The relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere associated with Parisian bistros reflects their origins. Most of the first bistros started out as cafe-charbons - shops that sold coal and firewood for heating, where neighbors could meet for a glass of wine or cup of coffee. When the owners of these simple wine bars began to offer a few modest dishes served family style to their guests, the bistro tradition was born. These first bistros were places for working people to eat quickly around Les Halles, the historic market distric of Paris. By the mid-1800s, neighborhood bistros had popped up in almost every district of the city. Along with the laboreers came artist and intellectuals, atracted by delicious, inexpensive meals.
For Parisians who lived in apartments with limited or non-existent kitchens, the closest thing to a home-cooked meal could be found at neighborhood bistros. And because the same patrons returned night after night, these restaurants offered more than old-fashioned country cuisine they were also places where Parisians could escape the anonymity of the big city. In France, bistro cuisine is often called cuisine de grand-mere. The simple salads and steaks, braised stews and meats, and comforting, homespun desserts served in most bistros are the kinds of dishes you would expect to be served by a French grandmother.
Bistro Menu Glossary
Amuse bouche: A little "treat for the mouth" - usually a surprise from the chef.
Apertif: Before-dinner drink.
Aioli: Garlic mayonnaise - standard condiment with pomme frites (french fries)
Boeuf bourgignon: Beef stew with red wine, onion, bacon, and mushrooms.
Cassoulet: A casseorle of white beans with various meats such as sausage, duck, pork, lamb, and goose.
Charcuterie: Cold cuts, sausages, terrine, pates.
Clafoutis: Traditional tart made with batter and fruit, such as sweet cherries.
Fromage: Cheese. In France, cheese is served as a separate course in a meal
Fruits de Mer: Seafood
Hors D'Oeuvre: Appetizer or first course.
Pate: Spiced ground meat baked in a mold, served hot or cold.
Petit Fours: Tiny cakes and pastires.
Plat: Entree. The "plat du jour" is the day's Special.
Pomme Frites: French fries.
Potage: Soup, usually pureed.
Saucisson: A dried sausage.