Sunday, 1 June 2014

Fast Food Russian Style - Invented 200 years ago

Perhaps not the best time to be talking about invading Russian troops, but I was just contemplating, or rather remembering, the origin of the word "bistro".  The informal dining concept of a bistro is obviously a French import, but it is not well known, with the exception of a few hundred million Russians of course, that the word bistro comes from the Russian adjective/adverb: "fast"/"quickly".

Following France's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon was repelled by advancing Russian army and eventually defeated in 1814.  The invading Russian troops arrived in Paris desperate to be fed and watered.   A group of Russian soldiers were dining at La Mère Catherine in Montmartre, they asked to be served "bistro" (быстро; Russian: "quickly"), banging their fists on the table chanting this repeatedly. Thereafter, "bistro" became a description of a restaurant where you could get food or drink quickly.

La Mère Catherine in Monmartre was founded in 1793, and is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. A plaque at its entrance provides the etymology of the word "bistro" describing the above occasion which occurred on 30 March 1814.

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