Traditional French Starters

10 Traditional French Starters You’ll Love

Traditional French starters, also known as “hors d’oeuvres” or “entrées,” are an essential part of French cuisine. From classic soups to decadent pâtés, they are a celebration of flavour, technique, and culinary heritage. If you’re looking to start off the perfect French menu, we’ve come up with a selection of popular French starters that capture the essence of French cooking and will undoubtedly leave you craving more.

French Hors D’oeuvres Ideas

1. Seafood Bisque

Lobster bisque

Seafood bisque is a creamy soup popular in French coastal areas due to the abundance of shellfish. It traditionally uses whatever seafood is in season and available in the specific region, but the most common ingredients include crustaceans such as lobster, crab, or crayfish. Traditional French seafood bisque is made with a meticulous cooking process involving simmering the seafood shells to extract maximum flavour. This creates a rich and indulgent broth that is enhanced by aromatic vegetables and herbs. 

Serving bisque as a starter immediately sets a sophisticated tone for a meal. Not only does its complex flavours make for a delicious introduction, but it showcases culinary skill because preparing a well-made bisque involves several techniques, like making a roux, simmering and straining stock, and balancing flavours. This dish is sure to impress your guests and set high expectations for the rest of the meal.

Don’t fancy making a Bisque? Check out our range of French Bisque’s online.


2. Soupe à l’Oignon (French Onion Soup)

French onion soup is a classic French dish made with caramelised onions and broth, topped with melted cheese and toasted bread or croutons. Its simple yet flavourful preparation offers a comforting and satisfying start to a meal due to the depth of flavour from slow-cooked onions and the richness of the broth. With its iconic presentation and delicious taste, it remains a timeless classic and an excellent choice to kick off any French-inspired dining experience.

Haven’t got time to make a broth from scratch? Have a look at our range of French ingredients to find delicious, made-for-you additions to your dish!


3. Salade Niçoise (Niçoise Salad)

Originating in Nice, Niçoise salad embodies the vibrant flavours of the Mediterranean. Its inception dates back to the late 19th century when fishermen and locals combined fresh, seasonal ingredients readily available from the region’s markets and coastal waters. The salad typically features tuna, hard-boiled eggs, olives, tomatoes, green beans and anchovies, drizzled in a vinaigrette dressing, creating a colourful presentation and diverse textures. The Salade Niçoise embodies the Mediterranean lifestyle with its fresh ingredients, packed full of flavour and nutrients.


4. Pork Pâté with rustic French bread

Pork pate

As a starter, pâté offers a rich introduction to a meal with its complex flavours and luxurious mouthfeel. For a very good pork pâté, try our Terrine Perigourdine A La Veille Prune Louis Roque. Prepared by Maison Godard in the French Perigord region, it is made with just pork meat, pork liver, eggs, prune liqueur, salt and pepper for a robust and savoury flavour. As a starter, contrasting the textures of the smooth pâté with some crusty, rustic bread makes a brilliant pairing.

Why not try out our recommendations of five delicious French pâtés


5. Escargots de Bourgogne (Snails in Garlic Herb Butter)

Escargots de Bourgogne is a quintessential French delicacy featuring snails cooked in garlic and herb-infused butter served in their shells. It originates from the Burgundy region of France and was initially considered peasants’ food, but soon, the nobility caught on to how tasty it is and started eating it. The snails themselves have a subtle earthy flavour with a slight umami taste. Combine this with the rich and savoury flavours of the garlic and herb butter, and you have one of the most sumptuous, satisfying French starters that is best served piping hot with crusty bread for dipping.


6. Oeufs en Cocotte au Caviar (Baked Eggs with Caviar)

Oeufs en Cocotte, a classic French dish, originated in the late 19th century. This elegant dish consists of eggs baked in individual ramekins with cream, butter, and a dollop of caviar on top. The rich smoothness of the eggs and cream is perfectly balanced by the salty, popping texture of the caviar, creating a dish that is both satisfying and refreshing. The addition of caviar to this dish likely emerged as a luxurious variation popularised by the aristocracy and high society in France, and makes it a visually appealing dish that is ideal for a special occasion or a refined appetiser. Today, Oeufs en Cocotte with caviar remains a symbol of gourmet indulgence, offering a decadent twist on a traditional French starter.

Planning on making this dish? Check out our range of caviar to find the perfect finishing touch!


7. Quiche Lorraine

A savoury tart made with a buttery crust and filled with a creamy custard mixture of eggs, bacon, and cheese. Originating from the Lorraine region of France, it was initially created as a savoury pie by German immigrants in the medieval era and has evolved over time into the modern version we know today. The simplicity of its ingredients allows for the subtle nuances of each component to shine, and it can be served warm or at room temperature, making it a convenient option for entertaining guests. Its elegant presentation and timeless appeal make it a dish suitable for any occasion and a great example of French culinary tradition.


8. Foie Gras (Goose or Duck Liver Pâté)

Foie gras

Foie gras is a luxurious delicacy made from fattened goose or duck liver. Its most defining characteristic is its richness; it has an exceptionally buttery smooth texture that almost melts in your mouth, and it has a mild liver flavour. Compared to regular liver, foie gras is much more subtle, as it lacks the strong metallic taste that some liver preparations have. It is typically served sliced and accompanied by toast points, fruit jam, or a sweet wine reduction to enhance its subtle sweet undertones. 

Due to its velvety mouthfeel and complex flavour profile, foie gras offers a decadent introduction to a meal. It is the height of gastronomic experience and remains a revered delicacy, cherished by gourmet chefs worldwide as a quintessential starter for special occasions and fine dining.


9. Moules Marinières (Steamed Mussels in White Wine Broth)

Moules Marinières, a beloved French dish, originated in coastal regions where mussels were plentiful and readily available. The term “marinières” refers to mariners or sailors, reflecting the maritime heritage of the dish, and offers a taste of the sea with its briny broth. It uses fresh mussels cooked in a fragrant stock of white wine, garlic, shallots, parsley, and sometimes cream, served with crusty bread for dipping. The mussels have a mild, subtly sweet taste with soft, buttery meat. The dish is simple yet has a depth of flavour, making it an elegant yet approachable choice for a starter.


10. Seafood Terrine 

Seafood terrine

Seafood terrine is a cold appetiser made with layers of seasoned fish or seafood mousse, often garnished with herbs and served with toasted bread or crackers. A well-made seafood terrine offers a pleasant variety of textures, from the gelatinous exterior to the tender mousse. The seafood adds a subtle sweetness to the terrine, which balances out the savoury and briny flavours.  Served alongside bread or a crisp salad, seafood terrine as a starter will set the stage for a memorable dining experience. 


Bon appétit!

We’ve highlighted a handful of traditional French starters, but French cuisine is a treasure trove of rich flavours and culinary heritage. There are many recipes out there that are just as delicious as the ones we have mentioned, but these starters will get you well on your way to cooking a delicious and decadent meal à la française!

If you’re looking for some more French food inspiration for your main course, why not check out our posts on classic French seafood dishes and eating like the French!