in the hearts of Americans more than the words “corn” and “syrup” in the same sentence. And you’ll notice, as a courtesy, I didn’t put them right next to each other for those of you out there who are sensitive to those things.

While we wait for the future when people start loading drinks back up with corn syrup (don’t laugh; I never would have thought in a million-trillion years that companies would use “real sugar” as a selling point), the French natural foods markets are getting a jump on things by selling sirop de maïs, proudly. No masking it behind goofy names like “sucre de maïs” (corn sugar) – it’s right up there, in your face. I am not sure what it’s used for, or why you can buy it only in natural foods stores, but not regular supermarkets. But France isn’t called the land of contradictions for nothing and in case you need to know where to find it, that’s where it is. For now, or for l’avenir (the future).


grapefruit rose

5. Fruits and Wine

I like the fact that it says “Fruits and Wine” in English. Because otherwise Anglophones might pick it up by accident, confusing it with rosé. But before the grammar police hop on a plane to correct mes comrades in France, in their defense, technically grapes are fruits. So they (or this) indeed should be plural. But as much as it is a little disquieting to see wine and fruit juice pre-mixed together, our neighbors in Spain make sangria and they get no complaints from me when I go there for a visit. I bought this more as a curiosity and after circling around it in my apartment for a few uncomfortable days, I figured I should at least pop the cork. I mean, unscrew the top off.

Because my extended French family is more Marseillaises than Parisian, I put ice in my rosé, like they do in Marseille. And if any other beverage in l’hexagone is calling out – actually screaming – to be served thoroughly chilled, this is it. When I drew the glass to my lips, I took a quick whiff and was relieved that it indeed had the aroma of dry, fruity rosé wine.

However a moment after that first sip, I wrinkled up my nose. And booked a trip to Spain.


pancakes

6. Les pancakes

If the idea of cold pancakes doesn’t sound so appealing to you, you’re not alone. Actually, you we are alone. Sold by the sack – or if you’re at Starbucks, they sell them individually alongside the other pastries. I am not sure of what the appeal is of a cold pancake. Do you dip it in maple syrup? Do you slather it with equally cold butter? Do you dip it in your coffee?

Or maybe because the packaging is red, white and blue, they’re meant to be like those frozen waffles in America that you stick in the toaster to warm up and eat with your hands? Oh, to heck with it. I want a croissant—preferably a non-explosive fresh one.


Poulet Thyme chips

7. Poulet (Roast chicken-flavored) Chips

A few months back a friend formerly from New York had a party and bought all sorts of lovely hams, figs, and cheeses to serve with l’apéro (the aperitif). Romain’s eyes almost fell out of his head because the usual fare offered are often things like peanut butter-filled Curly Balls or another pre-made snacks with “cheese”-like fillings.

french snacks

In fact, the snack-food aisle (and the people) are expanding so widely that the chips and other stuff are threatening to take over the place of the supermarket yogurt aisle in terms of length, quantity, and variety of available flavors. I’ll admit I buy sticks d’Alsace (pretzels) once in a while, and the salted nuts are pretty good, including the peanuts. But the peanut butter-flavored treats above are interesting because the French have a famous aversion to peanut butter, but snack on peanuts with drinks. Which is like saying, “I don’t like mashed potatoes, but I like potatoes” or “I like corn, but I don’t like corn syrup.”

lay's potato chips-mystery flavor

But what’s even a greater mystery are chips that are flavored with…well, it’s a…mystère


vanilla crepes

8. Pre-Packaged Vanilla Crêpes

(This field has intentionally been left blank.)


chocolate caramel yogurt

9. Chocolate-caramel “yogurt”

One of my favorite places in the French supermarket is the yogurt aisle. Although lately it’s become harder and hard just to find plain ol’ regular yogurt without all sorts of flavorings and sweeteners in it. So much so, that I’ve been going to the health food store to buy my yogurt. (And if I ever miss American yogurt, I can get some of that corn syrup to add to it.) In supermarkets, I’ve seen pots of the stuff with pistachio-macaron flavoring, and stuff for kids that are cotton candy-flavored. But it’s the packaging that can be more shocking and sometimes the colored labels are so bright that they hurt my eyes, more than Avatar did.

Technically, this isn’t yogurt but dessert, I suppose. Although it’s one of the products that’s clogging up the yogurt aisle, nudging out my beloved French yogurt. And I’ll have to admit, closer to home, I’ve even seen it in a certain someone’s refrigerator. When I bust him dipping a spoon into one, he just looks at me with those big, brown French eyes and says helplessly – “J’adore ça.” (“I love it.”)

So c’est comme ça*.


Harry's American Bread

10. Harry’s American Bread

Did you know that Harry’s bread is consumed in two-thirds of all households in France? (Probably not.) Do you know why? Probably not. But if so, please explain to me.

