This course will introduce students to traditional French bistro and Italian trattoria cuisine, with a particular focus on regional specialties. Important pantry ingredients from both cuisines are highlighted. The format of the course will simulate a work environment in which students draw on prior course skills and demonstrate an understanding of these menus and their preparation.
The original French incarnation of bistros is that they feature cuisine de grand-mère, or grandmother's cooking. Bistro foods and wines are robust, rustic, and plentiful. Bistros serve simple dishes, presented simply and priced inexpensively, as would be expected in neighborhood restaurants that cater to nearby residents. Bistros in France still preserve their social center feeling.
No one is certain where the name “bistro” came from. There are several apocryphal tales to explain it, but none is convincing. One theory says that Russians occupying Paris in 1815 shouted “bistrot,” meaning faster, while they waited for food, and the French adopted the term. The only problem with that idea is that “bistro” did not enter written French until the 1880s, and the variant “bistrot” did not enter the language until the 1890s.
Others suggest that the name comes from bistrouille, which refers to eau-de-vie, or from the verb bistrouiller, which means to make a sort of cobbled-together “wine” from alcohol, water, and other ingredients. Most lexicographers do not accept any of these explanations.
Ignoring the source of the name, another idea is that bistros were originally café-charbons, or shops that sold coal and firewood. They were places where locals could meet for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. After a time, owners began to serve family-style dishes to their guests, according to the legend.
Irrespective of the origins of the name, early in the twentieth century the concept of neighborhood restaurants serving plain but good foods and wines was well established in France. The spirit of French bistro life is generosity, simplicity, and earthy lustiness. Portions are liberal and are often served in large bowls or on platters family-style for all at the table to help themselves. Menus change infrequently in French bistros, and the plat du jour is often the same thing on corresponding days each week.
In the United States there was not that same sort of cultural push to create the bistro in the French style. The diversity that immigrants brought pushed casual dining in a completely different direction. The American parallels to the idea of the French bistro have two major incarnations of the style in the United States—one rather sophisticated and one much more homey.
The urban bistro is less a social center than a casual restaurant emphasizing sophisticated food and drink. Urban bistros often feature fancier service ware and presentations than their French namesakes, and they have a more variable menu. Menus in the upscale bistros generally change to suit the seasons, and specials are usually changed more frequently. Offerings reflect adventuresome preparations using a wide variety of raw materials and techniques.
The other variation is home-style restaurants that would never be called bistros. Their hallmark is that they offer inexpensive food in casual settings. They include a wide range of restaurant concepts, from country operations in rural areas with a homey feel to places featuring foreign cuisines. Typically, service is very informal, portions are large, and prices are low.
Like “trattoria” and “pub,” “bistro” has become as much a marketing term as a designation of a type of restaurant. It became fashionable in the 1980s to so name restaurants for the social cachet to be gained.
See also Restaurants; Taverns.
Mariani, John. America Eats Out: An Illustrated History of Restaurants, Taverns, Coffee Shops, Speakeasies, and Other Establishments that Have Fed Us for 350 Years. Morrow, New York, 1991.Find this resource:
Wells, Patricia. Bistro Cooking. Workman, New York, 1989. Well-researched and comprehensive source of anecdotal information and recipes.Find this resource:
Text via Bob Pastorio in the The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America
Madonna L. Berry, Assistant Professor
Culinary Institute of America, A.O.S.
Harris-Stowe State College, B.A.
University of Massachusetts, M.A.
Monday Aug. 29-Tues. Oct. 18
Wed. Oct. 19-Wed. Dec. 7
Or by appointment
Office Location: CH003
Telephone Number: 617-730-7085
Class Day/Time: Sat. 8:00-4:00
Class Location: K1