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Faced with hygienist diktats and vegans, the revenge of good food

By  laurence Haloche

SURVEY - From the Lyon cork to the Lille estaminet, these houses record a typically French way of life. They embody the joviality of a France that pats itself on the shoulder, speaks loud and clear, takes the time to put the world to rights while toasting.

Parades to a winter that promises to be still tarnished by the health crisis, humor and the pleasures of the table do us a lot of good. Just listen to this "riparieur" de  Laurent Gerra   talk about his food, or watch Raymond Devos' sketch where he ends up chewing his words and articulating his dishes to realize that spirit and good food have a common power: they liberate. They debride the zygomatics, deride the pursed mouths, put in a joyful mood men and women who know how to laugh out loud like delighting, without guilt, in a calf's sweetbread with charcutière sauce or a canut's brain. Friend, raise your glass!



Bon vivants form a clan, they will recognize each other.  Pierre Desproges   said so, in his own way, in the magazine Cuisine et vins de France where he wrote several gastronomic chronicles between 1984 and 1985: “I've always been wary of people who didn't like the pleasures of the table. Because finally, you should know it, and not only in the glue, the lack of gastronomic curiosity and culinary joviality very often go hand in hand, and not only buttocks, with a grumpy, short-tempered, surly and clumsy character. .” His items were paid for…  in bottles of wine .

The memory of Paris

Very focused on the culinary thing although he was a poor cook, the comedian liked to hit the bell. A Rabelaisian appetite displayed by bistro lovers who appreciate meeting up, without manners or manners, at a neighborhood table, well installed within its walls and its modest square meters.

If family brands are increasingly rare, they still exist, such as  Chez Nénesse , in the Marais, in Paris, where the father is in the kitchen, the mother behind the bar and the son at the service. The nostalgic charm of these authentic places is due to the way you are welcomed, recognized, a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, traditional French cuisine that can be brought up to date, but without falling into fashionable and fussy trends. This bistro spirit, the members of the association Les Amis des bistros have been faithful to it since 1990.

Once a month, on Tuesday, they sit down in good company and casually: "This club was born on the initiative of 17 members of several other clubs, more of high gastronomy, who wanted to meet in nice places where you can have lunch in shirtsleeves, without being in representation, explains its president Jean-Marc Simon. We are here for the pleasure of being together around good dishes, wines that are not great vintages, but have a little country nobility: a Mâcon in white, a Saint-Joseph in red. The bistros of Paris are the image of a popular France which is neither populist nor vulgar. »

The pleasure we take is a factor in the preservation of health and well-being

From the Lyon cork to the Lille estaminet, these houses record a typically French way of life. They embody the joviality of a France that pats itself on the shoulder, speaks loud and clear, takes the time to put the world to rights while toasting. You can't find that anywhere else, even in the New York of  Woody Allen ! Foreign tourists, especially Americans who know L'Ami Louis and La Fontaine de Mars where  President Obama   dined, dream of having in their little papers the addresses where Parisians invite themselves among friends. It will be Chez Marcel, Joséphine, Bobosse, at L'Abordage , at l'Assiette,   at Bistrot Flaubert , at Bon Georges, at Paul Bert, at Café Max, at Comptoir du Relais or at Griffonnier… Everyone has their canteen. Bistros so French, even if the origin of the word has long been attributed to the Russians.


“We thought for a long time that it came from a bistro, which means “quickly” in Russian, recalls the gastroenterologist Jean Vitaux, author of the Book of gastronomy, published in 2020 by Robert Laffont. During the Russian occupation of Paris in 1814, thirsty Cossacks shouted “bistro” in front of wine merchants, as they were forbidden to dismount. But this etymology is abandoned today, because the word only appeared in 1884 in the Souvenirs de la Petite et de la Grande Roquette by Abbé Moreau. Bistrot could come from Poitevin bistraud, servant helping the wine merchant, bistingot, cabaret or place frequented by actors, bastringue or even, in the North, bistouille. Or an infamous mixture of coffee and alcohol served at the counter… Because there is no bistro worthy of the name without a bar, a bar that “conduces friendship”.

