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Top 5 Freaky French Foods We’re Still Scared To Eat

Bone marrow, not on Tory’s list but, maybe it should be? (Roboppy)

I consider myself an adventurous eater, and from an early age, I had a French-leaning palate. As soon as I learned to chew solid foods, I began inhaling Roquefort, paté, and on occasion, entire sticks of butter. But despite my penchant for richness, there are certain French foods that still scare the living daylights out of me. In some cases, it’s the result of a past trauma, and in others, it’s just an instinct that whispers in my ear, “Run far and fast away from this food.” These are the items on my Do-Not-Eat list:

Boudin noir and mashed potatoes (Roboppy)

1. Boudin noir (a.k.a. blood sausage) is just that: a disturbingly purple sausage full of pork and pig’s blood. The name alone is enough to make any rational person run for the hills, but then of course, there’s the taste. Have you ever been on a car trip and passed through rural territory, only to have your air supply adulterated by the putrid smell of cow and pig manure? That’s pretty much what blood sausage tastes like, only more potent, because this time you’re not just smelling it, you’re eating it.

How do I know? I used to work for a French man who cooked lunch for our team every day. In general, these lunches provided me with the opportunity to happily eat like a real Parisian. On some days, we’d have tomato tartelettes followed by roast chicken and fiery mustard, salad, yogurt and fruit, chocolate, and to punctuate it all, a strong espresso.

But on one occasion, I sat down and was promptly served blood sausage. Still a newbie, I was excited to try a regional specialty, especially one that was served with yummy cooked apples. But after one excruciatingly nasty bite, boudin noir went on my list of foods not to be repeated. I haven’t felt the same about poor, innocent apples ever since.

Boudin noir and caramelized apples (Sifu Renka)

2. It comes as no surprise that andouillette (a corse-grained sausage made with pork intestines and other mysterious chunks) is a polarizing food. One portion of the population loves to complain about its nastiness, and the other portion licks its lips at the very mention of it. When I first heard the complaints of the former group, I used to think, “How bad could it really be?” Surely these weaklings were exaggerating. But recently, I had my first (and last) run-in with the dreaded thing.

I had taken off for a lovely weekend in Normandy, determined to eat “locally”: Calvados, caramel, apples, cider, Camembert… how can you go wrong? Well, here’s how. We were almost done with an incredible meal at Le P’tit Resto in Bayeux (which I highly recommend) when I opted for the cheese course: Pont-l’Évêque wrapped around a delicate slice of andouillette. After one bite, it was clear this was not going to happen. Trying to keep my gag reflex in check, I stealthily hid the remains of the offensive thing under the few salad leafs on my plate. I thought I had done a fairly convincing job, but when the waitress returned, she immediately recognized my trick and made a frowny face. I began to make excuses, and then suddenly realized, “Wait a minute. You just fed me intestinal chunks. Shame on you.” Then again, I just voluntarily ate them in the name of haute cuisine. Shame on me.

Left: steak tartare (NwongPR); Right: a Parisian butcher truck (Austinevan)

3. It’s time for a breather: steak tartare. This one isn’t so bad. When mixed with the right proportions of onions, raw egg, capers, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, it basically tastes like a raw hamburger. It’s just that I prefer my hamburgers cooked—go figure. I will eat occasional bites of tartare, but a whole plate? No thank you. It’s an issue of volume, I suppose. Everything in moderation, especially ground-up cow.

Fromage de Tete (Roboppy)

4. And then there’s fromage de tête, or head cheese. Call me unsophisticated, but this name just does not appeal. It generally comes in a terrine and consists of “parts of a cow’s head” set in gelatin. The parts can vary, of course, and sometimes they’ll even throw in some tongue, feet, or heart. Bonus! I have yet to eat this delicacy, and I must admit, I’m in no hurry.

Oursin (Noodlepie)

5. Oursin. Sea urchin. I realize a lot of people like these guys, but to me, they taste and feel like a salt-saturated sponge in my mouth. You’re more likely to encounter them in the south of France, where people sometimes spread them on grilled bread and munch away. Just thinking about it makes me want to rinse my mouth out with soap, which would be an improvement on the briny explosion oursin imposes on the palette. I’ll stick with the good old cheese-and-baguette formula, thanks very much.

So there’s my list. What about you, readers? Any French food traumas to report?

