Bistro, Brasserie, Troquet…: How to choose?

Lost between the Bistro, Brasserie, Troquet

Bistro, brasserie, café, troquet, boui-boui, bouchon and even more…so many options where you can eat and/or drink in France that it gets confusing! How to make your choice and what is the difference?

When you think about France, you may think about enjoying great food and drinking a glass of wine on a sunny terrace while observing people passing by as the French people do! The French Art de Vivre of enjoying food and drink and taking the time is deeply rooted in French culture, so as the many places that allow us to enjoy these delights of life!

The bistro: the French bar

Some History…

The Bistro, also written Bistrot in French, goes back to the beginning of the 19th century.

First, the bistro was only serving alcohol. It was also called un Assomoir (the watering hole), as in the Emile Zola novel. An establishment where drinkers would forget their worries with cheap wine, spirit or absinthe.

A bit later, natives of the Auvergne region (Auvergnats), started serving hams and cured meat to go with the wine, and they also began to accept women into their bistro!!! It might be why the popular classic feminist singer, Brassens, dedicated them a song: Chanson pour l’Auvergnat!

There are several theories of the exact origins of the name bistro as explains Luc Bilh-Villette in his essay (in French) « Des tavernes aux bistrots, une histoire des cafés ».

A popular theory is that the word bistro could come from the Russian word bistro which means fast. The Russian soldiers settled in France in 1814 after the battle of Paris which marked the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Empire. Russian soldiers were pressing the waiters serving too slowly, according to them, by repeating the term bistro, bistro.

French bistro
Photo by Charles Loyer


When to go to a bistro?

The bistro usually only serves food during the French eating hours, meaning from 12-14h and 19h-22h and offers a short food menu. It tends to be of a smaller size than restaurants or Brasseries.

Dishes are simple and traditional, such as the Blanquette de Veau. Check out my mum’s recipe for this famous French dish. They are also often seasonal and are changed regularly. The decoration is traditional, and the place quite popular.

However, lately, bistros have started to become more fancy and sophisticated in the main cities of France. It now becomes difficult to find the traditional French bistro in the major cities, but they are still very common in the French smaller towns and countryside.


Readers have also liked this article: What to expect at a French dinner party?

The French Brasserie


Are they still breweries? 

Brasserie means brewery in English.

Nowadays a Brasserie in France can be either a type of restaurant, what we are discussing here, or an establishment brewing beer. Only a small number of establishments still do both, and they are often not in the city centres.

Alsatian Brasserie
Photo by Chantal Garnier


The Alsatian Brasseries

Many brasseries are originally from the region of Alsace. Back in 1870, when France lost the territory of Alsace against the Prussian Empire, many rich Alsatian wishing to remain French, moved to France, and mainly Paris, and opened Alsatian breweries in France.

It is, therefore, no secret why most French brasseries serve Choucroute, a very traditional dish with sour cabbage and pork from Alsace, and also Germany or Austria where it is called Sauerkraut.

Some of the Alsatian Brasseries are still very traditional and kept a very authentic feeling. Being from Lyon, I can recommend Brasserie George, a very famous Brasserie that opened in 1836 and kept its splendour! If you go to Lyon or live in Lyon, I strongly recommend you book a table to discover the place and try the simple, traditional French and Alsatian dishes!

Brasserie day-long service
Photo by Tannaz


All-day service

Brasseries offer all-day service in opposition to normal restaurants and bistros. Brasseries also often offer a shell-fish and oyster buffet all year long!

The food is mostly traditional but depending on the brasserie it can also be more gastronomic and fancy.

The menu tends to remain the same all year long and does not adapt to seasons as the bistros would do. This is, of course, not a set rule but a tendency.

So if you fancy a Choucroute and a beer at 3 pm, the traditional brasserie is the place to go!

Photo by QuartierLatin1968

The French Café

Is it any different?

Is there really such a thing as a French café? Are they any different from the other Southern European countries? To be honest I’m not sure.

However, French people do love to stay and enjoy their coffee for a long time. It is not about drinking coffee; it is more about spending quality time with friends or even alone! It is totally OK in most cafés to stay 2 hours and order a few 1,50€ coffees. Maybe not in busy touristy Paris, but in other neighbourhoods and definitely most of France!

