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"At the Bistro," Jean Beraud

A bistro, sometimes spelled bistrot, is, in its original Parisianmarker incarnation, a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve. Slow-cooked foods like braised meats are typical. Bistro patrons do not necessarily expect professional service or printed menus.

Bistros likely developed out of the basement kitchens of Parisian apartments where tenants paid for both room and board. Landlords could supplement their income by opening their kitchen to the paying public. Menus were built around foods that were simple, could be prepared in quantity and would keep over time. Wine and coffee were also served. The limited space for diners in these cramped corners prompted the tradition of adding table service to the footpath. As the idea caught hold, architecture and menus both became more specific.

The word bistro may derive from the Russian быстро (bystro) which means quickly. According to an urban legend, it entered the French language during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815. Russian cossacks who wanted to be served quickly would shout "bystro." However, this etymology is not accepted by several French linguists as there is, surprisingly, no occurence of this word until the end of the XIX° century. .

Another version is that it is an abbreviation of bistrouille, a French term for brandy mixed with coffee. Moreover, wine is becoming a staple beverage of Bistros, drunk by commuters returning home and groups going out for the evening as their "starting point"


  1. Le Grand Robert de la langue française, 8 vol., 2001, p.1445
  2. Alain Rey, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, 2 vol., 1995, p. 226.
  3. Petit Larousse dictionary
  4. Le Grand Robert de la langue française, 8 vol., 2001, p.1445
  5. Cheers - The BISTRO Generation - Apr 98

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