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Written by Tory Hoen for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Tory Hoen

Tory HoenAfter attending Brown University and spending two years in New York, Tory bought a one-way ticket to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a writer (and of drinking wine at lunch). During her time in the City of Light, she chronicled the euphoric highs and the laughable lows of ex-pat life on her blog, A Moveable Beast. Though she's now based in New York, she travels frequently to Montreal and Brazil, and she'll use just about any excuse to jet to Paris ("I ran out of fleur de sel"). A regular contributor to Hip Paris, Tory also writes for New York Magazine, Time Out New York, and she is a co-author of Gradspot.com's Guide To Life After College.

Website: Tory Hoen

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Posted in Food | 42 Comments »

42 Responses to “Top 5 Freaky French Foods We’re Still Scared To Eat”

  • Jane Johnson says:

    Mad mad mad for steak tartare, sea urchin and andouilliette – enjoyed for many years.

    boudin noir and marrow bone – so so……and brains – don’t love.

    but sweetbreads – YES!!!!

  • JC says:

    Admittedly, the Gallic palate can be a bit of a mystery to American taste buds, but I’m a huge fan of everything on your list — yes, even the much maligned andouillette. On rare occasions, a friend of mine procures a half-dozen of these ersatz turds for me, from Rouen. The secret is to grill them till they’re severely blackened and serve them bathed in a strong mustard sauce. What you’ll get is a delicious admixture of mustard, fat, and essence of too-aged beef. Sea urchins? They’re like brushing your teeth with sea water. What more could you ask for?

  • Michael says:

    I have just watched my brother in law try and eat Andouillette. Didn’t get past the first cm before he pushed it away with a retch. I declined to eat it after a quick sniff. My other brother in law said ‘ I quite like liver ‘ and then pushed it away after barely a mouthful. So there’s three of us, plus our wives and children who would say Andouillette is inedible! Bring on the sea urchin…

  • Eric says:

    Okay, I made it back to Paris and Andouillette was top of the list. I hate to say it, but I did not like it. This may be a first. It was most foul, and I guarantee it was some of the better andouillette available. I can’t imagine a sub-par species.

    I quickly ordered some boudin noir and pied de cochon which were both excellent.

  • Judy says:

    It’s funny reading this post. When I was in Paris for the first time, in a restaurant, I ordered andouilette (sp) sausage..not knowing what it really was. I thought a nice sausage dinner would be good. It didn’t look appetizing to me, but I ate a piece of it anyway. I could barely chew and swallow it, it was so disgusting. The smell of it was pretty foul, too. I just left the rest of the sausage on the plate and nibbled on french fries and salad. The waiter came by with a frown..asked if everything was ok. I appologized and said that I didn’t like it. What else could I say? They were very nice and offered another meal, but I basically lost my appetite. I figured it was a special French dish that I knew nothing about. I paid for it, and they gave me a free cafe au lait. That was the only bad experience with the food. Everything else was fantastic.

  • Eric says:

    I can’t believe I must be the voice of reason. Andouillette is the only thing on this list I have not 1) eaten 2) eat as often as I can! I return to Paris in 6 weeks, and this just bumped up in the list of “must-dos”

    1) Marrow- spread it like the most decadent (besides Jen-Yves Bordier of course) butter available- best when right out of the oven.

    2) Boudin Noir- rich, earthy- the truffe noir of sausage

    3) Fromage de tete- sliced upon crusty bread- a true homage to the pig. I like a duo with pied.

    4) Steak Tatare- like most- it’s all in the skill of the mix, and the freshness of the ingredients

    5) Uni/Oursin- a texture thing- when fresh, I am convinced it may be the perfect single bite of food to exist. When less than fresh, perhaps the foulest of foul.

  • April says:

    Fun article!

    While in Chartes we ate at a wonderful restaurant by the Cathedral. Being a first timer to France I wasn’t 100% sure of the menu and what everything was. I saw andouille and thought I knew what that was and ordered it. It was chunky and very, very ugly. I ate it up though because I just still thought it was sausage…. the power of the mind is amazing. It wasn’t terrible but I wouldn’t order it again.

  • Levente says:

    Well, why would anyone eat sea urchin is beyond me, but otherwise I had all of those listed on multiple occasions (I mean more than I could count) and they are quite nice and – if prepared well – delicious. And I’m not even French. But I’m from Europe, which brings me closer to these – some of which appear in quite a lot of other central and eastern European countries’ cuisine – and I like good food :)

  • Meg says:

    Yea, when I saw “Joue de boeuf” on a menu once, I got freaked. I can’t handle boudin noir. Love tartare though!

    That tête de boeuf sounds mega creepy.

    Clever post!

  • khmetalwork says:

    I wish I was more adventurous with food, blood pudding (shudders). I applaud your ‘try it, you might like it’ spirit, even if you did get that frowny face from the server.

