Why are fried eggs in France always Sunny Side up?

If you’re from the US, Canada, or the UK, when you think of Fried eggs, especially sunny-side-up eggs (fried on one side with an unbroken yolk on the other), the first thing that probably comes to mind is breakfast. But in many countries such as France, Sunny side up eggs are more of a lunch and dinner item served as part of another dish. Here’s everything you need to know about ordering dishes containing fried eggs in France. 

Eggs are not a typical breakfast food in France.

Breakfast at Bonobo in Montpellier

If you’re new here, I’ve lived in France for over a decade. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out with a friend for breakfast and seen tourists sit down only to discover that there are no eggs or bacon on the breakfast menu. 

If this surprises you, you’re not alone. 

A classic French breakfast isn’t savoury. You won’t find cheese or eggs at a French breakfast table. And bacon for breakfast, well, that’s viewed as a very American thing in France and bangers a very British thing. 

French breakfasts tend to be sweet

French people don't eat eggs, pancakes or bacon for breakfast. Think continental instead

A French breakfast is what you might call a continental breakfast; buttered baguette, toasted bread with a spread such as jam or Nutella. Cereal, yogurt, fruits, pastries, and viennoiseries from local bakeries such as croissants or pain au chocolate.

Contrary to popular belief, croissants are not a daily breakfast food. in France. They are more of a weekend breakfast or a quick bite to eat on the way to work. 

Omelettes and crepes, which you might think belong in the breakfast category, are usually reserved for lunch or dinner with a vinaigrette salad.

That’s not to say that you can’t find a restaurant that serves fried eggs for breakfast. It’s just that these restaurants that serve eggs usually cater to tourists, especially in hotels. 

There are also specialty restaurants that cater to an Anglo-Saxon breakfast, specifically American or British-style breakfast.

For instance, in Montpellier, there are about 5 or 6 restaurants that I know of that serve up non-traditional French breakfast and brunch items such as pancakes, bacon, bangers, fried tomatoes, and eggs. 

One of my favourite breakfast restaurants in Montpellier is Bonobo, where you’ll find a mix of French people with plenty of foreigners from all over the world dying to get their savoury non-French breakfast. It’s trendy and usually very crowded. Get there early because people form a line before the restaurant even opens. 

Fried eggs only come one way in France: Sunny side up.

woman eating sunny side up eggs in a brass pan and dipping her baguette in the yolk

Depending on who you talk to, ordering fried eggs for breakfast can be a complicated affair in the US and Canada, where you can specify the level of doneness and how you want your eggs fried. 

The American and Canadian way to order fried eggs:

  • Sunny side up (The egg is fried with the yolk up and is not flipped.)
  • Over easy (The egg is flipped and cooked on both sides, but the yolk is still runny)
  • Over medium (The egg is flipped and cooked on both sides. The yolk is slightly cooked, but the center is slightly runny.)
  • Over well (The egg is flipped  and cooked all the way through. The yolk is sometimes broken.) 

In France, things are much simpler because you never specify how you want your egg fried. It’s usually understood that the egg is served sunny side up with a runny yolk.

There is no French term for a fried egg cooked on both sides

In French-speaking Quebec, there is a term for an egg cooked over easy “oeuf tourné” translated as flipped egg or turned egg.

In France, however, there is no official word like “over medium eggs” or “over easy eggs.” Many French people aren’t even aware that it’s normal to order eggs cooked on both sides in other countries. 

If you really want to order an egg in french, cooked “over easy” or “over medium”, you’ll have to say something like:

  • I would like my egg cooked on both sides
    • J’aimerais que mon œuf au plat cuit des deux côtés

Sunny-side-up eggs are usually a component of a dish for lunch or dinner.

As I already mentioned, eggs, even sunny-side eggs, are not a breakfast food in France however, it is served for lunch or dinner and incorporated into many dishes. 

French dishes that can come with a sunny-side-up egg: 

French buckwheat crepe from Brittany, galette bretonne

Crêpe bretonne: aka Galette bretonn with sunny side up egg.

Here are a few examples of lunch and dinner dishes in France that come with a sunny-side-up egg as part of the dish. 

