As my first summer living in France approached, everyone warned me, "Paris shuts down in August." I expected things to be calmer, more slow-paced, less tourists... but they were not kidding! Our typically bustling, touristy (former) neighbourhood near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement was suddenly empty and I had a hard time finding a decent baguette or a restaurant that was open! In our current neighborhood 10 minutes outside of Paris, my boulangerie (bread store), boucherie (butcher), and fromagerie (cheese store) are all closed until August 24th.
In the U.S., people use their vacation days at different times throughout the year, but in France, the majority of people take time off in August. And with an average of 30 days of paid vacation per year, the French often take 2-4 weeks off in the summer. This is why Paris seems to empty out in August, but coastal towns and other vacation spots in France are bustling.
And what are people in France eating on vacation? Whether vacation days are spent at a rental home used to visit a different region of France (our typical choice), at a camping (think summer camp for families) or visiting family and friends, there are a few similarities found on tables across France.
Unlike the rest of the year when meals are more structured and plates are served individually, summer is a time for sharing dishes that can be passed around and that are easy to pull together after a long day at the beach or sightseeing.
For l'apéro (cocktail time - with lots of Ricard and spritzers), you'll find melon charentais (similar to canteloupe) wrapped with country ham (like prosciutto), potato chips with all kinds of different flavors (rotisserie chicken-flavored is a favorite), tapenade and veggies, and hummus. For coastal vacations, shrimp dipped in mayonnaise and oysters with a red wine vinegar/shallot sauce are popular.
As I have mentioned before, tomates mozza is a popular summer dish of sliced fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil or pesto sauce. Quiches and savory tarts featuring fresh summer vegetables are also quite popular because they can be made ahead and served room temperature. And of course, le barbecue is another summer staple (for those that have access to one) with lots of grilled saucisses and merguez (spicy beef- or mutton-based sausages originating from North Africa - a huge summer favorite).
For dessert, summer fruits are the heroes - apricots, plums, peaches/nectarines, mirabelles, cherries and blueberries, oh my! Whether in the form of a rustic fruit tart, sliced and mixed with a little bit of sugar or honey and cooked on pastry dough, or in a custardy clafoutis, homemade summer desserts are often fruit-focused.
Summer is coming to a close and my neighborhood already has more activity so I am going to eat as many peaches, tomatoes and melons in the next week or two as I can 😋