Wine is often thought of as the national beverage in France but mineral water is a close contender. You will find it on the tables of every restaurant and most homes. Every region has its own local mineral water. The supermarket has an entire aisle devoted to l’eau minérale in all its varieties: flat, sparkling, flavored, high in magnesium salt to aid digestion.
The first thing a non-native needs to know is that there are essentially two kinds of mineral water on offer in French restaurants. I was somewhat surprised the first time I ordered ‘eau minérale’ to be asked: “Avec ou sans gaz?”
‘Gaz’ sounds a little too close to reality to be polite. Can’t they say bubbles?
“Avec gaz,” I replied, deciding to go for the gusto. When you sit down for a meal in France, there will be gas at some point.
Now the French have adopted a similar term for sparkling water: ‘eau pétillante’. (Maybe they realized that ‘gassy’ just didn’t do it?)
When I first came to France I only knew of one kind of sparkling water: Perrier. In fact, I used the brand name as a generic short form for sparkling water. Until I discovered that whenever I asked for Perrier, I actually got Perrier. In all its intensely carbonated glory. All very well as a drink on its own but there are so many finer, more delicate tasting mineral waters to accompany food.
Over the years I became somewhat addicted to sparkling water. I can give up wine, if forced, but please don’t ask me to go bubble-free. Most French people in my experience will prefer flat mineral water like Evian or Volvic. A few will insist upon tap water, a carafe of which must be offered for free by law in restaurants. But there is a general misgiving about drinking tap water in France, perhaps a holdover from bygone days when the water filtration system was less sanitary.
For years, Badoit held pride of place on our table. It tends to lose its sparkle just after opening, though, which is probably why they introduced a more intense version, Badoit Rouge, a few years ago. Now my house sparkling water is St. Pellegrino, which has just the right bubble for me. Yes, it’s Italian and many French people hate that. But hey, they’re all owned by Nestlé or Danone anyway.
When on holiday, I love to try the local waters. This one from Corsica was beautifully refreshing.
The French are not the only ones with a predilection sparkling mineral water. In Germany I have often found it to be offered along with flat water in business meetings, with a choice of small, medium or large bubble. Some people drink it all day long, which even for me is a bit much gaz.
How about you? Flat, sparkling or non, merci?
i wonder, do u use bottled water to boil and make tea with? or coffee?
Oh, no! I use regular tap water, although filtered, for everything from coffee and tea to just drinking when thirsty!
glad to read that u use tap water. so why the badoit? maybe just for the odd times u like the bubbly taste? i used to think there is a natural spring water source, (i was thinking of evian) where nature produces the bubbles and make it sparkly… how naive!! i now know that the gas is just them bubbling carbon dioxide gas through it before bottling it.
The only reason I drink sparkling mineral water is for the taste! And even though the water is carbonized there are still lots of natural minerals in it, which are good for you. 🙂
i agree that lots of people like the taste of gassy water. though a word of caution, as a ex dentist. the gassy water is acidic, so if u are in the habit of keeping it in the mouth and fizzying it around , to enjoy the sensation of fizz, as most people do , esp children; dont do it too much or too long, the acid can erode your teeth , this is of course depandant on how ingrained and how long u have done it. a lifetime of doing it will erode your teeth..
it is more important if children get to do it. it is difficult to warn children of it, nor to monitor it , as they dont have much discipline when it comes to controlling their desires. (well come to think of it, so do adults really) after all how much is too much? like introducing children to sweets, a seemingly small thing done as a treat can escalate to a habit of a lifetime and create havoc.
sorry to be a wet blanket. haha. but i hope u know all this allready.
it is why soda drinks like coke, etc are so bad .. not only the suger but also the fizz. so many children love to take a mouthful and keep it in the mouth and fizz it around… the sensation is enjoyable. once they find it , the battle is lost, u will never wean them away from fizzy drinks.
I appreciate the advice as I did not know that fizzy water affected tooth enamel, so I will watch how long I let it in contact with my ‘pearly whites!’ Ha, ha…. And I never let my kids drink sugary sodas when they were small. You are right it is a terrible habit! As for the sparkling water, neither of them seems to care much for it so I must have done something right!
i am so glad that u are not upset , i was really hesitant to post that comment, because not everyone likes a wet blanket. actually there is one thing i feel everyone should know … about erosion of the dentine,(at the neck of the teeth, what they call abrasion cavities. it is quite a common occurrence and can lead to very sensitive teeth. the culprit is not hard scrubbing, as i used to think ,and even gave that advise to my patients and even accuse them of using too much force when they brush. i now realise it is using toothpaste. there is a lot of ‘grit’ in toothpaste . very few people know that, but that grit is the real cause of those abrasive cavities. i personally dont use any toothpaste at all when i brush my teeth.
I am hooked on fizzy water in the UK. I drink cheap rubbish from the supermarkets. But like you, it is San Pellegrino for me in France, where the cost is lower. I also love the saltiness of some of them, but it’s an acquired taste
Fizzy water, thanks for reminding me of the correct UK terminology! I am not a fan of the St. Yorre and other super salty ones – even though I have acquired a taste for mineral waters in general. Sometimes good old tap water is still the best for quenching thirst!