I’m not sure why anyone would prefer this “American Sandwich” bread over the freshly baked loaves sold in one of the bakeries that’s on just about every friggin’ corner. Of every single street. In every single neighborhood. But I shouldn’t say anything because at least they bake it for you, and it keeps for weeks.

Which, as they say, is très américain.



*It’s like that.

221 comments

  • Oh my, that’s amazing! I wanna go to France too :)

  • Good and funny article. Although not so exotic to me as I am french… But I admit I didn’t know all of those.
    Croissants-in-a-can, bring back childhood memories to me. Indeed my mother bought them to allow me the pleasure of making my own croissants, but with the years I tend to find them less and less tastefull… Nothing compares to the fresh baked croissants from the boulangerie down the street (Down MY street anyway, every bakery has its own standards).

    I just wanted to recommend another item even if I am not the first to : The frozen croissants and pains au chocolats from Picard. Really excellent. And the advantage of Picard pains au chocolats over bakers’ is that they are made with butter and not margarine.

    Also Lays cheeseburger-flavored chips ! simply excellent… as a guilty pleasure.

  • My mother-in-law brought the Alsa Macarons boxes from France [to Russia], and they are actually good! I am not a fan of the comes-in-a-box desserts, but these do taste like the real deal and are very easy to make. You can get the kids involved, and they actually taste better than the macarons you can buy here in Moscow.

    ..but I can see why no one in their right mind would make them at home in France

  • The hysteria over corn syrup makes me laugh. It’s just a different variety of sugar and affects your body in much the same way, despite all the paranoia out there. I avoid eating any sort of sugar most of the time (carbs are unhealthy) but do use corn syrup on those special occasions when I make my grandmother’s lollipop recipe and my mom’s Rice Krispy squares (much, much better than the marshmallow version).

  • My host mom bought Harry’s after I asked her if there was any American-like bread at the supermarket (This was just two weeks after I got to France and I was just curious). It took two unpleasant weeks to choke it down, all the while playing up the packaged brioche she had bought before.

    She would also always put out the bagged, artificial crunchy stuff when company came over. It boggled the mind…

    She did not like peanut butter. My host sister, however, really liked the mini Reese Cups my dad shipped for my birthday.

    For my own artificial favorites, I left France with an addiction to Haribo Schtroumpfs and Monoprix’s refrigerated mini chocolate lava cakes. €1.50 for 4! (When I was there in ’06) Amazing!
    http://courses.monoprix.fr/magasin-en-ligne/achat-acheter-Coeur-fondant-au-chocolat-1034304,,,.html

  • I second Tula. Corn syrup (as opposed to HFCS) is just liquid glucose. My mother had a jar of the stuff in the kitchen cupboard when she died 50 odd years ago. She decorated wedding cakes for people, and I think it was an ingredient in rolled fondant icing. Even HFCS is chemically pretty much the same as sucrose (ordinary sugar).

    I don’t find the cold pancakes odd either. Here in New Zealand they would be called pikelets, and would be served spread with butter, jam, and maybe a dollop of whipped cream. They are finger food eaten with a cup of tea. Try it, you may be surprised. You might also like to try the childrens’ birthday party version, which is spread with butter and sprinkled with “hundreds and thousands” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundreds_and_thousands, third photo down).

  • To add to the chips list, “saveur kebab” is another flavor that makes me just wonder, why?

  • Croissants in a can. Never used them when I lived in France–but here in the States, I love using the Pillsbury kind to make sticky buns. (Mixture of pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter in the bottom of a greased pan… then spread the dough with butter, cinnamon, sugar, and more pecans, roll up, slice, and put in the pan…bake and turn over.) Yum.

    One thing I did love was this pudding-like dessert called café liégeois. They were addictively good.

  • Corn syrup’s a must when caramelizing sugar, just because it stops the sugar from crystallizing. High Fructose corn syrup may be almost the same chemically as simple corn syrup, but its effects on the body are very different. That’s why there is so much disdain for the product.

    That said, most people want to avoid even the simple corn syrup because most corn used in supermarket products (and we all know corn is in everything in the market) is the genetically modified stuff. It’s getting harder to avoid that as GMO beets have become a relatively new subsidized crop–so even plain old sucrose will be made from something a lot of people want to keep out of their lives.

    There’s honey, though, in a pinch. But no amount of excuse will explain the white bread, though I understand the stuff has been found in landfills wrapped in newspapers bearing dates from 5 decades ago, still intact–and that would justify its ability to “stay fresh”.

  • I live in Belgium and I only buy the “American” bread when I need to toast up bread, as I find it “softer” once toasted then a regular loaf. To me, it’s so unatural for bread to keep for weeks. Bread is suppose to get a bit dry and crunchy after 2 days, then you can make pain perdu or even bodding with it (which is a specialty from Brussels made with bread that became too hard to eat with cheese or charcuterie :p ). But you should try the Mamy Nova yaourt entier à la vanille, which is very nice. I’d like to try the chips au goût mystère though, I’ve never seen it over here, must be fun to try out! And by the way, I love pecan pie with corn syrup! But finding corn syrup here is quite an adventure!

