When people talk of French food in restaurants they are usually referring to sophistication, fine food and wine and expensive restaurants. Ironic really, because the average French person can (and does) eat well in a restaurant less expensively than his counterparts in many other countries.
The difference lies rather in the knowledge of local French food, and interest in food, of the average French person compared with most other countries. French food is not simply something from the supermarket. It is something carefully chosen according to its qualities and its origins.
Of course, fine sauces and elaborate desserts are easily found, especially in the larger towns and cities, but the food that could be defined as 'regional' food is usually much more simple, wholesome, everyday food. The food found in restaurants in France is heavily influenced by the produce that is readily available in that region.
France is sometimes accused of having a limited range of food and tastes. Outside of a few large cities this is largely true. Finding an Indian restaurant, or a Mexican restaurant, for example, can mean a long journey. But the most widely eaten staple in France is cous-cous, and pasta is also very popular. So 'behind closed doors' the French are as keen on anyone to find food that is both tasty and quick to prepare.
Regional French food
South-West France: In the south-west of France the emphasis is on rich foods. The main specialities are duck, foie gras, prunes, oysters, mushrooms and truffles. And of course a nice rich red Bordeaux wine to go with it. Confit de canard, foie gras and pruneaux d'agen are local specialities.
North-West France: Normandy is best known for its apples (used also for cider and calvados) and its seafood, especially mussels and oysters. Camembert cheese also comes from Normandy. Next door in Brittany you can't escape the crepe, found in every town and every street corner, these are most commonly eaten sweet (sugar / sugar and lemon / butter and sugar)
North-east France: perhaps slightly less exciting than some areas of France, it is the staples that are best known - potatoes, cabbages, beetroots - vegetables that are harder to grow in the warmer, more southern parts of France. Charcuterie (cold meats) are also popular. Happily the region also produces champagne.
Eastern France: Heavily influenced by German food, pickled cabbage and pork related products are popular. Heavy savoury pastries and tarts are popular. The most famous product in the region is the much derided Quiche Lorraine. Foie gras and jams / preserves are also well regarded in the region.
Burgundy: the quality of beef, and the quality of wine, from Burgundy, have significantly influenced the local recipes. Boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin are the most well known examples. Dijon mustard also hails from this region. The Burgundians also pride themselves on their ability to cook snails to perfection.
South France: Basque and Spanish tastes have influenced the food of southern France, and peppers, spicy sausage and tomatoes are easily and widely available. Cassoulet is probably the most renowned dish in the region. In addition to the wide range of delicious sausages available, the renowned Bayonne ham is from this region. Piperade (peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggs) is a local speciality.
South central France around the Auvergne and massif Central is home to several renowned cheeses, including Cantal and Bleu d'Auvergne. Coq au vin is also a local dish here.
South-East France: Not surprisingly, foods revolving around olives, olive oil and herbs, tomatoes and garlic are popular in this region, in common with near neighbour Italy. The coast area has given rise to the fish 'soup' called bouillabaisse - often more of a main course than a soup, and ideally made with a whole selection of different sea-foods, this is perhaps easier to try in a restaurant than at home. Delicious.