What French people ate during WWII

When I asked my grandparents how did they managed during World War 2 the answer was “it was a hard time” but it came out as that it was differently hard depending on where you were living, on my mother’s side they were in the countryside in Auvergne while on my father’s, they were in Paris (at least for my grandma, as grandad was a war prisoner in Germany).

My grandma used to joke saying that at her time a sandwich was a ration ticket of ham between two ration tickets of bread. I never forgot that joke that helped me to put things in perspective when I thought life was hard.

So let’s see what it was like to eat in Paris between 1940 and 1944

Things were dire. Even though shop windows would display plenty of packaging, all of those would have the mention “False” and the long queues in front of the entrance reminded you that you were not alone.

What you couldn’t eat where things like potatoes, meat, sugar, milk and eggs as those were redirected to the occupying German Army’s war effort, this left French people with topinamburs, swedes, cabbages …


To eat during this time you had the choice between two things:

  • Rationed products of prime necessity with a given portion decided accordingly to the age, gender and situation but rarely going above 1200cal (for a daily requirement of 2500cal)
  • Substitutes (the use of the German word “ersatz” comes from this period).

Ration tickets only gave you the right to stand in long queues with no guarantee to get the promised quantity and didn’t replace payment (stealing, forging or selling those tickets was punishable by death).

Typical substitutes of the period were

  • Margarine or lard for butter
  • Chicory for coffee
  • Roasted corn for coffee/tea
  • Jerusalem artichoke or Swede for Potatoes
  • Saccharine for sugar

Recipes tried to adapt themselves to the situation, meatless pâtés appeared, prepared with flour, egg, Oxo (Brovil or Marmite) and water. Cornstarch would be added to milk (when available) or water with an egg to create an omelette.

Breadcrumbs cookies, nothing got lost, everything was transformed.

If you were lucky enough to have some family in the countryside you could get some extra eggs, fruits, sometimes jams or saucisson but the lack of refrigeration and risks of interception meant that few took the risk to send fresh products through the post.

Black market flourished with prices tenfold but taking the risk of death penalty.

Self production was encouraged so many city dwellers started to replace peonies and petunias with carrots and parsnips on the balconies, chicken would provide fresh eggs and rabbit meat for the occasion. If you love trivia such as this one, come and join us on our award winning Paris tours where our guide have lots to share.

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