I love fizzy mineral water too but if it was a toss up between wine and that, not sure if the ‘gaz’ would win! For health interests, I know what I should choose….
I’m with you on that one. And ‘should’ should be banned from the English language! 😉
Ps I love St Pellegrino too.. But there are a few nice local ones here which are cheaper but not too bad.
@”Flat, sparkling or non, merci?” – always flat… de l’eau plate, quoi! 🙂
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btw, personne de notre entourage ne boit d’eau gazeuse… 🙂 I’m serious! tu sais qu’elle “gonfle”!!! 😉
Which is very certainly why most French women don’t like water ‘avec gaz’. Mais moi je suis gonflée de nature! 😉
I love my eau minérale avec gaz, and I can really detect the taste changes between brands. Like Poshbirdy above, that slight hint of salt , healthy or not, when drinking neat is v tasty. I also use mineral water to top up my white or rose wine (I know, sacrilege!!) if I have a drink at lunchtime.
We do like Badoit, but our local mineral water from Alet-Les-Bains is also delicious.
I also drink our French tap water and use it for tea & coffee etc. Although I have read that the water in our bit of France is quite hard, it certainly does not fur the kettle or the pipes up like the water in the UK Midlands which I have been drinking for years . Some might say that it has affected my brain, but I was never right any way to start with ……………………
How luck you are to have local water – will have to look for that if ever in the Langedoc-Roussillon (il y a des chances!). Our water is very hard and I am constantly fending off water softener salesman. I’m sure it has affected my brain too – we understand each other perfectly! 😉
There’s a funny column about San Pellegrino in Olivier Magny’s book “Stuff Parisians Like.” I remember the following quote on the subject of how to act like a Parisian: “Order a San Pellegrino. Do not order any other kind of sparkling water.”
Thanks, I will look for that book. Did not actually know that ‘San Pell’ as they call it was THE water for the chic set. Guess I just naturally gravitate to those things! 😉
Sparkling! No contest. 😉
Guess we girls are just sparkling by nature, eh?
San Pelligrino is my favorite too .It is available at the Superstore and cheaper than Perrier
Welcome back, Monsieur George! Glad to hear you can get the good stuff at a reasonable price. Make sure you have plenty on hand next time we visit! 😉
Avec gaz, merci! I love love love sparkling mineral water.
You must also be a true Parisian at heart!
I generally have Evian and Badoit in the fridge – green Badoit when I have company because we can cruise through a bottle with ease but red on my own because the bubbles will keep their effervescence for two days. Friends of mine who are very very conscious of what they eat and drink tell me we should vary the brand regularly because of the danger of build-up of minerals. However, I know that he when out of site of her drinks only San Pelligrino (and yes, they are French!) and savours it like the finest St Emillion!
Interesting advice which I will keep in mind – maybe go for a change of label next time. You clearly keep very good company both in your friends and your choice of waters! 😉
I’m a Badoit boy the moment I arrive in France (can’t get it in Australia) but last time I fell for St Yorre and couldn’t get enough of it. Must’ve needed the minerals. Holidaying in France from the UK in the 1960s, my mother told us that we had to drink bottled water all the time, even brushing our teeth in it, because the tap water was so contaminated. Struck me as odd even back then. 🙂
Badoit is easy but St. Yorre? Good on you, that’s the hard stuff! 😉 I always remember being told to ask ‘Can you drink the water?’ on my first European trips, so back in the 60s, maybe your Mom had it right!
I had no idea there was such a huge choice and local appellations of water! I’m a flat-water person both in kayaking, canoeing and drinking water. Gassy water fills me up too much, like beer, so I only drink it before dinner, not with dinner.
Your comment calls up images of canoeing on a river of finely bubbled Badoit – fun! 😉 You’re right – sparkling does fill you up to some extent, and that is probably why I like it (along with beer). Prevents me from eating too much!
Flat, for sure. I tried gaz…erm, too gassy for me! 😉
I’m all for whatever works, and the most important thing is to drink lots of water! But you never know, maybe a finer bubble?
Non Merci. Though I occasionally indulge in a bottle of non carbonated Ty Nant mineral water, I’m still hooked on my Pepsi Max instead of wine. Sacrilege I know.
xxx Massive Hugs Mel xxx
As colas go Pepsi Max is one of the better choices! I have a taste for the bitter – so Tonic (even without the gin) is my soft drink! Ty Nant? Is that Welsh? Must try! 🙂
I must admit a bitter lemon mixer is very nice on it’s own too. Yes, Ty Nant is one of the Welsh ones usually a choice between Blue bottle or red bottle depending whether you like carbonated or not.
xxx Mammoth Hugs xxx
Funnily enough I used to drink San Pellegrino before I came to France. I then had the money and the opportunity to often eat in good London Italian restaurants. Those days being past, I now drink Badoit…but at home it’s SuperU Eau Pétillante:)
All the good old days – by the sounds of things you don’t miss them a bit. 😉 Will give your house brand a try – we have a SuperU near us.
