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At the Bistro, Jean Béraud

A bistro or bistrot ( /ˈbstr/), in its original Parisian form, is a small restaurant serving moderately priced, simple meals in a modest setting. The term has also become used by more pretentious restaurants. [1]


In a 2007 survey of national cuisines, a bistro is characterised as typically:

a neighborhood restaurant where one can partake of French home cooking, typically robust, earthy dishes such as cassoulet .... Bistros are not temples of haute cuisine, but places for affordable and simple country food. [2]

A Paris newspaper in 1892 referred to dishes served at a bistro, including escargots, veal with sauce ravigote, navarin of lamb, hachis Parmentier, eggs, sausages and hot roast chicken. [3]

The Oxford Companion to Food comments that the idea of simple inexpensive food served in a French atmosphere has wide appeal, so that by the end of the 20th century the term had "begun to be annexed by more pretentious premises". [4] [n 1]


Plaque about the legend of the origin of the word "Bistro" at La Mère Catherine, 6, place du Tertre, Paris. (English: On March 30, 1814, the Cossacks were the first to launch their very famous "bistro" here and, on the hill, the worthy ancestor of our bistros was born. 180th anniversary. Tourist Office of Old Montmartre)

The etymology is unclear. The Dictionnaire de l'Académie française dates the word from the 19th century term, bistro, "innkeeper", and suggests that it may be linked to the Poitevin word bistraud ("little servant"), or to bistrouille ("cheap liquor"). It recommends the spelling "bistrot" in preference to "bistro". [6]

The word was used to describe a drinking establishment, estaminet or small popular local restaurant [6] where alcoholic beverages were served. This is also what Emile Zola called an "assommoir" in his famous novel, L'Assommoir. [7]

In the early part of the 19th century, the term "gargote" signified a basic style of restaurant, [n 2] but the term "bistro" or "bistrot" is not recorded until towards the end of the century. An early appearance of the term in print is in Les deux gosses by Pierre Decourcelle, published in 1880. [n 3]

A popular folk etymology, not attested by the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, claims that the word originated among Russian troops who occupied Paris in 1814 following the Napoleonic Wars, who used to visit these tiny places to drink a coffee. They might have shouted bistro! bistro! ( Russian: быстро, lit.'quickly') when they wished to be served quickly. This etymology has been dismissed by linguists, because there is no attestation to the occurrence of the term until the late 19th century. [10]


The bistro became familiar in France throughout the 19th century. At this period, the Auvergnats (French people originating from the Auvergne region), often called the "bougnats", [11] transformed and developed the French bistro. Indeed, they started to offer meats with their choice of wines and spirits. [12]

In the 20th century, these places became very popular and widely represented the diversity of the Parisian life. [13] More than that, bistros became the hallmark of the French lifestyle and inspire a multitude of artists (photographs, writers, etc.).

See also

  • Brasserie, a slightly more formal French restaurant that may brew its own beer
  • Diner, an inexpensive restaurant in North America that is well-known for offering breakfast foods.
  • Parisian café, centers of French social and culinary life
  • Sidewalk cafe

Notes, references and sources


  1. ^ In the 21st century a Parisian bistro, Le Benoit, has a Michelin Guide star rating. [5]
  2. ^ Defined by the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française as a "Restaurant à bas prix, où l'on sert une nourriture médiocre" − a low-cost restaurant, serving mediocre food. [8]
  3. ^ "un 'bistrot' à côté de chez elle ou ils se réunissent tous." – "a 'bistrot' next to her house where they all meet". [9]


  1. ^ Hyman, pp. 77–78
  2. ^ Porcelli, p. 98
  3. ^ Anfossi, Marc. "Un bistro – fin de siècle", Le Petit Moniteur universel, 29 June 1892, p. 2, column 5
  4. ^ Hyman, pp. 77–78
  5. ^ Benoit, Michelin Guide. Retrieved 28 January 2023
  6. ^ a b "bistrot", Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Retrieved 28 January 2023
  7. ^ UPNBOOST. "Découvrez L'histoire et l'origine du bistrot – Couture". (in French). Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  8. ^ "gargote", Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. Retrieved 6 January 2023
  9. ^ Decourcelle, p. 2683
  10. ^ Gold, pp. 19–47; and Rey, p. 408
  11. ^ "La petite histoire des bistrots parisiens". Paris ZigZag | Insolite & Secret (in French). Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  12. ^ UPNBOOST. "Découvrez L'histoire et l'origine du bistrot – Couture". (in French). Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  13. ^ "La petite histoire des bistrots parisiens". Paris ZigZag | Insolite & Secret (in French). Retrieved 2023-02-07.


  • Decourcelle, Pierre (1880). Les deux gosses : grand roman. Paris: Rouff. OCLC  848184763.
  • Gold, David L. (2009). "The Alleged Russian Origin of French Bistro – Bistrot". In David L. Gold; Antonio Lillo Buades; Félix Rodríquez González (eds.). Studies in Etymology and Etiology. Alicante: Universidad de Alicante. ISBN  978-8-47-908517-9.
  • Hyman, Peter; Mary Hyman (1999). "bistro". In Alan Davidson (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN  978-0-19-211579-9.
  • Porcelli, Joey (2007). The Gyros Journey: Affordable Ethnic Eateries Along the Front Range. Golden: Fulcrum. OCLC  1200488715.
  • Rey, Alain (1998). Dictionnaire historique de la langue française. Paris: Dictionnaires Le Robert. ISBN  978-2-85-036563-8.

External links