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Bistro/Trattoria Cuisine (CU222): Home

Welcome to the LibGuide for CU222 Bistro/Trattoria Cuisine!

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.

 Image Renoir, Pierre Auguste. Luncheon of the Boating Party. 1881  

Bistro   (bis-troh)

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

Image: Cafe Terrace at Night

Trattoria   (trat-to-ria)

Trattoria? Osteria? What's the Difference?
When you head to Italy, you will find lots of different eating options. There's the ristorante, thetrattoria, and osteria - but that's just the beginning. If you look at the signs above storefronts you'll also see tavola calda, mescita, hostaria, bottiglieria, and even the hard to pronounce, fiaschetteria. But what do they all mean? And is there really a difference between a trattoria and an osteria? 
Good question.
Long ago there were very distinct differences between say a ristorante, a formal eating establishment, and a trattoria, an informal spot that focuses on home-style cooking. These days, however, many trattorie have morphed into ristoranti, and vice versa. Don't let this frustrate you, though. It's still easy to spot the degree of difference from the moment you walk into an eatery or check the menu posted outside. In the meantime, here's a primer on the differences among all your eating options.
Ristorante: A restaurant. Here you'll find the ambiance a bit formal or at least the decor is thought out and cohesive. Tables are usually dressed in linen; tableware and china all match. Waiters are professional and knowledgeable. The menu is usually extensive and the food is often inventive (in other words, you may not find the traditional poor-man's dish of trippa). Expect to pay for all this service and forethought.
Trattoria: A small, family-run eatery that often serves a few choice regional dishes (think carbonarain Rome; ribollita in Florence; pesto in Genoa), with many of the recipes past down from generation to generation. Mom or grandma usually cooks. Dad handles the cash register. The kids wait tables. Decor can range from neat and comfortable to a real "hole in the wall." Prices are usually much less than a ristorante.
Osteria: Back in the day, an osteria, or inn, was a local gathering spot where the old men played cards and drank local wine from the innkeeper's oak barrels. It was almost like what we'd call a bar. Some served food but that wasn't the main focus. Today, however, an osteria is an eating establishment very similar to a trattoria in that they serve simple, home-cooked meals. Some have a "rustic" ambiance to them.
Hostaria and Taverna: Once bars or taverns, these establishments have slowly transformed into osterieand trattorie. They can also have a bohemian or rustic feel to them.
Mescita, Fiaschetteria, Enoteca, Bottiglieria: All wine shops, wine bars or taverns. These days, most sell a variety of panini (small sandwiches), light nibbles such as olives and cheese, as well as a few pasta and meat dishes.
Tavola Calda: Translated it means "hot table." We'd know them as quick-service fast-food places or a cafeteria. They are a great spot to get an inexpensive, home-cooked meal.
Rosticceria and Girarrosto: Quick-service fast-food establishment that mainly sells high-quality, fire-roasted chicken and other fowl. Eat in or take out.

Text via ​Chow Italy posted by Christina Baglivi Tinglof

Image: Dance in the Trattoria

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Chef Madonna L. Berry

Photo Credit: The main course: Newbury students’ training is diners’ delight, Mat Schaffer Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Madonna L. Berry, Assistant Professor 
Culinary Institute of America, A.O.S. 
Harris-Stowe State College, B.A. 
University of Massachusetts, M.A. 

Office Hours:
    Fall, 2016
    Monday Aug. 29-Tues. Oct. 18
    Tuesday Noon-12:30pm
    Tuesday 2:30pm-4:00pm
    Thursday Noon-12:30pm
    Thursday 2:30pm-4:00pm
    Wed. Oct. 19-Wed. Dec. 7
    Monday 2:15pm-3:45pm
    Tuesday 2:30pm-3:30pm
    Wednesday 2:15pm-3:45pm 
    Or by appointment
Office Location: CH003 
Telephone Number: 617-730-7085
Class Day/Time: Sat. 8:00-4:00
Class Location: K1
Prerequisites: CU200.

Food Site Genesis

Recommended Databases and Periodicals

The following databases focus specifically on the culinary arts. from within each you amy search for such subject terms as Italian American food or French cuisine in America.

Access library resources from off-campus with your Student I.D. number. Your Student I.D. number is your library card number. If you are on campus, just click any database below for access. 

The following periodicals focusing on the culinary arts are held by the Newbury Library in paper format:

  • Art Culinaire
  • Bon Appetit
  • Cooking for Profit
  • Cook's
  • Food Arts and Restaurant Fore Front
  • Food Technology
  • Food & Wine
  • Gastronomica: Journal of Food and Culture
  • Gourmet Magazine of Good Living      (March 2008 issue on French Bistro Cooking, January 2009 issue on Italian-American Cooking)
  • Saveur
  • Wine Journal
  • Wine Spectator

Free Video Sites on the Web With Cooking Related Content



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Susan Lydon
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