If you’re new to a foreign country, you might find yourself making a shopping list only to discover that your much-needed ingredients are nowhere to be found in the grocery store. Thankfully Grenoble is a very international city, so many things can be found here at a reasonable price if you know just where to look.
With Thanksgiving in the United States having been this week, I’ve had to find foods like cranberries (for cranberry sauce and cranberry apple pie) and pumpkin (for pumpkin puree to make pie or pumpkin baked goods) among other things. Baking ingredients like baking soda, baking powder and sweetened condensed milk aren’t exactly hard to find – you just need to know which aisle to look in. Some ingredients require going to additional stores, like for brown sugar, black beans and dill pickles.
So here’s my list of where I find different North American or British baking & cooking ingredients:
I purchase my pumpkin from Picard as « Potirons en Cubes. » They are diced, blanched and then frozen. To make pumpkin purée, just stick it in the microwave for 6 minutes and mash with a fork. They also have other cooking instructions for other methods of cooking. At the time of writing, a 600 gram bag cost €2.50 and makes a little more than one pie (you need 425 grams to equal a 15-ounce can).
It’s also possible to find canned pumpkin at the Carée Asiatique, or at the American-British-Canadian store downtown called Matt Store Is (which used to be called Epicerie Maude). At both places it cost about €4 for a can last time I checked.
Cranberries & Cranberry Sauce
Fresh cranberries can be found most of the time at Grand Frais in Echirolles, Crolles or Seyssins in November and December. Sometimes you can find them in the groceries stores too. Then you can make your own cranberry relish with a recipe like this one. Lingonberries from Scandinavia also have a very similar flavor, so for events at the FEU we use Lingonberry Jam from IKEA. If you must have canned cranberry sauce, it can usually be found at Matt Store Is downtown.
There are a few options for brown sugar. The Carré Asiatique usually carries a dark brown sugar, or if you’re lucky you can find the Daddy brand of brown sugar at Carrefour. I haven’t seen it there in a very long time though. The next best option is to purchase molasses and pour it over white sugar. Molasses can be found at Satoriz.
Sweetened Condensed Milk
Lait Concentré Sucré can always be found at Casino Géant, but it’s sometimes in an odd spot. At the store in Saint Martin D’Hères, sometimes it’s near the milk, which you’d expect, but sometimes it’s near the hot chocolate/coffee. If you’re making a pumpkin pie, it will make your life much easier as the sugar is perfectly dissolved already.
Baking Soda & Baking Powder
While both items technically can be purchased at Casino Géant, I still prefer to purchase the familiar brands from the Carée Asiatique or Matt Store Is. It’s usually a very reasonable price and is exactly the same thing. Otherwise, you can find Bicarbonate (baking soda) in the salt aisle, or Levure Chemique (baking powder) in little pink sachets in the baking aisle, but there are subtle differences in these ingredients. Bicarbonate has a texture more like salt, and Levure Chemique uses a wheat starch vs. a corn starch, which makes it a little bit lighter and finer. I don’t know if it actually makes a difference in most recipes, but it really seems to in pancakes. My general rule of thumb is to use baking powder/soda in American or British recipes, and Levure Chemique in French recipes. I’ve never seen bicarbonate called for in any French recipes, so I usually use that to absorb odors in the fridge and for cleaning.
Every so often you can find black beans at the grocery store, usually in the international aisle, but it’s hard to count on it. Netto in Seyssins carries dried black beans, so that’s what I use. To get them nice and soft I soak them overnight, then replace the water and slow-simmer them, covered for about 3 hours. It helps to add some oil and salt to the beans to flavor and soften them as they cook.
While it’s possible to find peanut butter in the international aisle of most grocery stores, you’ll pay a premium for well-known brands. We like the brand Dakatine and think it tastes like Smucker’s Natural smooth peanut butter. It can usually be found near Asian foods in a can at Casino Geant or Carré Asiatique. If you don’t want it in a can, you can find it in a jar at Grand Frais. Save the jar though for future use if you buy it in a can next time! For a crunchy natural peanut butter, we like the Whole Earth Peanut Butter. It’s a little bit more expensive though. We last found that at Matt Store Is, but the first time we found it was in the U.K.
The first time I saw Hines Dill Pickles in a grocery store I bought them right away – not realizing that they were €7 a jar! Polish pickles can be found at some stores like Grand Frais, and they tend to be larger dill pickles like you can find in the states. I don’t eat a whole lot of pickles, and when I do, my favorite kind is homemade dill pickles. All you need to do is gather some spices, get a cheesecloth (I found one on Amazon) or a tea infuser and follow this recipe for the spice mix ingredients and this recipe for the brine and process. Then put them in a jar with some fresh garlic and fresh dill and refrigerate! They keep for a few months in the fridge.
Cheddar was once hard to find in France, but now it can be found in the international section of the cheese aisle in most grocery stores. Casino Geant sells a mature (aged) cheddar, and Carrefour in Meylan sells a slightly more mild cheddar, though it is definitely still aged. Carrefour sometimes even sells a shredded cheddar too. I miss mild cheddars like in this picture, courtesy of Conebella Farm from back where I grew up in Pennsylvania.
Really Good Coffee & Tea
The Comptoir Irelandais has some really good black teas. I like the Whitard brand for Earl Grey. Lots of other good British foods can be found there including baked beans and mixes for different baked goods.
We prefer Starbucks medium roasts like their Guatemalan blend as I find it a bit less acidic and lighter than other coffees I could find here. Starbucks at the train station often runs specials for a free drink with a purchase of a bag of coffee. They also sell the pods at the grocery store if you have that kind of coffee maker.
The most commonly used flour in France is type 55, but if you’re using American recipes you’ll probably want to use type 45 as it has a higher protein content and is more similar to all-purpose flour. However, it seems to be a little bit finer, so sometimes it makes recipes more dense, and for certain recipes (like for yeast bread) you may need to add more flour. Speaking of yeast, you’ll find that in the baking aisle – it’s not refrigerated like it is in the US. And speaking of refrigeration, all of the eggs and most of the milk here is not refrigerated.
The groceries stores here don’t sell a liquid pure vanilla extract, however the imitation vanilla extract is just fine as an ingredient for most baking recipes. I prefer pure vanilla for things where you really taste it, such as adding to homemade whipped cream or plain scones with a dash of vanilla, or a vanilla granola. Gousse de Vanille en Poudre Sucrées can be found in the grocery store baking aisle and is usually in a box hanging up.
Peppermint Candy Canes
When we first moved to France we were surprised that the red and white candy canes were all berry flavored, not peppermint like we were used to. Finally we found them again at the store downtown (Matt Store Is). They usually have a limited number throughout the Christmas season.
I like them for making my family’s traditional peppermint stick ice cream, which I made for Weaver’s Orchard’s blog and made this quick how-to video about. It’s very important to use a simple vanilla ice cream like Hagen-Daz as French vanilla ice cream has too different of a flavor to pair with the peppermint.
Have any other items you’ve had a hard time finding? Leave them in the comments below!