One of the first things that comes to mind for many people when they think of French culture (and one of the many reasons why I decided to study abroad in this country) is its excellent cuisine. During my first month of studies in Aix en Provence, I tried many new cafes, restaurants, bars and recipes at home! Whether you’re looking for a coffee and patisserie to start your day, the perfect charcuterie board, a fine dinner or delicious seafood by the coast, the south of France has more than enough to offer.
Coffees and Pastries
My favorite way to start my weekdays is with a cappuccino and a croissant from one of my favorite cafes or pastries. There is no shortage of these adorable stops in Aix, so the hardest part is finding the one you like the most. My typical stop is Chez Augustine, which is just around the corner from my apartment and where I usually pick up my daily baguette. Another favorite of mine for when I have more time to sit down is Maison Riederer, which specializes in hot chocolate and delicious pain au chocolat.
However, if you ever feel a bit nostalgic or just looking for a place to study, my recommendation is Café Lumière. One of the best places in town to find good wifi and good iced coffee drinks (a rare find in this town). American-owned and managed, the staff are incredibly welcoming and it can be comforting to step into an English-speaking business once in a while.
Restaurants in France
One of my favorite aspects of French culture is how people find time here to savor every meal, whether for themselves or with friends and family. One of my favorite places for breakfast, brunch or lunch is at La Crêpe Sautière. This awesome pancake place right next to my school (IAU) serves up the most delicious recipes while offering a build option. You can find a variety of fun pubs/diners located around the Rotunda, on the outskirts of the historic part of town. These spots serve cocktails, charcuterie, tapas, as well as larger plates of food that work well for lunch or dinner with friends. Some more refined restaurants such as La Rotonde and Le Piston offer classic French dishes such as steak tartare, snails, oysters, etc.
Shopping at the market and cooking at home!
As an overseas student, I always have to live on a budget, so eating out at every meal is not the most sustainable. Fortunately, Aix hosts a huge market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, which offers a variety of fresh produce at an affordable price. Since I’ve been living in an apartment, my roommates and other students in the building have started a “family dinner night” where we all contribute to the meal and cook together. Just last week we bought some mussels from the market and made mussel pasta with baguette and beet salad with goat cheese. Picking ingredients from the local market and cooking with and for your friends is such a rewarding experience that has helped me create so many deep connections in my program.
The culture around food in France is very different from what most people experience in the United States. Meals here are meant to be a time to relax and connect with the people you love, like friends or family. Meal times are much less flexible and fast food is not as common. Instead, when you go out around 12-1 p.m., you’ll see all the restaurants full, all the French students are on a break with their friends, and the families are eating together. As well as offering a wide range of delicious cultural dishes, France has given me a new appreciation for how food is used to create and connect and establish a more fulfilling way of life (even though I’m perfectly happy to keep my cheese and my baguettes all to myself).