Christmas is a huge feast all over the world, and it stands to reason that France boasts one of the most gourmet spreads around. The land of high brow gastronomy will not fail you at all. While some countries might save their big feast for the actual day of Christmas, the French have their celebration on Christmas Eve. La Réveillon is a time when people gather to feast in the evening, or for the religious, after Christmas Eve mass. It’s a meal worth fasting for the whole day, because there will be enough food to feed an army, and break your caloric intake for the whole week.
Learning a language can be a challenge, but exploring this fun festive vocabulary (and trying some of them) is one of the perks of exploring another culture! Be prepared for an elaborate setup, as presentation of the plates is just as important to the French as the flavor itself. That is to say, people go above and beyond on both flavor and table settings. Feast your eyes and perhaps later your belly on these scrumptious recipes.
1. The French Ápero and aperitif (appetizers and drinks)
Any long feast for Réveillon will begin with pre-dinner drinks and small appetizers. This can include the standard, and delicious, charcuterie (cured meats) and fromage (cheese), but this night will also include some fancier, more elegant options. Saumon fumé (smoked salmon) can be served with small blinis, or you might be treated to some canapés, quiches, or verrines (a mousse or soufflé served in a small glass). This pre-meal finger food is scrumptious, and will often be washed down with a couple glasses of vin rouge or vin blanc (red or white wine), but save room for the main course!
2. Sit down to enjoy La Réveillon meal
Provided you’ve managed to save room after the ápero, you should get ready for a true spread of delectable meat and seafood to keep your mouth watering. Your entrées will begin with some huîtres, as the French have an undying love affair with oysters. L’escargot will also make an appearance, the infamous French snails covered in garlic butter. You will also get your fill on Coquilles St Jacques, creamy scallops, because what is a French meal without lots of cream, butter and bread? If you are still hungry, foie gras will be served with pain d’épices. However sad you might feel for the birds, foie gras is irresistible.
As if these dishes were not enough, take a deep breath, because the French continue to pamper themselves with carefully prepared fine meats. You might have a chance to try Dinde aux Marrons, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, or boudin blanc aux truffes, a white sausage with truffles that is delectable. Side dishes should not be overlooked, as they’ll include carefully prepared potatoes and green vegetables. There will be wine pairings available throughout this meal, and be sure to pace yourself so you can try everything.
3. Still have room? We’re not done eating.
French people are never ones to flake on tradition, and cheese boards will be brought out after you eat. The best part of cheese in France is you can eat with before or after meals, and the choices are abundant. Did you know that there are over 400 types of cheese made in France? You might have camembert, brie, fromage de chevre, or a blue cheese, among many other varieties. These can be served with jams, chutneys, nuts, or pickles.
And finally, not to be forgotten, bûche de noël here. This Yule log can sometimes be seen in the form of a cake, or the more traditional log shape, and is a lovely combination of sponge cake and chocolate or fruit. If cake is not your favorite, you might also be treated to other elaborations of the bûche, which are crafted from sorbet or ice cream. French professional chefs even compete to create the best versions of this delicious dessert, which bears the same traditional shape as the iconic bûche de noël, with different bases. A nice, digestive friendly espresso could accompany this meal, or champagne or digestifs to aid digestion.
While there are other meals that will follow during the Christmas holiday season, La Réveillon is the star of the week.
Food and good company are the perfect environment to soak up some French culture, language, and wine. You might not feel up for eating again on Christmas, but you will have had the opportunity to not just practice your language skills, but also broaden your palate and cultural experiences. And really, who wouldn’t be in a great mood and open to language learning when surrounded by so many fine examples of la gastronomie française. You can add these dishes and new words to enhance your next French language class.