Ah.. France. Food. Savory smells. When it comes to French cuisine though, there's nothing else quite like the waft of French onion soup when it comes to the best French food. There's definitely something magical about a simple beef broth of onions with cheese and croutons. It's definitely the smell and savory flavor, perfect for a cold fall day. But it's probably also the history and tradition that is infused with this lovely creation that makes every mouth-watering bite so fulfilling.
So, where did French onion soup originate from? The basic idea of a soup made of water and onions could be traced back to prehistoric times. As far as the French version though, there are a few different theories and places that together make this uniquely a French creation, and also a Parisian thing!
The first theory is that in the mid-1700s Stanislas Leszczyński, the father of Marie Leszczyńska (queen of France, married to Louis 15) stopped off at an inn in the Champagne region on his way to Versailles. The chef of the happened to be none other than Nicolas Appert, the inventor of air-tight canned food. Apparently Stanislas was so obsessed with the smell, that he demanded to watch Nicolas prepare the soup, so he could learn the exact recipe!
The second theory, which is somewhat related is that Louis 15 himself invented the recipe when he was stranded in his hunting lodge, and the only ingredients he had were butter, onions,...and champagne! Might he have been influenced by his father-in-law???
In any case these are just theories, and any sort of ancient legends were not referring to the type of onion soup we see today. It was a simple soup of just onions and water, and usually reserved for the poor because it was all they had. It is known very well though that the modern gourmet version with cheese and croutons was developed in Les Halles, Paris. This was the old wholesale market section of Paris which existed until the 1970s . In the 1800s it was very common that the poor workers waiting in the cold would make onion soup out of spare onions they weren't selling.
Soon though, in the 1900s several of the surrounding restaurants adopted this soup but started adding Ementhal or Comte cheese on the top. Because it was now served in a restaurant this became a fashionable dish for early-morning workers, and late-night city goers. One such restaurant which is still around today is called Au Pied de Cochon (at the pig's foot), which originally opened in 1947. Soup a l'onion is therefore still their most popular dish and they apparently sell about 200 bowls a day!
As far as the best restaurants in Paris to eat French Onion Soup,
our top 3 picks are:
Au Pied De Cochon (6 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris)
La Jacobine (59-61 Rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris)
Au Dernier Metro (70 Boulevard de Grenelle, 75015 Paris)