Let’s talk about something that often goes overlooked in discussions about French cuisine—water. Yes, you heard it right, water!
While France is world-renowned for its wines, cheeses, and gourmet dishes, drinking water serves as the essential, yet unassuming backdrop to every meal.
In France, the way water is served and consumed is subtly different, adhering to a set of cultural nuances that can be quite intriguing to an American palate.
Whether it’s the preferred temperature, the choice between still and sparkling, or even the classic French carafe, water is more than just a thirst-quencher in the Gallic dining experience.
So, pour yourself a glass of H2O and read on to understand how the French elevate even the simplest of elements into an art form.
Do the French Drink Water Often?
Yes, the French do drink water regularly, but their consumption habits are often characterized by moderation and specific cultural preferences.
In France, water is commonly served throughout meals, usually in a carafe or as bottled mineral water, to accompany wine or other beverages.
Unlike in the United States, where icy water is often the default, the French typically prefer their water at room temperature or only slightly chilled. The practice of serving water is considered a staple in both restaurants and home dining settings, functioning as a palate cleanser between sips of wine or bites of food.
The French also highly regard the quality of their water, with many opting for well-known mineral waters like Evian or Vittel. While water may not be the main event at a French dining table, it holds a respected, almost ritualistic place in daily life and cuisine.
Types of Drinking Water
These are the main types of drinking water in France.
Still Mineral Water
Still mineral water, or eau plat, is the most commonly consumed type of water in France. Brands like Evian, Vittel, and Volvic are household names, and their bottles are often seen on dinner tables and restaurant settings. The unique mineral compositions of these waters, derived from specific natural springs, are believed to offer various health benefits.
Sparkling water, or eau gazeuse, is also quite popular in France. The effervescence adds a refreshing twist, making it a favorite for some during meals or as an aperitif. Brands like Perrier and San Pellegrino are commonly served in restaurants and are available in French grocery stores.
Tap water, or eau du robinet, is generally of high quality in France and is safe to drink. In many restaurants, if you ask for a carafe of water, you’ll be provided with tap water, usually free of charge. Some locals prefer this option as an eco-friendly alternative to bottled water.
While not as prevalent as still or sparkling varieties, flavored water has made its way into the French market. Beverage brands offer a range of flavors like lemon, mint, and even mixed berries. These are generally enjoyed as a refreshing drink rather than as a meal accompaniment.
Spring water, or eau de source, is another option, usually less mineral-rich compared to mineral water. While it is filtered and purified, it doesn’t have to meet the strict mineral content guidelines that mineral water does. This makes it a less expensive but still high-quality option for daily consumption. It’s also used in many of the country’s pharmacy skincare products.
Tap vs. Bottled Water in France
What is the difference between tap and bottled water in France?
Tap Water in France
Tap water in France, known as eau du robinet, is generally of excellent quality and safe to drink. Many French cities and regions pride themselves on the quality of their public water supply, which undergoes rigorous testing for pollutants and contaminants.
In restaurants, if you ask for a carafe of water, it’s usually tap water that’s served, often free of charge. It is a convenient and eco-friendly option for everyone. However, the taste and mineral content can vary by region, influenced by the local water supply.
Bottled Water in France
Bottled water is extremely popular in France and comes in a variety of types, from still to sparkling and even flavored. Many French people prefer bottled water for its specific taste and mineral content, which can vary from brand to brand. In a restaurant setting, opting for bottled water is seen as a more premium choice and will come at a cost.
Both tap and bottled water in France are considered safe to drink. The choice between the two often boils down to personal preference for taste and mineral content, as well as environmental considerations. While bottled water provides a consistent taste and mineral balance, tap water is a more eco-conscious choice, eliminating the need for single-use plastic bottles.
Best French Bottled Water Brands
These are the best French bottled water brands sold throughout Europe. French water brands are not just popular domestically but are also globally recognized.
Evian is one of the most iconic French bottled water brands, sourced from the Evian-les-Bains area on the south shore of Lake Geneva. Known for its neutral pH and balanced mineral content, Evian is favored for its clean, refreshing taste. It has a global presence and is often associated with luxury and purity.
