Sunday Lunch, in French

As my friends and family are aware, I’m very happy living in France. I’m a fan of the country’s excellent doctors, transportation, education, culture, history, language and sense of humor.

I’m constantly surprised by French kindness, loyalty, and unwillingness to lie because the truth might offend.

But one of the things I like most is the French tradition of a Sunday family lunch. When I lived in America, this was my family habit, a holdover from my youth when Sunday brunch meant the best meal of the week because it was cooked by my gourmand of a grandmother (who loved to cook and eat so much, she never let my mom learn. You can imagine the result. It wasn’t pretty.)

My kids always loved the mid-afternoon Sunday meal because they were welcome to bring their friends, and our adult friends, from 39-90 in age, were included. These folks deflected their parents’ attention and always stood up for the kids no matter how annoying they (or we) got.

Conversation was the main course, but we also enjoyed trying new dishes on this eager audience. It was a delightful way to end or begin the week.

Sunday French Lunch in Paris

When I moved to Paris five years ago, I missed Sunday lunches with the family so I found folks I liked and adopted them on Sunday. Mostly, the guests are millennials, but none of them have family here, so I get to be a surrogate aunt/fairy godmother and feed them on Sunday afternoons. The dining room table in my apartment seats 8 comfortably, 10 less comfortably, and 12 in a pinch. There are times when only two members of what we call the Dead Expats Society (a nod to the refugees who came here before us) can make the meal; this week we were eight. Show time is 1:30 or as we confusingly call it here, 13h30. Like the whole country never got over the succession of wars and lives life in military time.

Lunch is proceeded by apéro hour which I’ve dubbed “adulting” time. It sometimes stretches into two hours and occasionally 3. The meal is at least three courses and can last anywhere from 1.5 hours to 3. Sometimes the gang is still here at midnight; other times, depending on Saturday night activities, everyone hits the metro or their bike at around 7. The bag of empty wine bottles usually determines how late things go. I don’t have to worry about anyone driving and they’re all very considerate about texting me when they, as flight attendants like to say, “reach their final destination”.

This week, I had a request from one of “mes enfants” for my standard boeuf bourguignon. This dish takes several hours to assemble completely and a minimum of 5 hours in a slow oven.

It’s not for the amateur cook or the lazy, and I am both.

But this week, I gave it my all. And with the help of my good French artisanal butcher, I turned out an acceptable version. He piled the meat on the paper-covered scale, debated me on the stovetop-vs-oven techniques, and then threw in three big, marrow-filled bones to simmer in the sauce

This week, I also tried my hand at an entrée of roasted peppers, anchovies, black olives, and buratta.

  • For monolingual readers, the « entree »  in a French meal is the first course. It’s not an hors d’œuvre or an appetizer, it is a full-on dish that
  • precedes the « plat » aka the main course.
  • This is normally followed by a cheese course that a salad may accompany.
  • Then, dessert. And finally, coffee, which can be confused with hot black ink.

This week’s lunch was my first attempt at roasting peppers (I usually leave the tough jobs to my husband or my son who are much better in the kitchen than me). This dish is prepared perfectly by my upstairs neighbor but my version didn’t measure up to his. I think it was the salt-cured anchovies; they were too salty even after I’d soaked them for 15 minutes. The peppers were great and I had no opportunity to screw up the baratta.

We finished the meal with a new apple tarte version I’d been anxious to try; many of the guests had brought packets of chocolates that we finished along with a delicious gateau citron I can still taste the morning after.

The post-prandial nap is also part of the Sunday lunch tradition in a French family. Summer lunch in the countryside is superb for garden siestas on a “lit de répose” or a hammock. Normally, my guests arrange themselves on the three sofas in my “salon” and grab one of the four or five blankets I keep there just for the last course: A nap and a coffee.

For me, the Sunday lunch captures the essence of French life: Good food, good friends and family, lazy days that stretch out in front of you and invite good conversation and good cheer. All this is captured in an afternoon tradition. And getting to feed people and allowing them to feed your soul is a great deal.

A la prochaine fois, mes amies


About the Contributor

Valérie Helmbreck Mascitti

As a staff features reporter for Gannett newspapers for many years I won the Temple University Free Speech Award and later worked in France for the DuPont Company. I'm a proud member of the Oyster of the Month Club and the National Geographic Society.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Kathie Ladd Jun 21, 2024 at 11:32 PM - Reply

    I would be most interested in another group participation event!!! Was thrilled to receive my postcard from Tenby, West Wales!!!

  2. Betty Carlson Jun 23, 2024 at 4:51 PM - Reply

    What a lovely tradition you have set up. I do think that Sunday lunches are less frequent in big cities like Paris, where brunches have become very popular.

    I used to make roasted peppers with anchovies a lot when I first moved here, but found they were a bit of a pain. Maybe I’ve become a lazy cook too.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.