As it is impossible to accurately explain even the smallest amount of french cooking with any sort of accuracy, I feel I should talk about one of the best dishes in French culture: Raclette. It's not anything terribly fussy involving any sort of elaborate saucing ritual or anything else like that. It's actually a very simple dish that only requires the purchase of one device to make. However, in a pinch you don't even need the machine. It's really less about the food, and more about the company as well, which makes it more than welcome to me after all the horrible thoughts I had about being out somewhere and embarrassing people I was with...horribly.
Raclette is actually the name of a type of cow's milk cheese. It's very soft and has a distinctive flavor. If you have ever had a cheese called reblochon which is often used in a recipe called a tartiflette. I recommend it as well should you need a suggestion for some simple French meals.
For the actual things that go with it, it's really just about anything. It's traditionally served on a bed of boiled potatoes. French people usually peel them, but no one thought it was strange that I ate them with the skin on. Then again, they may have just been polite. Often it is served with cornichons, tiny French pickles in a very strong vinegar brine. To let you know as well, cornichons are nothing like American pickles. There's also a lot of what French people call charcuterie. Charcuteries are also the names of the places that sell the product. It's usually quite a few different types of dried sausages. If you're familiar with Andouille, that's where I am going with this. It's a whole variety of different types of meat, and I must say, it's damn good.
The special device to make it is just called a raclette machine, or a raclette grill. It's really just a heating element in a circular casing with wedge shaped personal pans that fit inside the machine. You lay the cheese on the wedge, and the heating element melts it. While it's getting ready, you cut up your potatoes, put some meat on top, and if you want cornichons, put a few on.
It's something that I had never even heard mentioned where I lived in the US, and when I first had it, I was quite impressed. It's something that you can commonly have in France, but it's a bit expensive getting the supplies around for it. Most people order the cheese and meats in advance and pick them up the next day as well. However, what you don't eat can make some wonderful sandwiches in a baguette the next day.