Vittel is another popular French water brand, coming from the Vosges region. This mineral water is particularly rich in calcium and magnesium, making it a favorite for those who seek additional mineral intake. It offers a crisp and invigorating flavor profile that makes it suitable for everyday consumption.
Perrier is synonymous with sparkling water in France. Sourced from the Vergèze spring located in the Gard département of France, Perrier is naturally carbonated, although the gas is removed and then re-added to achieve consistent carbonation levels. Its sharp fizz and unique mineral balance make it a popular choice for enjoying effervescent water.
Volvic water originates from the volcanic regions of the Auvergne, giving it a unique mineral composition. Known for its smooth and slightly sweet taste, Volvic is rich in silica, which is relatively rare in mineral waters. It is often recommended for its clean taste and beneficial mineral content.
Badoit is a premium sparkling mineral water sourced from the Loire region. It has a distinct and complex mineral profile, with subtle notes of bicarbonate and fluoride. Often served in high-end restaurants, Badoit is appreciated for its fine bubbles and its ability to complement the flavors of a gourmet meal.
Each of these brands offers something unique, from the mineral content and health benefits to the taste and effervescence levels.
Most Famous French Water
The most famous water in France is arguably Evian, which enjoys both national and international recognition. Sourced from the Evian-les-Bains area on the south shore of Lake Geneva, Evian water is renowned for its purity, balanced mineral content, and neutral pH.
Its global presence is substantial, often appearing in high-end restaurants, hotels, and gourmet grocery stores around the world. The brand is associated with luxury and is often endorsed by celebrities, further elevating its status.
Evian has successfully positioned itself not just as a water brand but as a lifestyle choice, symbolizing health, purity, and sophistication. Its fame has made it a staple in discussions about premium bottled water, and it is frequently considered the gold standard in the category.
Ordering Water at French Restaurants
There are certain customs and norms around ordering water at French restaurants to know if you visit France.
When dining in a French restaurant, the customs surrounding ordering water are quite straightforward yet steeped in cultural nuance. Upon being seated, it’s typical for the server to ask if you’d like still or sparkling water.
If you prefer tap water, you can simply ask for a “carafe d’eau,” which is usually offered free of charge. This water is often served at room temperature or slightly chilled, in accordance with French preference.
If you opt for bottled water, you’ll typically be presented with choices of still or sparkling, and sometimes even the brand. Keep in mind that bottled water comes at a cost, and you’ll find it listed on the menu.
The waiter may also ask whether you would like it “frappé” (chilled) or at room temperature, so feel free to specify your preference.
In upscale dining establishments, the water service may be more elaborate. You might be presented with a separate water menu, featuring a range of domestic and international brands, each with their distinct mineral profiles and tasting notes. Here, water is often treated with the same reverence as wine, carefully selected to complement the flavors of your meal.
Tap water is perfectly acceptable to order, and doing so is neither frowned upon nor considered impolite. However, if you’re dining in a particularly high-end restaurant and opt for tap water, it might subtly signal that you’re not planning to spend much, which could influence the level of service you receive.
Understanding these customs can enhance your dining experience, helping you navigate the subtleties of French restaurant culture!
How to Ask for Water in French
Asking for water in French is simple, yet the phrasing can vary depending on what exactly you’re looking for.
If you’d like tap water, you can say, “Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît,” which translates to “A carafe of water, please.” This is usually the most economical option and is often provided free of charge in restaurants.
If you prefer bottled water, you can ask, “De l’eau en bouteille, s’il vous plaît,” meaning “Bottled water, please.” If you have a preference for still or sparkling water, you can specify by saying “De l’eau plate” for still water or “De l’eau gazeuse” for sparkling water.
In finer dining establishments, you might be asked if you have a particular brand in mind. If you do, you can simply state the brand name after requesting bottled water.
It’s also possible you’ll be asked about your temperature preference. If you’d like your water cold, you can say, “Bien frappé, s’il vous plaît,” which translates to “Well chilled, please.”
These simple phrases should cover most scenarios you’ll encounter when asking for water in French brasseries and restaurants, making it easy for you to stay hydrated while enjoying your meal!
At the end of the day, French drinking water habits aren’t that different from Americans!