What is a real Parisian bistro? If you’re a bit familiar with French people, you surely know that going out to eat good French cuisine and drinking nice wine is something like a ritual here, and Paris is full of great restaurants where you’ll be able to experience this.
But sometimes it can be kind of difficult not to get lost between all the kinds of places you can go out to: among all the restaurants, brasseries, bars, cafés, you’ve perhaps also encountered something called a “bistro”. This is a very typical kind of restaurant: here is everything which makes a real Parisian bistro.
Originally, bistros are a kind of small restaurant where people go to drink a few glasses of wine with friends after work in the end of the afternoon. They are a very typical in Paris and some say their name dates back to 1814: France was occupied by the Russians at that time, and the Russian soldiers who weren’t allowed to drink alcohol while on duty would shout ‘bistro, bistro’ (Russian for ‘quickly’) at the waiters in order to be served before their sergeant arrived. But this is probably an urban legend, and the reality is surely more complex!
The food and drinks
Usually people go in bistros for drinks, and especially for wines: the kind of wine you’ll find in real Parisian bistros is usually not “grand cru”(that’s how we call the best wines) but they are still very good (and often cheaper!). In a lot of bistros you will also be able to find food, usually traditional french cuisine, but the menu is smaller than in other restaurants and changes a lot from day to day depending on what the cook found on the market in the morning.
If you want to see proof that the cliché that French people are always angry and grumpy is totally wrong, go to a bistro! Real Parisian bistros are some of the most convivial and sociable places you’ll find, and they are maybe more liked for their ambiance than for what they serve! The atmosphere is often really warm, everybody knows the tenant’s name and a lot of people are regular visitors. Customers come here above all to relax and talk with friends, so rest assured that you will have a great time there! Moreover, these are very often family establishments going back several generations, so if you want to see something really traditional, go to a bistro!
Inside a bistro
The decoration is also one of the things you’ll notice in a real Parisian bistro. As they’ve often been there for a long time, you’ll often have a lot of wooden furniture and things reminding you of the old times. Sometimes the waiters will also wear a traditional waiter’s uniform, which can add a lot to the charm of the place.
Be careful however if you want to step into a bistro for cheap and traditional food today in Paris : some places called bistros are not exactly representative of what I’ve described just above! Indeed, a lot of very famous chefs have recently created their own version of ‘bistros’ where they will serve a different kind of food with a more relaxed atmosphere, but the price may still be high and, of course, these won’t be a real Parisian bistro!