  • My gag reflex is on overload eeeewwww I am with
    you 110% on all of these, don’t get me started on my husbands Italian taste buds :)
    Such a great post had a few giggles!!
    Carla x

  • pjnoir says:

    We have truely lost our connection to food, we much rather eat crap from an industrial processing plant- of something made out of corn and wheat sweetened in HFCS and artifically colored the perfect hue, told it is healthy and recycle the cardboard box then to honore the animal and eat it all- so not to waste anything in its death, they way it has been done since man walked the earth. SAD

  • Chantal says:

    Cupcakes. Overrated crap. Twinkles really.

    Andouillettes smell rather like poo, but taste good if you can get over it – a truly weird experience I will likely not repeat.

    How could anyone not like bone marrow though? Heaven.

  • Mark Leach says:

    Andouillette has to be the nastiest thing I’ve ever eaten, aside from ants and maggots in Cambodia! Rubbery and difficult to digest without a good swig of red wine, it’s got to be my least favourite French food. Boudin noir on the other hand (especially when cooked with Calvados and caramelized apple) is simply delicious!

  • Kiki says:

    I could subscribe to your list easily…. although bone marrow is delicious but not on its own as it is served in France. We serve it as part of beef slowly cooked and there is just a dollop of marrow within the bone :)
    I love a well prepared salmon tartare, Hero Husband adores steak tartare (and salmon) – my heart just doesn’t beat for THIS kind of raw meat. Love carpaccio however which is also raw…
    Nice post and something different!

  • CBRetriever says:

    You can get Steak Tartare seared 5cuisson or cuit) most places and it’s delicious

  • Hi Paige! The bone marrow image is by this flickr user: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roboppy/ She’s a great photographer!

  • Paige says:

    Oh, where did you take the pic of that lovely-looking bone marrow? I want to try this when I’m back in Paris in July :)

  • Linda says:

    Tete de Veau, pigs feet, blood sausage, rabbit and horse meat are no nos on my list. I thought I didn’t like foie gras when I first came to France but quickly converted. It is wonderful. My husband likes calf brain which I just can’t make myself try.

  • My list includes MacDonalds, Krispy Kremes, Submarines, Steaks as big as a plate,Iceberg lettuce, Tex Mex….it’s all a matter of the food that you grew up with.Sea urchins on the quay in Collioure certainly tops grits in Alabama in my book:)

  • Weirdo-like, I have eaten and liked everything on the list, expect for steak tartare. Like you, I prefer my meat cooked.

    Maybe the boudin noir and andouillette were poorly prepared? That would do it.

    Come to Sens, France on Friday market and I guarentee you will change your mind about the boudin noir :)

  • Tanya says:

    Y’know, I just can’t deal with blood anything. In the West Indies we have blood sausage and blood pudding. It still doesn’t make me want to eat it. I’ve also (unknowngly) eaten heart too. You can imagine my dismay and near vomit-induced state I was in.

    Oddly enough, one of my favourite things is manish water, which is also called goat’s head soup because, well, y’know. Still, it’s a tasty and spicy soup. Just don’t eat any of the squiggly, odd-looking bits.

  • Kathy C. says:

    My husband, daughters and I were traveling through France last year and stopped at restaurant on the road. Very different experience than here in Canada; certainly not a fast food experience. My husband thought he’d experiment and try this sausage looking dish. He got it close to his nose and even after smelling it, he went for it and took a bite. Afterall, the nice looking elderly couple next to us seemed to be enjoying it. Turns out it was andouillette. He had us in fits of laughter every time he would describe what it tasted like. We even video taped him describing it, as each time he came up with more creative ways to explain the process of how it got to his plate and could smell and taste so bad.
    Then there was the first time I introduced him to my Babcia (polish grandmother) who was in the middle of making head cheese. I think he will forever associate that smell with my little Babcia.

  • Virginia says:

    I am not exactly running out for the tête de veau again. Quickly learned to scrutinize a menus after that one.

  • Annie says:

    Love it. I always though black sausage would be good. So now I know it’s not at all what I thought it would be like. I wonder if it might have been badly prepared? Also the other sausage sounds seriously nasty, who would imagine? I generally love all sausages but those sound gross. Headcheese never did appeal, nor steak tartare. I’m with you on cooked meat.

    I’m also surprised that sea urchin sounds so yucky. This is one of those foods the food show stars are always slurping up with expressions of rapture but I will avoid or at least approach with caution!