  • Galettes Bretonnes (Buckwheat Crepes).
  • Pizza: Some pizzas come with a sunny-side-up egg baked into the middle of the pizza. 
  • Croque Madame: sunny side up egg placed on top:
  • Moroccan shakshuka: crack eggs onto their bed and place them under a broiler until the white is just set.
  • Flamenco eggs, a traditional Spanish egg dish, similar to shakshuka but with a distinctly Spanish flair.

a French croque madame sandwich on a bed of salad with sunny side up egg

Croque madame always comes with a sunny-side-up egg served on top. 

pizza with a sunny side up baked egg

Pizza is very popular in France; some come with a sunny-side-up egg in the middle. 

Moroccan Shakshuka with sunny side up baked eggs

Although not a French dish, Moroccan shakshuka is fairly popular and comes with several sunny-side-up eggs served on top of the dish. 

The French word for egg(s) is harder to say than you think. 

The French word for egg is “œuf” /Uhff/. The “œ” sound can be challenging for some people who are not native French speakers because it can change from one word to the next. 

An egg = Un œuf /An-Uhff/

Two or more eggs = Des œufs /Daze-Uh/ (You do not say the “f” in the plural “oeufs”.

Another thing that leads to miss pronouncing the French word for eggs is the vowels in the word oeuf “OE” which are usually combined into a single symbol “œ” called “e dans l’o /Uh-dahn-low/ (e in the o.)

If you’re familiar with the international phonetic alphabet, “œ” ( /ø/ or /œ/ ) is said with an open mid-front rounded vowel sound which doesn’t exist in some languages such as English.

What are sunny side eggs called in French?

highlight of what the Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française calls a sunny side up egg in French language

Sunny side-up eggs go by two different names in France, which are synonyms according to DAF (Dictionnaire de l’Académie française), the official dictionary of the French language.

  1. “Oeuf au plat”: sometimes referred to as “Oeuf sur le plat.
  2. “Oeuf miroir: sometimes referred to as “oeuf au miroir

These two French terms for a sunny side-up egg are sometimes used interchangeably in France, but technically there is a difference in how they are finished, which has been lost over time. 

More on this in a bit. 

Oeuf au plat vs Oeufs miroir

Oeuf au plat: /UFF-Oh-Plaw/

“Oeuf au plat,” aka “œuf sur le plat,” translates to English as (egg on a plate) or (egg on a dish).

The plural version would be “Des oeufs au plat.”

Oeuf miroir: /UFF-Meer-Wahr/

“Oeuf miroir “or “oeuf au miroir ” on menus and French recipes translates to English as “mirror eggs.”

Plural version would be “Des oeufs miroir”.

Although these two terms are used interchangeably, technically, there is a difference, but most home cooks don’t differentiate between the two. 

Mirror eggs or “oeuf miroir” is cooked to the point where the white membrane over the runny yolk is slightly more cooked than oeuf au plat, which gives it a shiny opalescent effect, like a mirror, hence the name mirror eggs. 

If you see a dish on a menu in France that says it’s served with an egg, and it’s not specified how it’s cooked, it’s usually assumed that the egg is sunny side up.

How to cook perfect sunny-side-up eggs the French way:

two unny side up eggs in a pan with handles

I consulted quite a few old and new French cookbooks and watched over a dozen videos by professional French chefs about cooking the perfect sunny-side-up egg.

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to crack an egg, but there was plenty of overlap between the different methods. 

  1. Melt a tab of butter or oil in a pan over medium to low heat.
  2. Break your eggs one by one into the pan without breaking the yolk. Or break them in a separate bowl and slide them into the frying pan.
  3. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes over low heat until the white of the egg is cooked but the yolk is warm and still runny. 
    • Some French chefs recommended basting the egg yolk by spooning melted butter from the pan several times. This will cook the membrane so that it is less slimy. 
    • If you want to cook the yolk and or the white membrane over the yolk a bit more, cover it with a lid for 20 or so seconds or place the pan in a broiler so that the white membrane over the yolk cooks slightly more and creates that shiny film over the yolk. 
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. (Some chefs salt and pepper the pan with butter before cooking the egg so that the top of the egg remains pristine white and yellow.)
  5. Serve immediately.

Cooking sunny-side-up eggs in the oven

Some chefs cook their eggs in a porcelain dish and finish in the oven. 

Below is a video in French where you can see how it’s done. 

Summing up sunny-side-up eggs 

You might wonder why fried eggs in France are only served sunny side up, and the answer is simple. It’s because most French cooks consider a cooked yolk to be overcooked and bland. 

You might be interested in reading: How to order rare, medium rare and well-done steak in French!

Bon appétit!

Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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