3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to France Magazines today click here

What exactly is a French bistro?

PUBLISHED: 10:40 23 May 2018 | UPDATED: 13:25 29 May 2018

Dine in a bistro in France for an authentic French experience ©Rrainbow - Thinkstockphotos

Dine in a bistro in France for an authentic French experience ©Rrainbow - Thinkstockphotos

Archant

You’ve heard the term and probably have already eaten in a French bistro, but what makes a bistro in France so special?

Sometimes spelt bistrot, this establishment resembles more a café than a restaurant. Bistros are usually small and modest with a handful of tables and chairs at the bar counter. They serve mostly drinks but also small, traditional dishes to eat.

It appears bistros were first opened by workers from the Auvergne region who fled poverty and unemployment in their home to work in factories in Paris. They opened modest shops which served drinks and affordable food, in stark contrast with the grander cafés in the French capital in the mid-19th century. These establishments attracted mostly working class clients; Émile Zola painted a rather terrible picture of them in his novels but they were, in truth, an important place for workers to socialise and relax.

__________________________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

27 things you need to know about French food etiquette

11 of the most affordable Michelin-starred restaurants in France

__________________________________________________________________________

Traditional bistros have a large zinc bar (le zinc soon became slang for a bar); they’ll have an extensive coffee and drinks menu and a relatively succinct food offering.

The menu changes daily, often according to what was found and bought at the market so it’ll be scribbled on a blackboard – the waiter is likely to show you l’ardoise before ordering. You’ll find traditional French dishes such as boeuf bourguignon, oeufs-mayo, blanquette de veau, followed by desserts such as tarte Tatin or an île flottante. Generally, the wines are affordable and not necessarily grands crus, rather personal favourites of the chef or small but no less interesting appellations.

__________________________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Have you tried these traditional French sweets?

Guide to red wines from France

__________________________________________________________________________

Bistros are generally family businesses passed down generations, with the owner – known affectionately as le patron or la patronne – taking an active part in the everyday running of things either in the kitchen or behind the bar. Bistros are laid-back, cosy places where people come to relax after a long day and enjoy a good, hearty meal with friends.

The word ‘bistro’ led to the recent trend of bistronomie where chefs have freed themselves from the constraints of gastronomic restaurants and have decided to open more modest bistro restaurants serving good quality but simpler food.

More from Language and Culture

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Discover the history behind Alexander Dumas’s tale of derring-do, the ultimate swashbuckling adventure.

Read more
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Born out of revolution, the French national flag is the ultimate symbol of liberté, egalité and fraternité

Read more
French culture
Thursday, August 16, 2018

The sad loss of two of France’s most celebrated chefs has made 2018 an emotional year for the country’s culinary world.

Read more
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

You don’t need to break the bank to eat at a French Michelin-starred restaurant, as these 11 restaurants prove

Read more
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Discover the history behind Alexander Dumas’s tale of derring-do, the ultimate swashbuckling adventure.

Read more
Friday, November 24, 2017

Director and actress Fiona Gordon takes us behind the scenes of her latest comedy film Lost in Paris which is released in UK cinemas on 24 November

Read more
Yesterday, 11:01

It’s back to school time. How many French words do you know relating to school and education?

Read more
Monday, July 30, 2018

Do you know the English meanings of some common French idioms? Take our quiz and find out!

Read more
Thursday, August 16, 2018

The sad loss of two of France’s most celebrated chefs has made 2018 an emotional year for the country’s culinary world.

Read more
Monday, July 30, 2018

Looking for some cocktail ingredients to jazz up that summer barbecue and impress your guests? Learn all about the origins of three unusual French alcoholic drinks

Read more
Normandy
Subscribe today

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now