In France, where French Gastronomy has been recognized by UNESCO as an intangible for humanity, it all starts with three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Usually breakfast is taken from 7am to 9am and is very simple, a croissant or bread and coffee. That small bowl is for your coffee not your cereal. A trip to the boulangerie every morning for a crunchy warm baguette or two or three completes breakfast. C’est tout! Don’t expect more.
Lunch is from 11:30am to 1:30 pm and by many considered the main meal of the day. Typically a French meal consists of a first course, a main dish, cheese and a dessert. If you leave the restaurant selection of lunch too late you will experience closed doors and starvation until late dinner time. This is especially true in smaller centers. It’s always good to know a great deli or 'patisserie' as a backup for snacks! (But they’ll probably be closed and gone for a lovely lunch break at home as well.)
Dinner is from 7:30 pm to 8:45 pm. Main French television stations schedule evening programming to start after 8:45pm. In Bordeaux and surrounding towns, restaurant dinner service often starts at 8 pm and can last three to four hours. However there are many self-service restaurants and other restaurants that serve earlier but not so much in smaller centers. If all else fails check out the large grocery chains like InterMarché, LeClerc, Auchon, Super U and Carrefour for sandwiches, pate, fruit and drinks. They’re usually open all day and their well placed signs in small towns are beacons to the food panicked, families and campers.
The French pride themselves on their cafés. A delicious small café or café au lait starting each day is a social occasion to be savoured and not merely a drive-thru affair! Along with great coffee, bread is every French person’s right and you’ll spot the ubiquitous bread bag designed for bike and carryall.
Cheese in the Aquitaine is part of the daily diet. There are over 400 varieties of cheese in France and usually three are served as a separate course before dessert with crusty bread. A fine Bordeaux wine with the cheese course is indispensable!
The food specialties for which the Gironde area is particular famous are Pauillac lamb, the fish Alose or shad, Anguilles or eels, Bazas Beef, Canelé, a delicious pastry flavoured with rum, orange-flower water and vanilla, caviar (Créeac), cèpes (mushrooms), capons (large chicken), entrecôte, la Bordelaise steak, foie gras, oysters, Lillet aperitif, macaroons, and Mademoiselle de Margaux Chocolates.
Tipping is included in the restaurant bill but rewarding exceptional service is always appreciated. If you stand at a bar it’s normal to include some small change in a dish provided as a tip. Usually those who are tipped include porters (1-2€ per bag), tour guides (1-2€), taxi drivers (10-15 percent) and porters, chambermaids, bellboys or other staff members if you ask them to do something extra for you.