The traditional French café will not have as many options as is the case in Anglo-Saxon countries, where coffee becomes an actual recipe, and the coffee menu is as long as a wine list! So it is not so easy to find a latte macchiato or a mochaccino. When a French person talks about a café, it is usually a short coffee, not as short as the real Italian espresso, but quite strong and often bitter.

What can you eat at a French café?

You will find mainly non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in a French café. There can be a small menu with nibbles, salad or simple food such as croque-monsieur, quiche and of course desserts.

Cafés usually close earlier than normal restaurants and bars as they don’t serve alcohol and actual dinner food.

French café
Photo by Camille Brodard

Troquet, PMU, Bouchon Lyonnais

There are many other types of establishments serving food and/or drinks in France that, the Brasserie, Bistro or restaurants. Luc Bilh-Villette book « Des tavernes aux bistrots, une histoire des cafés » gives a list of more than 30 names!

Depending on the regions in France the names may vary.

A troquet can be a café or a bistrot.

A PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain) is widely present in France. It is a bar, very popular, where people can bet for horse races. PMU (Pari Mutuel Urbain) is in fact the company operating the horse races and managing the bets, in specific local bars called PMU.

The Bouchon Lyonnais is a bistro from Lyon, where typical food from Lyon is served. This is a whole type in itself and will deserve a specific post soon!

The best way for you to discover this variety of places spreading the different facets of French Art de Vivre is to explore: Bistro, Brasserie, troquet, boui-boui, paillotte, guinguette, auberge… !

Personally, I love the bistro, and I have my local bistro where I love meeting my friends! What about you? Are you more Brasserie, Bistro or Café?


    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Hello Kezzie,
      Many thanks for your comments and taking the time to read some of my posts! Always nice to know readers are enjoying our content, right?

  • Mirentxu

    Très bel article, très riche. Pour moi qui suis prof d’espagnol et qui évoque toujours que la convivialité et l’offre pléthorique des hispanophones à l’heure manger, ça m’a permis de prendre conscience qu’on est bien placé aussi en France à ce niveau là. Merci pour ce beau panorama.

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Merci Miren pour ton retour!
      Oui, c’est également très varié en France. Et je n’ai abordé que les lieux les plus répandus. Les terminologies varient également en fonction des régions.

  • Lily | imperfect idealist

    Hi Guillemette, really interesting breakdown of the different types of French eateries! Love the history you include with the post. And despite living in France before, I’d never heard of a troquet. Happy to learn something new 🙂

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Hi Lily,
      Thank you for reading my post and taking the time to respond! Troquet is an old term, short for Mastroquet, an old French word that we don’t use so much anymore. Troquet is a bit more common but maybe not used everywhere in France (I’m from Lyon). A troquet is a local popular bistro, not trendy at all. I do like to include some historical background when I can, I’m glad you appreciated it!

  • Lara Tabatabai

    Hi Guiga, I love your piece. We love eating out. We really like brasseries because they serve local food of good quality at an affordable price in a simple atmosphere. Here is Les Sables d’Olonne, we are by the sea and there is one type of place to eat which stands out. In “La Guittière”, in Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, which is a few miles from here, they grow oysters and you can eat them fresh from the sea. You sit right by the water where they grow. You select the size that you want and they serve it with bread and a glass of wine. Very simple but it is lovely! If you like that!

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Mmmmm… It sounds so nice! And I love oysters! Nothing better than a nice seaside, fresh oysters and a dry crisp white wine! I totally agree with you on this! Thanks for sharing!

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Merci Laurent! Je ne connais pas les Izakaya, mais j’adore la cuisine japonaise au delà des sushis. A découvrir le jour où je visiterai le Japon! Ce pays est dans mon top 3 des pays que je souhaite découvrir actuellement!

  • Aude

    As a french living in Denmark, i would say that we don’t think about what is what, we just know! But it’s nice to see a clear article about their differences.

    • Mademoiselle Guiga

      Thank you Aude! That’s very true, we don’t really think about it, we just know by practice! One recurring question and shock for foreigners in France are the opening/serving hours, and there is a difference between the Bistrot and Brasserie that we rarely think about.

  • Pascale

    Sooo good to read your post ! I’m French, but expat, quite far away from France (11 000 km, Mauritius Island). Funny to realise how it’s easy for us, french ones, to know where to go depending on what we want. Go article for expat in France !

  • Virgo

    As a French person, this all felt very straighforward to me but I see now how it can be utterly confusing, haha. Great article, documented and informative. Thanks a lot!

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