How to picnic like a Parisian
Perfecting the fine art of eating outside with a little French flair.
November 8, 2018 7 min read
Parisians have perfected some of the world’s most beloved blessings—fashion, food … falling in love. And what better way to celebrate them all than with a Parisian picnic? Perfectly packed for romance and ready for those willing to revel in some of the most decadent—yet attainable—ingredients. Cue the butter!
A picnic, or pique-nique, as the French call it, is defined as an outing with food. But let’s be honest, would you consider eating your PB&J at the bus stop a picnic? Sure, it’s satisfying and in the open air. It might even have a nice view, but does it feel like a pique-nique?
Robyn W., owner of Paris Made for You and a Paris resident, can attest that a Parisian picnic is not your typical American-style event. “Foods are carefully selected to represent the finest in French cuisine,” Robyn said.
Here’s the good news: Parisians have made it superbly simple to handcraft a feast for two (or more) using just a few French staples.
Unlike most meals, there are no real courses in a pique-nique. Just a politely packed buffet full of edible entertainers. There is, however, a starring role—the baguette! Forgo your favorite grocery chain this time and find a local bakery. Don’t have one? Bake your own! And add a little flavor with rosemary or olives.
Take a cue from Robyn: “The bread must be fresh, preferably bought moments before the outing.”
This freshly baked vessel will take you far in your flavorful French journey. So it’s worth the extra effort.
What’s better than fresh-baked bread? The cheese that goes on it, of course. France does many things right, but cheese might be at the top of the list. Curate a careful selection of hard cheeses and soft spreadables to indulge in.
Yes, there are many cheeses to choose from. Do yourself a solid and taste around. Take a trip to the dairy section and tell the cheese experts what you like. Sample until you find your favorites, and you’re good to go. If you’re still not sure, grab a prepackaged plate that comes with a little bit of everything. For the full French experience, focus on a nice Brie and some bleus and Roqueforts. Maybe a chèvre and a Muenster, too.
While you’re there, don’t forget the butter.
One slow and savory bite into your cheesy, buttery baguette will leave your palate supremely pleased—but not completely. While cured meat didn’t originate in France, the French are no strangers to these delightfully salted and smoked treats.
The majority of French charcuterie consists of confit, pâtés, terrines, sausages and ham. While they might be quick and tasty, these aren’t ordinary slices of meat. Like cheese, charcuterie is an art form that takes time to perfect. Each bite comes with patience, pride and a lot of history. Enjoy.
But wait, there’s more! So much savory goodness deserves a little sweetness. Of course, French pastry will take your taste buds to another level. But you don’t need a soufflé to feel the full effect. Consider easy-to-carry desserts like fresh fruit, madeleines and small tartes. Better if it doesn’t melt. Best if it doesn’t collapse.
Thirsty? Pick up some sparkling water along the way, of course. But a French picnic wouldn’t be French without le vin! Grab a bottle of your favorite French wine to pair with all of this deliciousness.
If you have any uncertainty, look to an expert for help. Find an expert at your local wine shop, or connect with a sommelier to find the perfect fit for your picnic.
You have everything you need. Tablecloth? Plates? Utensils? Napkins? Bottle opener? Good. You’re ready to go.
Remember that bus stop sandwich? Not happening. For a purely Parisian picnic, the meal goes beyond the food. Robyn confirms, “The art of the picnic also involves the setting.”
Find a cozy nook under a tree. The shaded part of a park bench. A clearing in the woods. A wall along the riverside. Wherever you end up, remember the cardinal rule of picnicking: Clean up when you’re done.
Of course, atmosphere isn’t limited to where you sit. It’s also who you’re with. Susan W., CEO of SWG Consulting, lived in France for 13 years. Susan is back in the U.S. now, but she goes to France often to visit friends and family. During one of her visits to Paris, her “BFF (Best French Friend)” surprised her with a quintessential Parisian picnic.
Beautifully set in the park of Champs de Mars, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, they enjoyed a light salad, some pastry and a bottle of French champagne. “The picnic was simply elegant, but without too much fanfare. Truly one of the best I’ve ever had. We now continue the tradition every time I visit.”
So, what if you can’t whisk away for an afternoon in France? Not to worry. Set the scene, pack the basket and play pretend with a delicious pique-nique inspired by its origin.
And again, don’t forget the butter.