French gastronomy is celebrated as one of the finest culinary traditions in the world and is probably the most coveted one. Indeed, the authenticity, the audacity and the quality of French chefs’ unique recipes make France a destination of sensory delight. France’s cuisine heritage is unmissable on the global culinary landscape, from refined pastries and exquisite wines to rich cheeses and delicious sauces. However, while many may associate French cuisine with upscale Michelin-starred restaurants, another culinary institution better embodies the essence of the French Art de vivre: the brasseries.
What do brasseries represent for France?
What makes the French brasserie so unique?
Brasseries are traditional French establishments that have been integral to the country's culinary culture for centuries. These restaurants are known for their convivial atmosphere, classic décor and menus that showcase the best of authentic French cuisine and bring us back to what is essential to savour a meal: great food, wine and friends! Brasseries are also called cafés and bistros in France.
One of the distinguishing features of a bistro is its nice and joyful ambience. These venues often exude a lively and bustling atmosphere, often accompanied by the clinking of glasses and lively conversation. Furnishings often exemplify a combination of elegance and rustic charm, including signs of the past since those establishments are often old, dark wood panelling and comfortable seating. This warm and welcoming ambience makes for an unforgettable typical French dining experience. A brasserie is a perfect place to dine out with friends and create good memories, as it is simple and festive.
As for the menu, the brasserie offers a variety of traditional French dishes to suit all tastes. From classics like Steak `Frites or Bavette frites, Escargots au beurre persillé, Onion soup and Boeuf Bourguignon to local specialties like Choucroute in Alsace, Cassoulet in the Southwest, Moules au Roquefort in Charente-Maritime, Bouillabaisse in the South, and many others, the brasseries encapsulate France's diverse and rich culinary heritage. The same can be said about the French sweet delicacies served as dessert in brasseries: fondant au chocolat, île flottante, choux à la crème with a homemade chocolate sauce, tarte Tatin, Paris-brest…
Those restaurants are also known for their extensive seafood and drink options. In brasseries, you can savour fresh oysters, mussels and fish dishes being staples on their menus. Bistros also display an impressive range of drinks. They usually have a special menu dedicated to drinks which showcases a large French wine list from Rosé and Champagne to intense Bordeaux and dry white wines. Whether you're a wine connoisseur or just want to enjoy a glass of table wine, the bistro bartender is here to help you find the perfect meal pairing.
How did the tradition of the French brasserie started?
The word “brasserie” comes from the term “brasser la bière” (“brewing beer” in English), which reveals that a brasserie was originally a place that only served beer. Some brasseries have even continued this tradition and brew their own beers. However, the brasserie has quickly also become a place to eat. The taverns and inns could be considered the ancestors of today’s brasseries, places where you can eat heartily, simply in a friendly atmosphere and where the beverages are essential.
In Paris, we often spoke of «brasseries alsaciennes» because many of those establishments were opened by Alsatians after the Franco-German War of 1870. Indeed, It was then that many Alsatian families who wanted to remain French and not fall under Prussian rule settled in Paris to open businesses.
Although, the French brasserie as we know it today really flourished in the 20th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, brasseries turned into places of exchange and intellectual excitement. Celebrities like Paul Verlaine, Jules Verne, the Lumière brothers, Léon Blum, Émile Zola and Rodin liked to go there.
French brasseries nowadays
Parisian bistros are still famous and very popular meeting places, especially in big cities.
Brasseries represent a tradition in the Parisian capital that attracts crowds. Tourists as well as locals gather there to taste local specialties and enjoy French cuisine with friends. This diversity contributes to the success of the brasserie by making it a charming place for any kind of rendez-vous. Be aware that while its prices vary from place to place, it is rare to see one too expensive, this accessibility is part of the essence of the brasserie: simplicity and generosity.
Nowadays, you can savor a meal in the oldest Parisian brasserie, Brasserie Mollard, created in 1867, classified as a historical monument and enjoy its typically French menu and its Art déco furnishing.
Where to find good brasseries?
There are famous brasseries all over France. When visiting a French city, you should look for a typical brasserie offering authentic French cuisine and dishes specific to its peculiar region. Do not hesitate to seek advice from the waiter to help you choose your course and the best wine to pair it with. Here are some brasseries we recommend you to try when traveling in France:
- La Coupole, Paris
- Brasserie Barbès, Paris
- La Lorraine, Paris
- L’Alsace, Paris
- Royal Opéra, Paris
- Brasserie Lipp, Paris
- Terminus Nord, Paris
- Bouillon Julien, Paris
- Bouillon Chartier, Paris
- Bouillon Pigalle, Paris
- Le Grand Colbert, Paris
- Aux Trois Maries, Lyon
- Brasserie Maillard, Bordeaux
- Excelsior, Reims
- Les Fenêtres, Marseille
- Auberge au Zahnacker, Alsace
Whether you're a passionate foodie or a curious traveller looking to discover the flavours of France, the brasseries are an absolute must.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the French Art de Vivre, tasting what is most emblematic of French gastronomy is ideal. Going to a typical brasserie can provide you with an authentic experience, combining delicious food, a convivial atmosphere, and a taste of French culture. So don’t hesitate to go to a brasserie next time you come to France and let yourself be charmed by the French “bistronomique” cuisine!