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What Are the Courses in a French Dinner?

By Aniza Pourtauborde
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The French are renowned for their passionate love affair with food. French cuisine is extremely diverse, with a subtle touch of elegance added into even the simplest meal preparations. Those who have never experienced a French dinner should be prepared for a long evening ahead. Not only do French people appreciate each morsel of food slowly, but dining pleasure is also prolonged for up to five or six hours due to the many courses that make up a French dinner:

L'Apéritif (Aperitif)

During the first course in a French dinner, hosts invite guests into their living room and serve them light alcoholic drinks and small appetizers to stimulate their appetites for the meal ahead. The aperitif is also a warm and friendly gesture, indicating the hosts' pleasure at having guests over for dinner. In addition, the aperitif is a way for everyone to become better acquainted. Waiting for any latecomers becomes more bearable in this relaxed environment.

A glass of champagne is the best alcoholic drink to be served during this first course in a french dinner. Other options include light cocktails and drinks that are specific to each French region, such as Kir in the north and Pastis in the South of France. Nuts, olives and crackers are also served alongside these alcoholic beverages. Non-alcoholic aperitif drinks are set aside for any children who are present for the French dinner.

L'Entrée (Appetizer)

Contrary to popular belief, entrée refers to appetizers, not the main course in a French dinner. While it is the second course, the entrée is the start of the dinner that is presented to guests. Hence, it is essential that this course is well thought out and carefully prepared. Appetizers in a French dinner vary from cold dishes such as beef carpacio, Roquefort flan, and salmon mousse with capers to hot dishes like French onion soup, cheese soufflé, and sole filet terrine.

Le Plat Principal (Main course)

The third course in a French dinner may include a wide variation of cooking styles according to the different regions in France. For instance, Bretagne in the northwest of France uses more butter and cream in its cooking, whereas areas in the east of France use more sausages and sauerkraut in their meals. The main course of a French dinner typically includes either meat, fish or poultry, often accompanied by vegetables and/or starches. Wine is served throughout the meal – red wine to go with red meat and white wine to go with white meat or fish. Salad may be served after the main course as a palate cleanser.

Le Fromage (Cheese)

There are more than 400 types of cheese in France, so it should not come as a surprise that cheese, in itself, can be a course in a French dinner. In this course, a cheese board is prepared, consisting of cheese of varying textures and flavors. The cheese board is accompanied by fruits, nuts, and baguette bread on the side, along with more wine, of course.

Le Dessert (Dessert)

Dessert in a French dinner is similar to desserts from other types of cuisines in that it is sweet to the taste and can be either hot or cold. Since it is served towards the end of the French dinner, dessert is commonly light and small to prevent guests from feeling too full. Popular French desserts include chocolate profiteroles, chocolate mousse, and apple tarts.

Le Café (Coffee)

Just like the aperitif, coffee is served as a gesture of gratitude and pleasure at having guests for dinner. Coffee is usually taken in the relaxed atmosphere of the living room. Each guest is served coffee in a small cup, accompanied by a square piece of dark chocolate or a chocolate truffle, which is believed to enhance the aroma and taste of the coffee. An alternative such as tea should be prepared for guests who do not drink coffee.

Le Digestif (Digestif)

The digestif signals the end of a French dinner. Guests are offered small doses of strong alcoholic beverages such as cognac, brandy, or whisky. The cultural practice of serving digestifs at the end of a meal may have declined due to higher awareness of the dangers of drunk driving. Nevertheless, digestifs are still offered during special occasions such as Christmas Eve family dinners.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998155 — On Apr 18, 2017

Another day, Another beer.

By anon997475 — On Jan 13, 2017

Can someone tell me what French is for dinner, lunch, breakfast, and snack?

By anon990510 — On Apr 25, 2015

Perhaps in past history, digestifs were offered especially to men. But in modern times, digestifs are offered to all adult guests, male or female.

By anon983390 — On Dec 29, 2014

Broth or soup is often an entree or appetizer course.

By anon964173 — On Aug 02, 2014

Is salad a separate course after the main meal or can it be served with the meal? What is the norm?

By anon160389 — On Mar 15, 2011

Salad normally comes after the main course and soup is saved for dinner (lunch).

By anon75236 — On Apr 06, 2010

In which order do salads or soups come? Does it have a sequence of started with a cold/room temperature dish and then warm dishes (of course granite and cold dessert are exception).

My question is can a hot soup followed by a cold/room temperature appetizer?

By anon68724 — On Mar 04, 2010

Thank you. Helped very much when discussing my plans for French dinners when we go on holiday.

By anon60041 — On Jan 11, 2010

This information was great! It was exactly what I was looking for and it was both very interesting and informative. Thanks. Sincerely,

Jack in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

By anon55575 — On Dec 08, 2009

this was helpful. thanks.

By anon46544 — On Sep 26, 2009

This page was *most* helpful in planning a special French dinner themed anniversary for our family. Merci!

By springsteen — On Dec 10, 2007

Could someone tell me which College/Institute in France offers courses in 'Cold Cuisine.'

Thanks,

Nene

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