  • stephanie says:

    My waiter was much kinder. I ordered andouillette thinking it was andouille, you know the spicy one. I struggled through half of it and tried to explain to the waiter in my poor French that while it was certainly good (a lie) that it was not to my taste. It tasted like wet dog and I realized then and there that there are some things that should not be eaten. I got high marks from my French hosts when I told them the story.”Oh, you are very French, even we do not eat this!”

  • Brittany says:

    I was surprised when blood sausage (boudin noir) was first on the list : it’s one of my favorite meat dishes! While, I admit, I think the Irish do it better (black and white pudding), what I had here wasn’t bad, just incredibly filling. I had it at ‘Le Temps des Cerises’ on rue Cerisaie.

  • Being a non-meat eater, I am not exactly scared but won’t eat any of these items.
    The good thing ( in my mind) is that they have no appeal anyway.

    Even when I ate meat, brains, head, liver etc were not appealing.

    Now about the cheese, wine , bread and pastries ?

  • Rochelle says:

    David,
    Actually, perhaps the commonality is the pastry chef thing. Perhaps there is a group of odd foods that aren’t liked by a collective group of us.
    Are you coming to Los Angeles soon?
    Samantha is studying at Columbia this summer and France isn’t on the calendar yet.
    Rochelle

  • Rochelle says:

    No kidding—we are food twins when it comes to foods on our “gag” list.

    Here’s a trick we did before in just such a circumstance: take a roll—carefully removed a piece from one side of it and then hollow out the center and stuff the undesired matter inside the roll and cover carefully with the piece removed in step one!

    Also, cutting it up into a few different pieces and redistributing over the plate. Sheer trickery, but I am not kidding, it looks like way less food when dispersed!

    xoxoxo

  • Veronica says:

    No contest: pieds et paquets. We were served this years ago in a restaurant in a tiny village in the Languedoc. We were the only customers, and the owner proudly bore a steaming casserole to our table in the garden. There was enough to feed an army. It was pigs’ feet wrapped in lambs’ tongues. Urggh, I can still remember the feel of the tongues. We discreetly tried to feed it to the restaurant’s cat, but even he wasn’t interested.

  • Cowgirl Chef says:

    Have tried most of these and don’t feel like I need to taste them again. Bone marrow, though, is a lovely thing spread on toast (I see that it was pictured yet not listed)….and only by accident did I discover that I loved pig’s nose sausage, which was served to me on a salad at a little bistro in the 5th. I went back just for this many times thereafter.

  • Meg says:

    I will eat all of those quite happily if they are well done. But not brains. Something in me just shivers and the thought. And not tête de veau. Having seen those poor beasts rotating in rotisserie machines with eyes intact is enough to put anyone off for life. Not generally squeamish but that is one step too far…

  • anne says:

    We have Boudin noir here in the UK .. we call it Black Pudding, and have it fried, normally with eggs in the morning. It does depend on what part of the Uk it comes from , how it all differs, but we do like it. Not tried any of the other foods, and don’t think I will be!!

  • Sweet Freak says:

    lol – this is a great one, Tory! I would add pig ears and hooves. I’m beginning to gag just thinking about it all…

  • Lindsey says:

    Such a great post, I eat NONE of those! I guess adventurous wouldn’t be an apt word to describe me :)

  • Chez Loulou says:

    Even though I’ve tried all of these, except for the blood sausage, I certainly don’t ever need to eat any of them again. Especially the fromage de tête – I think it was the texture that I hated the most.
    Thanks for Le P’tit Resto recommendation! I live 5 minutes from Bayeux and am anxious to try it.

  • Christine says:

    Mmmm I LOVE steak tartare! I went out for oysters for the first time with my French host mom and she had me try oursin as well–obsessed! Probably one of my favorite seafoods now :)

  • Heather says:

    Best post yet! Well noted re: Le P’tit Resto in Bayeux…most delicious and beautifully-presented dinner we’ve had so far in France (nary a blood sausage in sight).

  • I wholeheartedly agree with all of these. The steak tartare here in Italy is called carne crude and everybody loves it. They think I’m strange for wanting it cooked, but then again they also think I’m strange for not suntanning all summer.

    http://viapecetto.blogspot.it/

  • Katherine says:

    It is dishes like these that make me thankful for dry bread placed on the dinner table. Not a dish in France, but another that I have no desire to try is Haggis.

  • Milsters says:

    I have to admit, the boudin still makes me cringe. I just cannot bring myself to eat it…

    But otherwise, I looooove steak tartare!! Yummm… Am always on the look-out for the best one in town, so if you have any tips, please let me know!

    Best,
    Milla

    (http://littlepiecesoflight.blogspot.fr/)

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