I get off the plane in Nice, get on the bus which drops me on Promenade des Anglais, I dump my bags at the hotel and head straight for the supermarche and the boulangerie. Cheese. Tomatoes. Red wine. Toasty, crunch, yeasty, airy, slightly chewy baguette. But when I skip into the bakery with a hearty “Bonjour!” I see I’ve missed that bus. Merde! It’s mid-afternoon and of course all the baguettes have long gone. The early bird gets the best and freshest baguettes in France. Although a few bakers will bake bread all day. I will be smarter tomorrow.
Here’s my tips on how to find the best bread in France
- Most boulangeries open at 7am, and a few open earlier. The baker has been up since the middle of the night to make the long, crusty loaves we all love so much. The French will shop early, and the sign of a good boulangerie is the line out the door and down the street.
- To be called a boulangerie, the bread has to be baked on the premises.
- Boulangeries should display a small yellow and blue sign, so you know the baker knows his/her stuff, reading: “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique“.
- Baguettes cost between 1 euro and 1.30 euros, and more dense, specialty breads will cost more. But they’re worth it. And they last longer.
- The life span of a good baguette is said to be six hours, although some don’t even make it home. That heel of bread you’re nibbling on, as you stroll down la rue is called it’s called le quignon, the heel.
- French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives.
- It’s the basis of a cheap meal. In France it’s too easy to pick up a baguette, pate and cheese for next to nix.
- Apart from the baguette, here are other splendid breads to taste: céréales (multi-grain), pain de seigle aux raisins et noix (rye bread with raisins and walnuts), pain complet (whole wheat), pain de son (bran bread), pain de campagne(country white bread), pain au levain (a bit like sourdough), pain brie (heavy, crusty bread from Normandy), pain viennois (sweet and looks like a baguette), pain de mie (thin crust, soft, white sandwich-style bread)
- Choose bread marked with the words tradition, originale, or l’ancienne. That means it’s been made from scratch, and not from prepared, dough which has been frozen and then thawed for baking.
- The weekly produce markets have a plethora of artisan breads, as you can see by the pictures I took.
- According to the Paris By Mouth blog, for the second year in a row, the winner of the Best Baguette in Paris competition comes from the 14th arrondissement. Antonio Teixeira from the Délices du Palais is first in the annual Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris.
- A day-old baguette can be used to make French toast, or pain perdu.
PS: If you’re off to France for the first time, I recommend the good folk at Back Roads Touring which does excellent “immersion” tours to let you explore at leisure, and taste local life. Excellent value for France for beginners.