Main courses

In terms of decoration, the chromos summon wooden tables that put you elbow-to-elbow, paper or cotton tablecloths whose red and white tiles fade when washed, Thonet chairs or leatherette benches... On the floor , old tiles cement the past steps and respond to the sepia walls weathered by the years. In the large smoked mirrors, on the other hand, the swirls of Gitane are no longer reflected, clouding the heated conversations in the films of Claude Sautet . A France where you could still laugh at everything… and eat everything without being covered in tar and feathers by the defenders of animal welfare. Brilliance of the "digestive tract" among the elected ecologists of the town halls of  Strasbourg , Villeurbanne, Grenoble and Lyon who come from  to ban foie gras from their official receptions  and half-heartedly encourage restaurateurs to remove this traditional seasonal dish from their menus. And tomorrow? Will they ban  oysters … swallowed alive?


Contrary to a liberticidal morality, to the radicalism of vegans, bistro cuisine nourishes the old taste of tasty and generous main courses, inherited from bourgeois or local cuisine made with simple, but quality, well-worked products: Aubrac beef, race poultry, fresh fish, bread that smells of grain… Bulgur eaters and peckers of  chia   refrain. No   tofu , de  vegetable steak   in the classic bistros which refer to childhood and grandmothers' recipes. mothers. Tender and comforting memories fueled by ancestral, initiatory dishes, whose diversity and regional identity shun food standardization.

Since the 1990s, fooding has made the bistro evolve towards bistronomy with a real change that has its eye on both gastronomy and brewing.


On the slate, we read, written in white chalk: celery remoulade, terrine, herring, potatoes in oil, egg mayo, fricassee of mushrooms, mashed sausage, andouillette, lentil sausage, coq au vin…_cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ Cheeses   are often selected from the boss' region.  Rum baba , millefeuille and chocolate mousse are among the desserts. We enjoy scrumptious dishes, stews which for the owner or the cook have the advantage of being able to be prepared in advance. We do not shy away from rustic products, low cuts and offal enhanced by preparation in the great household tradition... Neither fat, which is "a vehicle of taste", nor cream, nor meat, nor drinkable wines are yet prohibited. .


Pleasures that we would be wrong to deprive ourselves of, provided that we appreciate them with the necessary moderation, as Dr. Jean Vitaux advises: “Dietary theories have varied a lot over time. Currently, we are especially wary of excess sugar, salt and certain industrial fats like  palm oil , and therefore industrial ready meals. These reproaches cannot be applied to the cuisine of the bistros, which is homemade. It is undoubtedly much more damaging to health to eat regularly in fast food than to sit at a table in front of good quality products. The pleasure we take in it is undoubtedly a factor in the preservation of health and well-being. As long as the price of the meal remains reasonable - 17 euros is the average ticket spent by the French per person in the restaurant.

A younger clientele

“Originally, bistro cuisine was reserved for the working class, specifies  Nathalie Helal , who has just published Le Goût de Paris… et de la region Île-de-France (Hachette) . The meal was not expensive, there was often a single dish, everything was included even the pitcher of wine. Since the 1990s, fooding has made the bistro evolve towards bistronomy with a real change that has its sights set on both gastronomy and the brasserie.”


If the die-hards defend a home-style bistro cuisine, without a menu, the evolution of the menus is attracting a wider, younger clientele, with revisited classics and even creations on the margins. To stay within the codes, it is imperative that the welcome, the quality, the conviviality and the moderation of the additions persist.

Small theaters where a life of flavors, smells, looks, moments out of time is orchestrated, the bistros speak of hedonism, good humor. They are part of the intangible heritage of the French. Frequenting them is the testimony of an attachment to a cockardious art of living which cultivates a shared pleasure of culinary joviality and hospitality. To be preserved, therefore.


Laurence Halloche

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