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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Water in French Restaurants. Free or to be Paid For? Water - Eau. Eau on French Menus

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Last updated October 2016.
Eau – Water.
Eau is pronounced oh

A lake just outside the town of Dax in the department of Landes, in Aquitaine, France.
Photograph courtesy of Julien Damene
Water is part of every French meal 
and nearly as important as the wine.
Order eau du robinet for free, drinkable tap water,
Many French restaurants will have placed bottled mineral water on the table before you arrive; however, the bottled water on your table is not a free gift!  In a French restaurant, choose between free tap water, eau du robinet, and various types of mineral water that you will be expected to pay for.

Bottled mineral water.
Photograph courtesy of Rodrigo Paredes,
You may order tap water in French restaurants.
If you do not want mineral water and are content with the local tap water just say so, no one will be surprised, a least 25% of the French population will do the same. When you ask for eau du robinet, tap water, it will, as a rule, be brought, cold or with ice, usually in a carafe and many restaurants may add a sprig of mint or a piece of lemon.  If you receive water that came directly from the tap ask for ice and consider going to another restaurant next time.  The French do know how to serve tap water correctly and pleasantly.

When you order tap water, you should receive a pitcher, a jug, or a carafe as well as a glass.
Photograph courtesy of Dinner Series.
The French drink more mineral water, per capita,
than any other nation on earth.
The French restaurant tradition of placing mineral water on the table without asking you is not a sales technique created for tourists.  The French expect it as they do drink a great deal of mineral water. There are over 500 different mineral water labels competing for their place at your table in a restaurant or in a private home.  There are more brands of  French mineral waters than there are names for French wines. If you do choose a bottle of mineral water that was already on the table, it will be replaced by a cold one.
Evian Mineral Water.
Photograph courtesy of mamottux.
You may drink the tap water in France.
Despite the French affinity for natural mineral water, the tap water in all the large cities in France is drinkable, even if chlorinated.  Whether you order mineral water or tap water is your choice.
In French restaurants, you pour your own water.
By tradition, neither mineral water or tap water will be poured for you by the sommelier, the wine waiter or a by a server; you may pour the water yourself.  If water is poured for you that may indicate that you have been identified as a tourist. It may also mean that you have been identified as someone who may not realize that a tip, at the end of the meal, is not required!   Equally, the sommelier traditionally does not take orders for water; he or she will be too busy with the serious business, the wines. You may order water from any waiter, and the sommelier will not be offended.
An automated natural mineral water bottling plant.
Water is big business
Photograph courtesy of Egoldin.

Still, mineral water is eau plate.
Sparkling, mineral water is eau gazeuse.
Lightly sparkling, mineral water is eau pétillante.
Very, very lightly sparkling, mineral water is eau légèrement.
Eau – Water.

Eau Bouillie – Boiling water.
Eau Chaude – Hot water.
Eau Courante  Another term used for tap water; however, the term eau du robinet is the word more generally used.
 Eau de Rose - Rose water.  Rose water is still considered essential for the preparation of particular delicately scented pastries. By tradition real rose water was, and occasionally, though very rarely, may still be used to scent the water in finger bowls.  Rose water was and is made with real rose petals.
 Eau de Table  – Bottled table water; water that has been filtered and treated.  Its main difference to tap water is the absence of chlorine and fluoride; some bottled table waters also have added minerals, they replace the minerals the filtration removed.  The added minerals will be noted on the label. Effervescent or sparkling table water, eau de table gazeuse, is soda water; the gas used is carbon dioxide.
Eau-de-vie – The water of life.  This is not water; this is the French word used for all types of basic grape brandies that are not yet ready for sale. Eau-de-vie is also the name used for mature fruit brandies.
Eau de Vie de Cidre - Apple brandy
Eau du Robinet - Tap water. Tap water is drinkable in all the cities of France, and it is chlorinated and fluoridated. 
Eau Froide – Cold water.
Eau Gazeuse or Eau Pétillante –  Sparkling or carbonated water. Among French diners, there are often discussions about how natural the sparkle is in a particular “so-called” naturally sparkling mineral water.  These arguments can take hours, some never finish. So that is an argument I will not get into here.
Ordering a club soda in France
In France, any flavored drink that is made with artificially sparkling water is a soda. You have been warned; if you want soda-water then ask for eau gazeuse.  Eau gazeuse is either naturally sparkling water, or if the label reads "eau de table gazeuse" that is city water that has been filtered and bottled with added carbon dioxide.  If you just ask for a soda, you may well receive the French equivalent of a 7-Up.
Advertisement for Thonon mineral water
Photograph courtesy of mamottux
Eau du Source Gazeuse or Eau Minérale Naturelle Gazeuse -  Both of these indicate naturally sparkling waters. These are French government tested and approved natural mineral waters. Eau du source is the one most often seen and the least expensive. The second is eau minérale naturelle, which is the one the French government has decided, is particularly good for your health and, of course, it costs more.
Eau Gazeuse Chargée en Gaz Carbonique – Sparkling water made by adding carbon dioxide.
Eau Minéral – Mineral water. You will see many different brands of mineral water as you move from town to town, or even from restaurant-to-restaurant.  Some of France’s mineral waters, such as Perrier, Evian, Badoit, and Vittel, are well known internationally, others may have a small output along with only a local following.  The taste of all these waters depends on their mineral content, and the mineral content must be noted on the label. 
Do you want to know more about mineral water?
For the best, and very amusing, review of the whole world of natural mineral waters, and city waters, read the chapter “Water” in the book: The Man who ate everything, Jeffery Steingarten, Vintage books.
    Eau Non-Potable – Water that is not fit to drink; you have been warned!
    Eau Pétillante – see Eau Gazeuse.

A glass of water with a piece of lemon.
Photograph courtesy of Mel810.
 Eau Potable - Any kind of water that is drinkable.
 Eau Plate - Still mineral water; pronounced plat.  If you prefer sparkling water say eau minérale gazeuse.
 Eau Traitée - Purified and filtered tap water. Eau traitée minéralisée is purified tap water with added minerals.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman