France is without a doubt a world leader in culinary excellence. It’s the country with the most Michelin stars throughout Europe – way more than 600 – and can proudly declare some of the most iconic foods in the world as their own. Pleasure is on the menu across the country with regional specialities owning star status. Take a taste tour through Toulouse’s gut-busting local dishes and delicious must try foods.
Temptations of tasty Toulouse – the best local dishes
Toulouse, nicknamed la ville rose thanks to its many buildings in magnificent shades of pink through terracotta, is a city of winding cobbled streets, timber-framed houses – and a bustling food scene. The city’s delicious temptations are irresistible even if, as you’re about to find out, they might add a few pounds! Some of these recommendations are heavy with regional significance, while others demonstrate the city’s expanding menu to cater to all tastes. Most importantly, these 10 foods are tributes to France’s delicious cuisine – and put Toulouse firmly on the food map.
First is, of course, cassoulet. If you visit Toulouse without trying this famous regional delicacy, then your experience is incomplete!
To say the southern cassoulet is hearty is an understatement. In fact, like most of the food in the south-west, it is a celebration of meat, in this case surrounded by baked white beans which, thanks to their thin skins, soak up all the rich flavours. Cassoulet originated in the medieval era as peasant food and cities across the region all serve their own versions with either mutton, duck or goose. In Toulouse, it is often presented with a saucisse de Toulouse as well as the preferred meat of the chef, in this case, duck confit. Cooked low and slow, the dish is meltingly soft. Its cooking is considered an art and served at traditional French restaurants such as Au Gascon or Maison du Cassoulet.
Saucisse de Toulouse
Many of you will have already tasted Toulouse sausage as the meat is a favourite beyond French borders. However, the recipe is unprotected so some international brands could be naughty fakes poaching the Toulouse name! Dating back 250 years, saucisse de Toulouse is sold in coils like a pink pudgy snake at all butchers and markets. Made from pork mince, pork belly and the butcher’s own ‘secret’ seasonings, it is an essential ingredient in the regional cassoulet in which it is slow-cooked. It can also be fried or braised, and is served at L’Aubrac, a restaurant honouring gut-busting Toulousain food (and their website clearly states if you’re craving a light meal, L’Aubrac isn’t for you!)
Magret de Canard
And yes, the meat continues! An iconic dish of the south-west is magret de canard – seared duck breast – one of the most revered dishes across France. It is easy to find on almost every menu in Toulouse, so famous and beloved is this duck recipe. Cooked like a steak, duck breast is pan-fried until the skin is crisp and golden, and the meat is served blush pink and sliced. In keeping with the rest of the city’s cuisine, it is rich and often served with a savoury jus to complement the meaty flavour. A delicacy and one I highly recommend.
While I’m on the subject of meat… you cannot miss the charcuterie of Toulouse. Restaurants and cafés serve apéro (aperitif) in the early evening where you can order cured and cold meats and pâtés, most of which are local or market purchases, as pre-dinner appetizers.
Explore the markets yourself, particularly Marché Victor Hugo, and everywhere you look there are saucissons and dried shoulders of jambon hanging from the ceiling and terrines, rillettes and pâté enshrined in glass cabinets. Ask the butchers for regional delicacies, and if all else fails, sample porc gascon which comes sliced or as a pâté.
While wandering those hallowed aisles of Marché Victor Hugo, the fromageries will be calling your name! France and fromage go hand in hand, especially as there are 1,600 French cheeses. You will find many of them in Toulouse’s markets, particularly those from the south-west. A creamy firm cheese called Ariège Toudeille is made in a village two hours from Toulouse, and one cheese in particular is a Toulousain creation – Pavé Toulousain. A speciality made by the fromagerie Xavier just outside the market, the cheese’s unmissable cube shape and edible grey rind resembles a brick, yet the inside, made from raw cow’s milk, is smooth with a somewhat crunchy texture.
When it comes to making sandwiches, the French are professionals. The sublime baguette avec jambon et beurre served with cornichons epitomises the rustic simplicity of French cuisine, and you can find such a sandwich at Le Détaillant. This little sandwich shop couldn’t exist anywhere else as it combines ingredients of the local terroir with those of our neighbour, Spain. The delicatessen boasts a bounty of quality chorizo, serrano ham and Manchego, as well as, naturally, dried duck as a tribute to its Toulousain roots.
If you’re vegetarian, you might be wondering if you’ll starve during your visit to Toulouse. While meat receives a lot of love and attention, I promise not all restaurants are L’Aubrac! If you need a break from the region’s richness, no one could blame you, and there is plenty of choice for vegetarians and vegans, including French food at La Maison de Vélo which offers a simple ever-changing menu including one meat, fish and vegetarian option.
At last, the dessert course! If you always have room for dessert, then Toulouse has you covered. While the focus is on the savoury side of life, the city’s many pâtisseries and tea shops beg to differ. Cakes beckon from café windows and the act of eating a sweet pick-me-up is a serious pastime here. Try Flower’s Café or Salon d’Eugénie for a coffee and an afternoon sweet treat or visit Poussin Bleu or Le Pâtisserie Conté for éclairs and other impressive patisserie to eat on the go.
This is a controversial topic! In the south of France, pain au chocolats are called chocolatines. Most of the time, if you walk into a boulangerie and mistakenly ask for a pain au chocolat, you’ll be forgiven, but if you’re a stubborn Parisian who is trying to make a point, then things could get feisty! Keep your eyes open for the chocolatines that are crisp and glossy, packed with those painstakingly folded layers – my recommendation is to try Le Péché Mignon.
Fruit and vegetables
After all the pastries, cheese and of course, meat, you’ll be waddling to the airport! However, we can’t forget that Toulouse is in the south of France and has the perfect weather for growing fruit and vegetables. Throughout the summer, peaches, apricots and nectarines adorn market shelves before figs and plums in the colours of a traffic light appear in the autumn, ripe and perfect. Next time you find yourself at a market, take a peek at the fruit and vegetables and I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
Toulouse has something for all tastes!
Ally Mitchell is a blogger and freelance writer, specialising in food and recipes. Ally left the UK to live in Toulouse in 2021 and now writes about her new life in France on her food blog NigellaEatsEverything.
Where the locals eat out in Toulouse
This article was first published in The Good Life France Magazine
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