French figures: The famous bistro sandwich with mysterious origins

One of France's most famous sandwiches originated - so the story goes - when a Paris café ran out of baguettes.

French figures: The famous bistro sandwich with mysterious origins
Photo: Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Most countries have their own version of a grilled cheese sandwich.

In France, traditional French bistros have served the croque monsieur – which means 'bite Sir' – for decades.

It originated, the saying goes, in a Paris café in early 1910s when the owner ran out of baguettes.

According to the tale, the owner of Bel Âge improvised with what in France is known as pain mie – the bread sold in shops, not boulangeries, sliced and wrapped in plastic.

He smeared butter on the slices of bread, filled them with cheese and ham and popped them into the oven to make it all crusty.


Those who have tasted a croque monsieur will know the result was delicious. When the impressed customers asked what was the secret of the sandwich, the owner answered: “Du monsieur”  – “Some Sir”.

And so, the story goes, the famous French sandwich was born.

Later the monsieur was accompanied by a madame, the same grilled cheese sandwich topped with a soft egg.

Today there are several variants of the croque, some French families like to fill it with salmon. But the traditional ones sold in most cafés are the monsieur and madame.

This article is part of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – every day until Christmas we will be presenting you with a person or object that has a particular significance to life in France. 



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French figures: The true spirit of France

This is the incredible story about the teenage girl who became a symbol of France for the ages.

French figures: The true spirit of France
Illustration photo: AFP

The story of Joan of Arc – Jeanne d'Arc in French – begun like many fairytales do: an unlikely hero is chosen to accomplish a dangerous task.

Born around 1412, Joan of Arc was an illiterate peasant girl convinced that divine powers had decided she would fight the English army in France. 

She then did exactly that. 

This was during the so-called Hundred Years’ War, when English troops battled for territory across the country that is now France.

Joan of Arc liberated Orléans city from English forces in a legendary and decisive battle that paved the way for the later French victory in 1453.

Joan of Arc paid for her heroism with her life. She was captured and sold her to the English army, who burned her at the stake in Rouen, northeast France, around 1431. She was approximately 19 years old at the time.

But her short life left a lasting mark on France and in 1920 she was made a Saint. Almost 600 years after her death she is still commemorated and celebrated in France and her spirit is invoked during difficult times for the country.

Known today as “the Maid of Orléans”, Joan of Arc's silhouette is all over the city, ingrained on medallions on the street, cast into sculptures and painted on the boxes of Cotignac, an Orléans culinary speciality.

READ ALSO: Ten reasons why you should visit the French city Orléans

This article is the final instalment of The Local France's 2020 virtual advent calendar – featuring every day a person or thing that has a special place in French culture. To see the whole calendar, click here.