What exactly is a French bistro?
- Credit: 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.
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.
- 1 Complete France Advent Calendar Competition 2021
- 2 What Covid tests and paperwork do I need for travel to France?
- 3 A guide to the Brittany town of Morlaix
- 4 Stephen Clarke: Why I can’t celebrate Christmas like the French do
- 5 5 ways to integrate into your new community in France
- 6 Travel vloggers visit ‘elegant and charming’ Nice in the South of France
- 7 How to find a dream home in France without leaving your sofa
- 8 The Madame Blanc Mysteries: former Coronation Street star swaps Manchester for France
- 9 Bargain Properties: 15 French houses on the market for under €50,000
- 10 Who are the Kretz family members from Netflix’s The Parisian Agency?
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.