  • It’s nice to know that no matter where you are in the world, crimes against national gastronomy happen! Blame it on the globalisation, the tentacle reach of American TV or just the modern age of laziness. The exploding croissant dough in the can was mildly alarming (although no worse than the whole chicken in a can I saw on a TV show a while back). Thanks for taking the bullet on our behalf in the interest of entertainment.

  • Well, I’m italian and I’ve been living in France for one year and some of the most popular french dishes are made with american-bread, for example le Pain Perdu or le Croque Monsier. The thing is just to find the right bread for each kind of recipe/use/situation. What makes me think is why you have to call THAT bread “AMERICAN”, only because you don’t have the daily fresh baked bread culture (as we mostly do in europe) this doesn’t mean that the one who does can’t have industrial bread too, don’t you think so? :)

  • I LOVE those Poulet chips! I sure hope that doesn’t make me a traitor to French Cuisine. lol. I haven’t tried the croissant dough in a can in Paris and don’t really like the American ones, but I have to say Pillsbury makes awesome cinnamon rolls in a can. :-) And speaking of peanut butter flavored snacks… I would really like some Bomba right now!

    In the States, by the way, you can fine excellent frozen croissants from William Sonoma. They are mail-order only and not cheap (it IS William Sonoma) but just simply amazing!

  • Corn syrup is entirely optional when caramelizing sugar. I never use it and never have any problem making caramel. Where did that misconception begin?

    I never liked French junk food when I lived there. I often ate 3-4 fresh patisseries for lunch, like many French women did,and that was the extent of my culinary depravity.

  • At least you can FIND real bread and non-canned croissant in your town. You can’t in mine (here in America). The other day I went to the grocery store. I just wanted some bread that, you know, didn’t have dough conditioners, corn syrup and margarine in it. Just the basic ingredients. They surely had over 200 kinds of “bread” but none of them fit this description, including the ones in the “bakery”. And this is the most diverse store in town. I was disgusted and left empty-handed. Very sad.

    Great post!

  • My work required me to leave France 6 months ago and relocate to west Africa. Needless to say, your post has left me VERY ‘homesick’! I used to wander through the big Carrefoure in Thiais just to find similar ‘I can’t believe they sell that in France!!’ products!

    LOVE IT!!!

  • Great post! When we lived in Brussels, one of the strangest items I saw on the shelf at Makro was a giant red white and blue can of foot-long hot dogs, labeled “AMERICAN STYLE”. Actually, there were lots of canned hot dogs of all sizes there ….

  • I think you shop at the same Monoprix as I do when I am in Paris (on rue St. Antoine) because I’ve seen those items and chuckled at them, too. Reminds me of a trip to G. Detou in May where the gruff counter man handed me sirop de pistache, because I’d become literally speechless under his gaze…and I had really wanted pistachio farine, but was too befuddled to hand it back. Oh well. I proceeded to adapt Eric Kayser’s Tarte au Abricots using the sirop, and it was delicious anyway. Vive le differance!

  • Oh my goodness! I’ve never seen the packaged pancakes before, however, I do think it’s odd to see pancakes behind the glass in Starbucks. Once one of my old French colleagues told me pancakes aren’t good because she tasted some at Starbucks. :(

  • Marian: I’ve learned to some degree that that’s why a lot of foreigners think that American food is bad. They see what is shipped to their country, like Oreo’s, McDonald’s (France is #2, though, in terms of sales for McDonald’s…in the entire world), strawberry Fluff, bottled salad dressings, and other things. Of course, we do eat those things but there are also amazing greenmarkets and restaurants serving terrific food in America. But France, just like the states, has some oddities in their supermarket!

    Carol: I stopped going to that Monoprix because the cashiers are just so rude and miserable that I can’t go back any more. I don’t know why they are so nasty in that store, but I go to another supermarket in my neighborhood where they are actually friendly and helpful.

  • This seems like a scary development a little bit; the yogurt section being invaded and the chips isle expanding that is! I’m from the US and I’ve only been to Canada otherwise, but I’m a food-crazy and I dream of going to Paris and tasting all the deliciousness for myself! However, if people are buying frickin Harry’s American bread or whatever instead of supporting their local bakeries, the bakers will have no choice but to shut down! Eventually anyways. And that frightens me because I don’t think I’ll be able to go over the pond for at least a few more years, and if I were to then move there but everything is becoming shitty like in America (food-wise anyhow) that’s just horrible! Don’t let it happen! Please! Do whatever you can! I’m sure, being American yourself, you understand my dilemma and fear in this matter??