Le Bouillon

Bouil·​lon – a clear seasoned soup made usually from lean beef.

French: bouillir, English: to boil.

In France, however, a bouillon is so much more than just broth – it’s one of my favourite types of restaurant. A Bouillon Parisien is a large, usually older restaurant that serves traditional French cuisine for a low price point, and the wine is sold by the size of the bottle – there is a variety to choose from!

a bouillon selection of wine sizes

Founded in 1855, French butcher Pierre-Louis Duval from Montlhéry, started selling boiled beef in its broth at a fixed price on rue de Montesquieu.

This was close to the market stalls of Les Halles, so the workers started coming regularly to eat. The success led him to open several more of these establishments. By 1900, Paris alone had more than 250 bouillons, now the name for a cheap eatery that serves good food fast, essentially France’s version of fast food before fast food really was a thing.

You know the wild nights of the French authors and artists near Montparnasse, getting drunk and arguing politics and philosophy that led to masterpieces such as Les Mandarins (Simone de Beauvoir) or À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Marcel Proust) – they probably took place in a bouillon.

What dishes can you expect when going to a bouillon? You will always find the French staples, divided into entrée, plat, dessert, and cheese.

Starters include Oeufs Mayonnaise, boiled eggs filled with mayonnaise for 2,50€, l’Os à Moelle – bone marrow – for 4,20€ or Escargots, snails, for 7€. Popular “Plats” include Soupe à l’Oignon gratinée au Cantal – French onion soup with cheese for 8,50€, the famous Steak Frites for 11,80€ or Cuisse de Poulet, chicken with french fries for 9,80€.

Desserts are an event in itself – if you want to try all the “classics” at a low price point at once, head to your nearest bouillon and order Riz au Lait, Baba au Rhum, Pain Perdu, Île Flottante, Tarte Citron, Mousse au Chocolat, Crème Brûlée and Profiteroles. All under 5€, all delicious.

Each time I have visitors in Paris, without fail I will take them to a bouillon. The atmosphere is busy and joyful, the food is good and cheap, and there is plenty of wine! 

There will be one in a city near you: