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Traditional French Onion Soup
The French onion soup (soupe à l’ognion) is one of the emblematic dishes of simple and quick Parisian cuisine. Made of dry bread or croutons, beef broth, and caramelized onions, it is a typical dish of winter in Paris and can be served as a first course or as a meal in itself.
Here’s all about the simplest and most delicious soup in France, where to eat onion soup in Paris, and the traditional French onion soup recipe in case you want to prepare it at home!
French Onion Soup History
From King Louis XV to the Workers of the Largest Market in Paris
Onion soups have been popular at least since Roman times. They were throughout history often regarded as food for modest people, because of the abundance of onions and the ease to cultivate them.
The French onion soup history dates back to the 17th century. Legend has it that the soup was invented by King Louis XV. Late at night, at his hunting lodge, he was very hungry and he only found onions, butter, and champagne. He cooked the three ingredients and made the first French onion soup.
A more credible legend exists. It was Stanislas Leszczynski, Duke of Lorraine and father of the Queen of France, who tasted the onion soup in a Champagne inn. He found it filling and delicious and he did not want to leave the inn until he learned how to prepare a similar one. Later, it was the Duke who popularized the recipe at the Palace of Versailles.
But no matter where it comes from, it is in the 19th century in Les Halles, the biggest open-air market in Paris, that the onion soup acquired its notoriety.
The restaurants around Les Halles – La Poule au Pot, Chez Baratte, Au Pied de Cochon – added a big dose of grated cheese in the soup and placed the bowls under the grill, creating the classic Gratinée des Halles, a dish that managed to transcend class distinctions. The soup became both the breakfast of the ‘forts des Halles’ – namely the workers responsible for transporting the goods –, as well as a hangover remedy for the party people leaving the cabarets of Paris late at night to go to the only district really nocturnal in Paris.
Today, it is traditional to make onion soup on New Year’s Eve and at the end of a wedding celebration, mainly because of the soup’s ‘bad reputation.’ Indeed, the French onion soup is also known as ‘drunkards’ soup’ because it is reputed to be very effective in veiling the smell of drinking in those who consumed it.
Where to Eat Onion Soup in Paris
If you are looking for an authentic French onion soup in Paris, you won’t need to go very far. The onion soup is a classic of the Parisian bistros, at least in wintertime, but they may not offer it on their menu every day.
The historic restaurants and brasseries around Les Halles still offer authentic French onion soup on their menu, known as Gratinée à l’Oignon des Halles:
- Au Pied de Cochon (6, rue Coquillière 75001 Paris). Price 9.5€
- La Poule au Pot (9 Rue Vauvilliers, 75001 Paris). Price 17€
Another place where you are sure to find soupe à l’oignon is in the Latin Quarter (Paris 5), in Rue de la Harpe and Rue Saint-Séverin. Here, restaurants offer Paris cheap eats for tourists (soupe à l’oignon, cuisses de grenouille, fondues..) and the prices are always very competitive.
How to Make French Onion Soup at Home – Easy French Onion Soup Recipe
If you are dying for a homemade French onion soup, we can help. This is an easy onion soup recipe perfect for a cozy winter day at home. The ingredients for this homemade onion soup are cheap and easy to find and you can wash it down with your favorite wine. Here’s how to make French onion soup.
Preparation Time: 50 min; Difficulty: super easy! Cost: cheap
French onion soup recipe for 4 people:
- 8 midsized onions
- 1 table spoon of flour
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 or 3 bayleafs
- 4 (1000ml) cups of beef broth OR 3 cups plus 1 cup of dry white wine
- 1 oz of butter (30g)
- salt and pepper
- 2oz of grated cheese (60g)
- 6 slices of white bread
- Soup pot with lid, minimum half gallon (2L)
- Standard oven
- Sharp knife or electric cutter for onions
- Kitchen scale
- Blender /heated blender
- Ceramic soup bowl (one per person)
Start to heat up the beef broth, you will need it in about 10 minutes.
Peel the onions, cut into fine wedges and fry them in the butter until golden brown (around 15 minutes). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C) – top and bottom heat.
Add the garlic to the onions for a minute. Then sprinkle with flour. When the flour has taken color, pour in the hot broth, add the bay leaf, and cook it for 15minutes.
Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and keep hot, without boiling.
Slice the bread – ideally a Parisian baguette or similar – count one or two pieces of bread per person, depending on the size of bread and the soup bowls.
Distribute the cheese on the slices of bread and brown them in the oven. Add two more slices of bread per person – you will serve them on the side of the bowl.
Place the slices with cheese on the soup and serve it hot.
We had an accident with the bread. It seems that Elisa did put not enough cheese on the bread and Norbert left it two minutes too long in the oven. The final result was not beautiful enough to post the picture (we had to remove the borders of the bread, which were burnt but it was delicious the same!
Homemade Onion Soup – Best Tips
If you prefer the onions more tender, brown them more, at least 25 minutes.
You may want to replace the slices of bread in the soup with croutons, easier to eat. However, keep the slices of bread by the bowl, they look nicer.