I tend to prefer flat to bubbly, largely because all the pingpong bursts of water in my mouth is just too much. But I’m not overly offended by it if it’s the only water on offer. Still, never did I think there was quite so much nuance in effervescent water.
Yes, the ‘ping-pong’ bursts in the mouth describes Perrier very well! That’s just the thing: many of the other waters in France have much finer bubbles which make it a lot more enjoyable with food. But you are right: it’s an acquired taste!
Tap for me – French tap water on the whole is excellent in France, yet the French supposedly have the highest consumption of bottled water. If I’m at a restaurant I tend to go for sparkling water, Badoit or La Salvetat (since that’s almost home-grown).
Oh, yes, always go as local as you can! I don’t really know why the French avoid tap water so much – I agree the taste is very good but perhaps it has something to with the mineral content?
Not sure, but I would have thought that mineral water does not make a huge difference if one eats a well balanced diet?
As usual in France, there seems to be a bit more to it. An interesting link: http://www.maxisciences.com/eau/a-chaque-besoin-son-eau-minerale_art30498.html
Very interesting article – the one but last paragraph sums it up pretty well!!
I find the whole idea of having water shipped from faraway places slightly strange, at least from an environmental point of view (I mean, do I seriously need to drink the artesian water from Fiji? In friggin’ England?!) but, while we’re at it, as an Italian I can’t but marvel at how S. Pellegrino is famous. For me, it’s not really a great water, and Perrier or Badoit are a lot better. In facts, if you’re looking after a nice Italian mineral water, avec ou sans gaz, why not trying out Lauretana? It’s great, and not just because it comes from my birthplace. Seriously!
Anyway, glad I found your blog, it’s brilliant!
I agree a lot of the marketing hype around water seems rather silly and we should try to drink local. I would love to try the Lauretana but have never seen it here in France. Will look out for it. Cheers Fabrizio!
Well, it’s not so well known outside NW Italy!
Maybe nowadays it became trendy to say “eau pétillante” but I remember well when people always said “eau gazeuse” . That’s where this “avec ou sans gaz “comes from and it’s logical since they deliberately add gaz into the poor innocent water .
Yes, I agree it’s a modern-day pretension to call it eau pétillante, perhaps a marketing spin a bit like ‘sparkling’. Give me good old ‘eau gazeuse’ any day!
Mel, I think I must have tried 3x already to write a comment and I only hope that I’m not stating things that have been said already 50 times….
As always a great post – and as controverse as any! I personally LOVE fizzy waters. When in UK I bought the cheap well water from Sainsbury, in Switzerland I have Italian fizzy water and here in F I drink Cristaline with and without bubbles. BUT, B.U.T. I also know it’s NOT GOOD for me and I shouldn’t drink it at all – hey ho, do I care? No…. Love it, drink it.
NOW however, as it’s summer and hot and dry, I also prepare hectoliters of tap water, put it in the fridge and add if needed with some ice cubes – it’s delicious too and cheap and does us well!
What I find truly upsetting is the fact that branded waters such as San Pellegrino, Perrier, and others are being sold and served EVERYWHERE. I’m not often of the same opinion as my mother in law, but when she’s right, she’s right – and she makes a point (always well received!!! NOT..) when in a restaurant, asking for a SWISS MINERAL WATER….. (it also has to be ‘eau platte’ and NOT cold. From time to time a not so kind waiter who’s already walking on his teeth-flesh, asked her if she wanted it put for a moment in the microwave! 🙂 – but that’s another story!)
HH had San Pellegrino served (at a horrendous price) in Perth, Australia and many high-end restaurants serve ‘only’ Perrier or SP as they can ask for high-end money for them….. This is utterly ridiculous. I can’t stand all the heavily salted and nitro-ed waters, the volvic ones etc.
For a while I had a ‘soda machine’ to add the bubbles, what a waste that was! Something else to collect bacteria and unidentifiable little micro-buggers. Give me my ‘sparkling/fizzy/midi-to-maxi-bulle water or clear clean cold tap water and i’m happy 🙂
I’ve always preferred sparkling water to flat. But they charge such exorbitant prices for it in French restaurants that we always ask for “une carafe d’eau” now, which of course comes from the tap. Our own tap water is not particularly pleasant to drink – although there’s nothing actually wrong with it – so we drink a lot of bottled water at home.
(You’ve probably gathered that I’m catching up with your excellent blog, having been very busy of late. Or perhaps it’s just that my time management is hopeless.)
Thanks for checking in! Time management is a bit of a personal bugbear for me, so I can relate. And we all know what a huge challenge the online world is in terms of time. 😩 As for the water, I cannot live without my bubbles, no matter the cost. Recently I learned that people who live in Evian (not far from us) get the mineral water straight out the tap for the cost of normal water. That could just sway me to move!