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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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bistro a term which dates back only to the late 19th century in French and to the early 20th century in English, is elastic in its meaning but always refers to an establishment where one can have something to eat, as well as drinks. Such an establishment would normally be small, and its menu would be likely to include simple dishes, perhaps of rustic character and not expensive.

If it is correct that the word comes from a Russian one meaning ‘quickly!’, this would fit in with the general idea that one can eat quickly at a bistro. However, the concept of simple inexpensive food served in a French atmosphere has wide appeal, and as a result the use of the term, whether as a description of eating places or of food, had, towards the end of the 20th century, begun to be annexed by more pretentious premises.